No. Really. Rules for Picture Books?

As you can probably tell from yesterdays post I recently did some interviews about writing picture books and when I do that I usually get a pent-up need to be sarcastic. I’m not a huge fan of ‘rules’ about such things as writing a good book. There certainly are many decisions you must make when writing and those decisions can be informed by what has worked in the past, but as they say on Wallstreet, past performance is not an indicator of future earnings.

But honestly, I feel very inadequate to offer advice on these things. Picture books, unfortunately, are most often seen as an ‘easy book’ to write. Anyone who has tried knows this to be false.

The best quotes about writing picture books I’ve found usually talk about what strange beasts they are. It’s a poem compared to prose. It’s a short story to a novel. It’s a character study compared to a plot. This all seem true and sometimes not.

And there’s the rub. The best picture books don’t pay heed to many of the rules at any given time. My agent offers the soundest advice to young writers by saying, go out and read what’s selling right now. Don’t just refer back to your childhood favorites. And this of course is true in any part of the media world you work in. One needs to be part of the here and now. That doesn’t mean accepting everything the way it is, it means being aware of the culture you live in, where you hope to sell your work.

Don’t write TV shows as they were in 1950. Don’t make movies as they were made in 1940.

That’s not to say you can’t learn from the huge amount of amazing work done in the past. It doesn’t mean you can’t love the books you grew up with. But you cannot recreate them. If you try, you are most likely to end up with a lifeless imitation.

Let the qualities you enjoyed find a new life in your work. Understand them and why they resonated when they did. (If possible. I’m not sure it’s easy to understand why something succeeds or doesn’t in the marketplace.)

Best advice – read a lot of picture books and then do something completely new and different.

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About mfearing

Illustrator.
This entry was posted in picture books, writing fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to No. Really. Rules for Picture Books?

  1. anag7 says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’m writing a series for kids and finding it’s a lot harder than I thought. Trying to stay within word count, but still maintaining a plot is quite a task.

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