As all‑but‑promised, I’m going to share what Rick Walton taught in his beginning picture book workshop some years ago ‑‑‑ still GREAT advice for today as well!
First take a look at the oldy, but goody, Goodnight Moon (and maybe all the current knock‑offs ‑‑‑ do they live up to the original?). The rhythms are almost hypnotic, like waves lapping against the shore. Soft words used within rhymes. Plenty of non‑threatening objects. Repetition is put to work saying goodnight to all the objects.
Be sure your first pages set the style: is this going to be verse? fantasy? Irregular rhythms or rhymes‑‑‑or entirely regular. Either way, will set up the expectation of more of the same In a sleepy time book like this, any humor will be somewhat muted, but repetition will be very important. Use what Rick referred to as “Morse Code Writing” with a VERY short story with VERY short words.
Other things that work well for children’s picture books:
- A surprise or punch line at the end
- Use the Rule of Three: 3 characters, 3 episodes, 3 trials, et.
- Leave create space for illustrations (and CUT most of your description)
- Use poetic and figurative language to good advantage
- Most picture books have some kind of theme and are character based
- Include foreshadowing as possible, and prediction
- Write 13 to 27 “illustratable” scenes
When you’re NOT attempting to put the child to sleep, funny words will become important: Rick suggested wishy‑washy, and I had a favorite of my own: when my young grandchildren lived with us for a short time, I described a pair of slacks I had as “periwinkle” ‑‑‑ a slightly purplish light blue. All the grandkids that that was the world’s funniest word for weeks! Your Prompt: if you want to write a children’s book, use nephews, nieces, your own children or grandchildren. Try LOTS of words on them ‑‑‑ which ones do they find hilarious? Use several of them in a VERY short, possible, children’s ‑‑‑ in which you employ as many as possible of the “good” traits above.
YES! I DID IT! I wrote a children’s picture book about food. But all the food was in nature, like mounds of creamy cloud pudding, mountains of Jiggley Jello, etc. Give it a try! It was silly and fun!
(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )