Writing for picture books

Writing for picture books is so different to writing other kinds of fiction. The stories need to be both shorter (750 to 1000 words) and more direct. The sentences are short. Each scene needs to stand alone, but also requires a hook to get the page to turn. Usually that’s some kind of question.

Dialog moves the story along, with more show and less tell in every scene.

Determining what drawings to create takes a different kind of effort too. Will it be a scene, with the place as character? Will it be one of the characters who is speaking in the scene? As I’m doing my own illustrations, quite a bit of time was occupied with drawing, watercolor, creating a style for the kids books. I wanted something that was organic, dreamlike, playful, yet not too serious. Not cartoon-like, but naturalistic. Yet I wanted the color of dreams and magic to play in the illustrations. The animals needed to be ‘in the environment’ with gestural color and movement. All parts of the challenge.

At first, I thought of hiring an illustrator, however, am glad my sweetie talked me out of that idea. Getting back into sketching has been its own reward.

However, the challenge of structuring a few short sentences per page, with a maximum of 32 pages in the book has been a learning curve. More about that as I work through the steps to get it into print. Meantime, the kindle version is done. Onto the ePub and print versions next.

Creating vs Editing: a writer’s challenge

When I’m in the creative flow, the words come easily, without hindrance. However, when I shift over to editing mode, to polish the words, the well seems to dry up. The hypercritical internal editor does not seem to be compatible with the internal novelist. I know, I know. It’s a little weird to call them out as separate characters, however, they’re so very different. They feel like different characters in a story.

It seems like the only way to balance the two ways of perceiving is to give them their own stage. For the most part, I am tending to schedule my time month by month – a month of outlining and writing, followed by a month of editing and polishing. When I’ve tried switching between the two on the same day, neither the writing nor the editing is any good.

This is in addition to the more normal challenges of switching between being in work mode for my full-time job and carving out that two hours a day to attend to the various aspects of being a writer.

I wonder if others have the same issue? Do you have trouble switching between editing and writing?

Writing process – top 10 ways of finding grammar errors

Grammar errors are one of the most pesky things to eradicate in the writing process. Scrivener doesn’t find grammar mistakes, and while MS Word is pretty good at finding normal passive errors, it fails to recognize idiom. Language is changing. Sentences can and often do start with ‘and, but, or, though’ in colloquial use.wordsForBooks

If you’re like me, when you write the first draft you don’t pay any attention to the rules. Well, truth to tell, rules are hardly ever my best thing. I tend to think in fragments; that means some of my characters share this trait. Enough said.

Even in a blog, the sentence construction is not a slave to the Oxford English way of writing. Be a bit boring if it was. However, the¬†unintentional grammar error is the bane of a writer’s existence. It’s just fine to break rules on purpose, so long as you know your purpose. Richard Morgan stood the grammar rules on their collective head in Altered Carbon. His more stream-of-consciousness writing included sentence fragments much of the time. None of that made it difficult to read. Instead, it made his protagonist much more sympathetic. So how do I find those errors in the editing process? I have a few tips and tricks to share.

  1. Walk away from the writing for a couple of days to give yourself some distance
  2. Print it out and keep a highlighting pen handy to mark the pieces to come back to
  3. Read it out loud to a friend. The tongue will trip over phrases that aren’t quite right
  4. Do an editing pass with track-changes on
  5. Try turning it upside down – for those of us who can read that way, the comma and grammar errors jump out
  6. Do an editing pass just for dialog.
  7. Use Find / Replace to fix issues like quote plus period (“. wrong) rather than period plus quote (.” correct)
  8. Write with a manual of style handy – look up stuff that you know you get wrong
  9. Replace instances of passive voice (often uses words that end in y) with active voice (often ends in ‘ed’)
  10. Relax about it. No matter how many times you edit, someone will disagree with your choices

I hope some of these prove helpful. Please share the tips and tricks you have found work for you.