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I am new to writing picture books after years of writing adult fiction. While I'm keeping my word count to 400-600 words, I have received feedback from critiques that I have too much description. Has anyone else suffered from and overcame this issue? I can see it now in my manuscripts, but I am struggling with how to balance what to put in words vs what to leave for pictures. I would appreciate any insight.

Thank you!!
#1 - July 19, 2015, 04:08 PM
Lisa Katzenberger

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Hi Lisa,
A phrase you may have heard about this issue is "show, don't tell". I just googled "Picture Books - show don't tell" and a heap of interesting web sites showed up which dealt with this. It might be worth browsing these sites. One listed PBs that were great examples of show, don't tell - it would be useful to get a hold of a few of those books to get a sense of the kinds of things that are best left to the illustrations.
In a nutshell, to me the things best left out are visual descriptions such as "Her yellow dress" or "He said when he reached the door". However, if it's really important, there are always exceptions when a description should appear in the text. You must assess how important each description is on a case by case basis. Again, reading other PBs will help you get a sense for this.
That's just my opinion though!
Best of luck with your writing.
#2 - July 19, 2015, 06:49 PM
Odd Bods: The World's Unusual Animals - Millbrook Press 2021
Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths - CSIRO Pub. 2021

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One tip is to take a look at every detail in your story. Does it matter to the story? As said above, it may not matter that the dress is yellow. If that's the case, leave it to the illustrator. Let it be purple in the pictures.

Take a look at a bunch of picture books.  What details are in the text? Lily's Purple Plastic Purse gives the color in the title. Why? Sound? Yep. Character? Yep, it shows how Lily thinks of it and how special it is to her. If it were green, she might like it less. This is why that detail can't be left to chance or illustrator whim.

In this case, the color was so important it needed to be in the text. Sometimes a detail is important because plot hinges on it, but it's location in the illustration is enough. In those cases, use a note to the illustrator. Some books have a second illustrated story that riffs off the story in the text or have illustrations that contradict the tone of the text (serious text with silly images.) These ideas go in illustration notes, brackets at the end of the appropriate lines of text.

Good luck with your cutting.
#3 - July 20, 2015, 08:28 AM
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Thanks for the tip, Debbie! That is a really good example.
#4 - July 25, 2015, 09:11 AM


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