By: Chelsea Tornetto
When you’re writing your first draft of a children’s book, the most important thing is to just get the story out of your head and onto the screen or paper. But taking a few minutes to think about these five things will help start you off on the right foot, and might save you time down the road.
As a developmental editor, many manuscripts that come across my desk describe a character doing fun things or having memorable experiences - but they don’t have an overall message or theme. This isn’t to say that every story has to teach a deep life lesson. But every story DOES have to have a reason for existing! Think about WHY you want to write this story. What value will it add to a child’s bookshelf?
What kind of structure will communicate your message or theme best? There are lots to choose from!
Read this excellent article by best-selling picture book author, Pat Zietlow Miller. Then, think about how each structure listed would impact your story. Which one works best?
3. Comparable Titles
Lightning strikes and you have a brilliant idea for a picture book. Before you put pen to paper, you need to do some research. Use Google, Amazon, Goodreads, your public library and your local bookstore to search for books that address the same topic/idea. Read all the books you find! You want to make sure that your story is unique enough to stand out in the market - and the only way to do that is to read the competition.
I recently edited a story where a little girl went on vacation and everything went just swimmingly. While that’s great for the little girl, it’s not the best way to keep a reader turning the pages! Perfection is boring! Before you begin writing, think about how you can build tension in your story. What problem will the main character encounter? What will go wrong?
Even if you’re writing a simple concept book, you can still find ways to keep the reader turning the pages. In a counting book, maybe the reader is counting farm animals that are all trying to fit into a single truck! 7 sheep? 8 goats? 9 piglets? 10 hens??? Will they all fit?
5. Rhyme or Prose?
This is a decision lots of authors struggle with. Everyone loves a good rhyme, and many childhood classics, like Dr. Seuss, are written in verse. The problem is that it is SO HARD to write rhyme well!
Make sure you are choosing to rhyme for a reason. Rhyme can add a lyrical or song-like quality to a story. It can be used to convey certain emotions better than prose, etc. But if you can’t vocalize a true reason, don’t use it.
Make sure you understand that you can’t sacrifice the quality of the story for the completion of a rhyme. No filler lines and no Yoda! (Down the hill, Jack and Jill fell.)
Rhyme is limiting by nature. For maximum creative freedom, choose prose.
Rhyme can’t be too long, so it works well for shorter pieces like concept books. If you have a long, narrative piece, or an educational, non-fiction book that requires lots of vocabulary that might be hard to rhyme, prose might be best.
Not sure if your rhyming skills are good enough? Here’s a test. Go to the Lyrical Language Lab Channel on YouTube and watch a few videos. If your brain feels fried, then rhyming probably isn’t for you! But if you love what you see (and hear), then go for it! And check out our course, "How To Rhyme Right!"