Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Every Writer Should Take a Workshop on Picture Book Writing

Writers are the most information and inspiration hungry crowd of people, always looking for ways to improve their craft, see things in a new light, learn new techniques for plotting, building characters, beginning a story, ending a story. That thirst for knowledge endears them, but may drain the checkbook from time to time.

So why would a novelist waste those very hard earned dollars on a picture book writing workshop?

They probably wouldn’t. There are plenty of other workshops out there for novelists to take. Yet, a trip to the “Bunny Eat Bunny” world of picture book writing could shake up things a bit, and give a writer a new perspective.

Picture books are very short, as short at 500 words. I can barely write a 500 word blog post. Writing an entire story, with a beginning, middle and an end in so few words is breaking down a story to its very core.

The choice of words is crucial. With so few words, each word is debated as to whether it is the best one. If you want an exercise in building your vocabulary, this could be it. You can spend days trying to find the right word for “jump.”

The writer must keep the reader engaged in a picture book. Every page needs a picture, and it needs to be different than the other pictures in the book. Picture books are often 32 pages, which means the story needs a lot of action or twists and turns to fill out every page in an interesting way, while still needing to flow from one to the next with little explanation (remember there are few words allowed).

There is often a rhythm to a picture book. I took a rhyming picture book workshop at the Iowa Summer Writer Festival a few years ago. It was very eye opening. I didn’t realize the brilliance of Dr. Seuss and Karma Wilson until I started counting syllables in their sentences and which ones were stressed. Rhyming isn’t only about matching the sound at the end of the sentence and having the same number of beats per line. There is a meter involved, with the rise and fall of language being measured and repeated. That is hard!

The most important thing I got out of those picture book writing workshops was the sense that novel writing was so much easier. My picture book writing friends would disagree, thinking a novel is much too long and complicated to keep organized. But it gives some space to tell the story, which is not allowed in a picture book.

It also gave me a very big appreciation for picture books. People often think they are easy to write, because they are simple, engaging stories that read very well. It takes hard work to get them there. I know that now.