Writing engaging children's picture books may seem like an easy gig, right? But it's very easy to underestimate how difficult it can be to create a beautiful and successful children's picture book that children want to read and adults want to buy! But keep reading for some top tips on how to start writing that children's book and how to make it shine!
First things first, make sure that you understand the format. Most children's picture books are 32 pages long, and are restricted to around 500-600 words. Be completely aware that this is tight: trying to introduce characters and settings and struggles not to mention telling the story itself can be a challenge in such restricted parameters. There are many reasons for this structure with the two main ones being the reading age of the children (they may not want to read a loooooonng book), and also printing children's books is expensive. HOWEVER even though the word and page count is tight, don't forget to use the biggest tool in your arsenal: ILLUSTRATIONS! Illustrations help to describe the characters, settings, emotions and more, all without words! Use them to fill in the gaps: to show the reader, rather than wasting that word count telling the reader.
Secondly, make your characters relatable. Make them full of characteristics, doubts, fears, strengths and weaknesses that the children reading will see in themselves. Or will want to see in themselves. As part of this, think about the theme that your characters will be tackling. Is this a relatable theme? Pick characters and themes that strike a chord with the audience and perhaps help families to provide a starting point for those difficult to approach subjects.
Thirdly, make sure your story builds tension. Many people talk about the story structure as the 'Story Arc' and for most children's stories the story arc unfolds like this:
Introduce your character, the setting and the theme that your character is tackling (often known as the conflict).
The character tries to resolve the conflict, and the conflict increases.
The character tries again, and the conflict problem increases again.
The character tries to resolve the conflict for the third time and the conflict scales to seem insurmountable. The tension is palpable! This is the darkest hour!
Then the character finds a way to resolve the conflict, usually with a twist, or a nod to the audience - leaving us with either an overt or subtle moral of the story.
Keep these three topics in mind while you are writing and your editing journey should be a lot easier to navigate! And as a final parting note, don't forget that when targeting your audience, children's books have the double difficulty of needing to appeal to children AND adults. So try to find some topics that are enjoyable and meaningful to both demographics!
My name is Emma Woodthorpe and I am an illustrator who is in the process of creating my first children's book which will be published in 2020. I have a First Class BA (hons) Degree in English Literature and an MA in Literature Studies both from York St John University. I have also worked first hand in an independent publishing business in York and have spent a few years as a teaching assistant with EYFS and KS1 children. Books are my bag, baby.