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Genres & Age Categories => Picture Books (PB) => Topic started by: Pam on August 08, 2015, 06:23 AM

Title: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 08, 2015, 06:23 AM
I have a critique service and I've been noticing a troubling trend. People are starting to cut out all writing and only using illustration notes and dialog to tell their story. They aren't even using tags! Is there a class that is teaching people to do this?

Words are not evil! I mean, sure we're supposed to tighten, but to drive out all words cheats YOU as a writer from doing some eloquent, stylistic things. And besides that, it's just plain bad writing.

But the folks who are submitting this kind of work to me aren't bad writers. I just wonder where they got the notion to chip out everything except dialog. (I'm beyond frustrated to see this trend.)   :faint
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: DianaM on August 08, 2015, 06:48 AM
My guess is that they're experimenting with a technique that they think makes it sound modern. Interesting that you're seeing this so often!

I've seen the technique used successfully in some published books. But I can see how it could go wrong.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 08, 2015, 07:24 AM
I have, too, but it's from author/illustrators. Too hard to pull this off properly as an author-only. And well, the form has to be done right. I guess it's like people trying to tell a story in rhyme. DON'T do it unless the format is perfect for it. So people should not attempt this for a story unless you really can convey it right. I did see one that was perfect in this format when I judged a picture book contest. It was told in the format of a joke like CHICKEN BUTT. Worked well!

But I hope people will stop trying to do this so much. Words are precious! Urgh!
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Donna J. Shepherd on August 08, 2015, 08:10 AM
As someone who writes predominantly in rhyme (Oh, no! LOL!), I love a turn of phrase, the way the words sound rolling off the tongue, a clever use of just the right word, or as we talked about in another thread, inserting a more difficult word to spice it all up and give the children a novel experience and give readers a time to slow down and explain and enjoy a learning experience with the child. (Is that a run-on sentence or what??) How, in the world of texts and sounds bites, can we help a child learn to love words, reading, and the experience of beautiful language? Can you tell? I'm with you on this one.

 :yourock
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Arona on August 08, 2015, 09:24 AM
If you're seeing it enough to cause alarm, my guess why would be the thrust to keep words between 300-500, and to use illustrations to "speak" in place of words. (And not using dialog tags helps keep counts down.)

I agree that we are economizing too much across the board, and there'll be a price to pay for it.

Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Kell on August 08, 2015, 09:33 AM
I think it's as Arona said -- trying to take out all the exposition to get to an ultrashort word count. And as has been said, this format is also popular with writer/illustrators. There a lot of comic-style and animation-style books out there.

I've written two stories in similar styles -- one was more of a PB with dialogue bubbles, and the other was a comic-book format. But neither went anywhere. I still think my comic book one is brilliant but my agent didn't really get it.

Usually, though, I like writing in the books I write! I have one story in two versions, a PB and a magazine short story, and I really like the short story version because there is more real writing in it, with some fun and pretty turns of phrases, although it only added about 100 words.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: 217mom on August 08, 2015, 10:53 AM
Long ago I had a blog post rant about the cutting of writers and real writing out of picture books...

http://mirkabreen.blogspot.com/2011/11/shrinking-word-count.html

I still feel the angst... :smokhead But I also recognize that picture books have arrived at a station some always thought they should be, stories told IN PICTURES.

Those of us who don't illustrate find ourselves out of a job, so to speak.  :bluesad

What we would love to see is the revival of story picture books, with the art augmenting the words and not vice-versa. Words that are lyrical and beautiful. Real writing, economical and poetic. Writing at its best.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 08, 2015, 11:30 AM
I've had it happen to me in revision where my agent will cut words and have me fill in with notes and then even more cutting is done with even more notes by my editor. BUT I don't mind this when eloquence, repetition, imagery, etc. is left in (and in some cases, I've had my editor ADD scenes and want me to ADD words! IMAGINE!) Some editing is necessary when illustrations show some of the text, but THIS! The fear of words is driving me nutty. And you all are so right--children need words, even harder words to learn.

So, have any of you seen a blog post or an editor session or workshop where this is taught? I've just seen this too much recently to think it's coincidence.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Donna J. Shepherd on August 08, 2015, 11:31 AM
Quote
What we would love to see is the revival of story picture books, with the art augmenting the words and not vice-versa. Words that are lyrical and beautiful. Real writing, economical and poetic. Writing at its best.

What I tried to say - only you said it much better, and more beautifully.  :)

 :like
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Kell on August 08, 2015, 11:41 AM
I haven't seen it, Pam. Is there a common thread among your clients -- a critique group, regional SCBWI attendance, online course?
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Dionna on August 08, 2015, 12:56 PM
 :nicethread
Maybe they've read advice like: Leave Room for the illustration. Less is more. And they're not understanding what it really means???
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: koozoo on August 08, 2015, 02:02 PM
OOOOOoooo!

If there is a single topic that riles me more than any other, it is the disappearance of lush text and gorgeous word choice & phrasing in picture books. While I do truly enjoy some wordless (or semi-wordless) PBs, I can't stop re-reading the lengthy books of old (and not too old) that embrace us with a loving blanket of lyricism.

Regarding these wordless & semi-wordless books - I don't believe for one moment that kids are behind this trend. Every child who I've ever read to or spoken with loves the longer books that permit them time to escape reality and enter a fantasy world. Every child I have heard others speak upon who love books, love the longer PBs. The life-time love of reading begins at the PB.

I keep hoping that there is a bit of a turn back to tradition. Or at least room for both types of PBs. Will it happen in our high-paced society? I don't know.  :sadcry

Marianne 
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: KatherineR on August 08, 2015, 04:45 PM
I can imagine that the advice to read recent pbs is part of the trend. Perhaps the writers are not looking to see if the book was done by one person author/illustrator. It's kind of hard to find the team books, at least by my simple Target shelf scan.

By the way, my latest published ebook which was under 175 words had words added by the editor! My other two ebooks are downright monumental in word count. LOL
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 08, 2015, 07:42 PM
:nicethread
Maybe they've read advice like: Leave Room for the illustration. Less is more. And they're not understanding what it really means???

I do believe this is the reason. I hope there isn't someone who is teaching this type of writing.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 08, 2015, 07:49 PM
I can imagine that the advice to read recent pbs is part of the trend. Perhaps the writers are not looking to see if the book was done by one person author/illustrator. It's kind of hard to find the team books, at least by my simple Target shelf scan.

By the way, my latest published ebook which was under 175 words had words added by the editor! My other two ebooks are downright monumental in word count. LOL


The recent pb's I've read don't do this. That's why I'm disturbed...can you find examples (besides board books from Target...lol )
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: JodyJS on August 09, 2015, 04:33 AM
This one came to mind: MOO! by David LaRochelle (Author) and Mike Wohnoutka (Illustrator). The editor showed us this book in production at a retreat a year or so ago.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: DianaM on August 09, 2015, 07:11 AM
I immediately thought of HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT (and sequels) by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. It's a dialogue between the MC and the narrator. Very cleverly done and with a great voice.

I do think writers sometimes worry too much about the word count these days. Shorter isn't always better. It depends on the story. I think trying to sound fresh and modern has something to do with it, too. And yes, "leaving room for the illustrator". But of course you shouldn't leave EVERYTHING to the illustrator. The writing has to pull some weight (esp. if the author is not also the illustrator).
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: LoriA on August 09, 2015, 08:23 PM
I DON'T WANT TO BE A FROG is another short, all dialog PB that has sold really well. Interesting that you are seeing so much of this type of writing, Pam.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Gatz on August 09, 2015, 09:05 PM
I think Marianne's comments carry a great deal of weight:

"If there is a single topic that riles me more than any other, it is the disappearance of lush text and gorgeous word choice & phrasing in picture books. While I do truly enjoy some wordless (or semi-wordless) PBs, I can't stop re-reading the lengthy books of old (and not too old) that embrace us with a loving blanket of lyricism.

Regarding these wordless & semi-wordless books - I don't believe for one moment that kids are behind this trend. Every child who I've ever read to or spoken with loves the longer books that permit them time to escape reality and enter a fantasy world. Every child I have heard others speak upon who love books, love the longer PBs. The life-time love of reading begins at the PB.

I keep hoping that there is a bit of a turn back to tradition. Or at least room for both types of PBs. Will it happen in our high-paced society? I don't know.  :sadcry"
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: marti-johns on August 09, 2015, 10:49 PM
I'm so glad other writers feel as I do. The whole point of a book is to tell a story. While it is possible to do that with just pictures (David Weisner does it beautifully in Flotsam), the words of a PB book enrich the story.

Some of my greatest memories are of being read to as a child and reading to my own children. The sound of my father reading was enthralling-he has a fabulous "radio voice". Without the words of the story, I would think the concept of reading to children would go away. What a tragedy that would be! Being read to is a first step to love of books.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Eileen Kennedy-Moore on August 10, 2015, 05:52 AM
This may be part of the trend to gear PBs to younger children because 5-8 year-olds are (being pushed into?) reading short chapter books. It's a shame because PBs that adults read TO children can have much more complex and interesting language than the simple chapter books that children can read to themselves.

For us writers, I think the bottom line is: write well. While we probably won't go back to the lengthy picture books of old, I do believe agents/editors will recognize and appreciate a more wordy text that is beautifully written, with vivid and compelling language. This does not mean excessive, flowery descriptions, which have little to no child appeal. It does mean paying attention to finding the perfect words and an appealing rhythm, even in nonrhyming text.

Pendulums swing, so I predict there will be a move away from very short text at some point.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Ree on August 10, 2015, 06:48 AM
As an artist (writer, not illustrator), I wish there were no trends and that all varieties could be enjoyed at any time. The one thing that is so magical about the pb is its art form, and I think all the different forms are wonderful in their own way and bring their own beauty to the reading experience.

Ree
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: AuntyBooks on August 10, 2015, 07:07 AM
I think the popularity of 'dialog only' books such as Mo Willems' DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS! (which I adore)  :love5 :love5 :love5 and all subsequent PIGEON books is driven by kids who love them. The books draw kids directly into the story and teach them to engage with books by actually interacting with the book.

These very spare engaging books such as HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT are fabulous for teaching kids to love books. They can have deep stories as well -- THIS IS NOT MY HAT is an excellent example.

It is an art form for sure, and one I love.  :love5

People *might* be attempting this form because they think it will be easy. Write sixty words and you have a book!

Silly them.

  :yup eab
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: CarrieF on August 10, 2015, 07:16 AM
All of the above, and especially Ree!

That said, as a parent, I find that many of the books with few words are often one-joke books that my kids aren't interested in reading twice. That's fine at the library, and some of them are very clever and funny. We enjoy them. But if I'm going to buy a book for $17.99, it damn well better be something they'll want to read more than once. But we must be the exception - publishers wouldn't be buying and publishing the shorter texts if they weren't making money, right?
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: DianaM on August 10, 2015, 07:38 AM

People *might* be attempting this form because they think it will be easy. Write sixty words and you have a book!

Silly them.

  :yup eab

Oh yes!  :yup
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: DianaM on August 10, 2015, 07:40 AM
By the way, I once told a lady that I write picture books and she said, "Oh really? I prefer wordless picture books." I kid you not!  :fury :grin3
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 10, 2015, 08:12 AM
I'll look up some of those books--I've read all the Pigeon books but its Mo Willems and he's an author/illustrator.


People *might* be attempting this form because they think it will be easy. Write sixty words and you have a book!

Silly them.

  :yup eab

I can heartily say this is not the case with my clients. Most already know how to write picture books and really work on their craft. I'm sure it's a combination of trying a new art form to cutting down word count. Editors really underscore that a bit too much these days. It's nice when they tell you to add a scene or two. It does happen! LOL!

By the way, I once told a lady that I write picture books and she said, "Oh really? I prefer wordless picture books." I kid you not!  :fury :grin3
<3

Goodness!  :lalala What did you say???
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: DianaM on August 10, 2015, 08:39 AM
I just smiled and nodded. Of course later that day I thought of all the things I SHOULD have said. She was a very annoying person. Unfortunately, I was stuck with her (and her tales of organic, artisanal quinoa) for an entire ski weekend.  :sigh

But anyway, yes, it's so nice when an editor actually asks you to expand on something!
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: KatherineR on August 10, 2015, 09:46 AM
You would be surprised, Pam, by what I can find in my Target! We are mostly in a bookselling desert so our Target does get some good stuff on occasion. But the only pb that intrigued me in the last year was the one with no pictures! Celebrity written, but very good all the same.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Kell on August 10, 2015, 10:10 AM
I don't like wordless picture books. I feel like they make me write the story for them! I don't want to work that hard when I read a PB.

A good, funny, quick joke makes a good library book, as Carrie said, and a lot of author/illustrators from the animation realm have been having success with them. My kids aren't big re-readers anyway -- we burn through a lot of picture books! The ones that we do re-read tend to be funny AND have plot and character, and I count Mo Willems among those. You can have good characters with just dialogue, but that's a challenge all its own.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on August 10, 2015, 12:44 PM
I love wordless books if they are well done. My son also loved reading them before he could read. They're like puzzles in which you have to find the story. There were a few that we went through over and over because there was something new to discover each time. They were also very helpful in my ESL classroom, where we did write the story on post it notes. (Hmm, maybe I learned some pacing this way.)

But those wordless books are a different art form from the ultra short one joke picture books, the dialog-based picture books, and the picture story books, etc. (Actually, you can have a longer dialog based one joke book too - There's a Monster at the End of This Book is all dialog with a single punchline. It's not new.) Often picture story books are a great way to ease kids into a hard topic. I'm thinking of books like Fly Away Home, Baseball Saved Us, and Smokey Night. That some of what we consider newer forms and formats existed long ago only points to the importance of all forms. They each have a purpose.

I await the swing of that pendulum.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Franzilla on August 10, 2015, 01:53 PM
Have you looked at Linda Ashman's site? She has some fabulous advice and even shares her submitted MSs. One that I remember had a lot of illustration notes and not much text (if memory serves it was RAIN! which was illustrated by Christian Robinson and is a fabulous book). Shutta Crum's MINE is another great example of a text that was submitted with a lot of illustration notes.

The thing to take note of though is that both of these authors are established authors who really know their stuff so editors are likely to look more favourably on a manuscript full of illustration notes from them.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 15, 2015, 03:13 PM
I just received a manuscript that has LESS than 30 words to it and ALL of the story is told through NOTES! WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE????

Okay...I've GOT to write a blog post about this...ugh...
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Franzilla on August 15, 2015, 05:39 PM
I don't see a problem if it's done well. So I'm guessing these stories aren't that great or don't work with so few words? Maybe these writers have read RAIN or MINE! or other books that have very few words and are great, and simply want to do something similar?
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 15, 2015, 07:32 PM
I don't see a problem if it's done well. So I'm guessing these stories aren't that great or don't work with so few words? Maybe these writers have read RAIN or MINE! or other books that have very few words and are great, and simply want to do something similar?

I would have no trouble with something like this if it were rhyming or had an amazing concept. In fact, I put one up that was only dialog as a top ten out of 100 pb's I judged. But you can tell if it's being done to save words. It's mind boggling and when speaking about why people are doing this, they tell me it is to conserve words.

Also, I think an author should think long and hard about doing this and leaving almost everything to an illustrator to convey. That takes power away from the storyteller. I guess it's just my opinion, but yes. If you are going to attempt this, it'd better be good! But then it's all subjective, huh? 
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Carol Samuelson-Woodson on August 28, 2015, 10:14 PM
What about the kids? Graphics are everywhere, from the diaper box to the tee shirt, but kids need words, sophisticated language, well-written, complex stories. Or at least they used to. That was the great advantage of kids whose parents took the time to read to them. Whether it was Shakespeare or the Bible, Velveteen Rabbit or Seuss, kids loved it and grew their vocabularies plus their understanding of how language works. I'm sure the scanty-on-words books must be selling, but not in best interests of next generation, I feel. Would you make them the main reading material for your young child? Would the editors, agents, authors? And, why are the PB classics with words and real stories still selling well?
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Dionna on August 29, 2015, 10:24 AM
...but kids need words, sophisticated language, well-written, complex stories...That was the great advantage of kids whose parents took the time to read to them. Whether it was Shakespeare or the Bible, Velveteen Rabbit or Seuss, kids loved it and grew their vocabularies plus their understanding of how language works...

Well said, Carol.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Donna J. Shepherd on August 29, 2015, 10:36 AM
 :applause
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: HaroldU on August 29, 2015, 11:38 AM
I am late to this thread but want to chime in to say that I encounter this too, working with picture book authors, both as an independent editor and in a recent webinar class. Authors should not try to art direct, which they don't do well and don't have the training for--they should write.

As was already noted, writers seem to be trying to produce texts like those seen in author-illustrator PBs, which typically have fewer words. But I still see books by authors with an illustrator in the 500-700 word range (think Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller as just one recent example). That allows you to really write a story. Trying to compete with author-illustrators is a mistake, and I've been saying so to the people I work with. Do what you do well.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: 217mom on August 29, 2015, 12:47 PM
This^ comment from Harold deserves a lot of LIKES. It's also spot on.  :exactly
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Dionna on August 29, 2015, 04:59 PM
I have a sorta-confession. With so much talk about PBs leaving room for the illustrator, after having written so many PB texts that were over 1,000 words, and after hearing the everywhere-advice that PBs these days are 500 words or less, I decided to send a sorta-poem as a PB text to an editor after a conference. The sorta-poem is only 233 words. I just thought, why not?

Was I surprised when the editor (and she's a top-notch, seasoned one, too!) kindly wrote me back! Her comment was: "I like your voice in this story (you have great energy and bounce and you clearly love words) but I'm afraid it's not quite right for my list--it feels a bit on the slight side." (COLOR MINE)

I think her comment has a bearing on this discussion, though I'm not quite sure how! If I ever figure this PB thing out, I'll let you know!!! In the meantime, I'm writing middle-grades!! (And oh, one of my poems came out this month in LADYBUG, so maybe I'll keep writing poems as poems??)
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: AuntyBooks on August 29, 2015, 07:33 PM
Dionna, I would defiantly pursue this editor. She likes your voice and your skill. The 'slight side' comment most likely refers not to the length of the book but to the weight of the story--you know, what makes a poem a magazine piece rather than a picture book.  In your next book (if you decide to pursue this) focus on the level of problem and cleverness of resolution, and make sure the story has 14 picture-able actions that move it forward.

You have the voice. Find the story, and I bet you sell a book!

:) eab
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: JulieM on August 29, 2015, 08:50 PM
Wonderful thread. Thank you.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Dionna on August 30, 2015, 03:25 AM
focus on the level of problem and cleverness of resolution, and make sure the story has 14 picture-able actions that move it forward.
No one has ever explained to me the PB craft as succinctly as that!! That makes perfect sense, and it sounds so doable. Thanks so much. EAB! Perhaps PBs won't forever evade me.   :flowers2
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Pam on August 31, 2015, 07:25 AM
I am late to this thread but want to chime in to say that I encounter this too, working with picture book authors, both as an independent editor and in a recent webinar class. Authors should not try to art direct, which they don't do well and don't have the training for--they should write.

As was already noted, writers seem to be trying to produce texts like those seen in author-illustrator PBs, which typically have fewer words. But I still see books by authors with an illustrator in the 500-700 word range (think Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller as just one recent example). That allows you to really write a story. Trying to compete with author-illustrators is a mistake, and I've been saying so to the people I work with. Do what you do well.

EXACTLY! :)
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: AuntyBooks on August 31, 2015, 08:40 AM
I think authors who are not illustrators *can* and *should* write good stories with very few words. I am, however biased. Over my career, I have sold 9 picture books of with fewer than 250 words--most fewer than half that number.  Some have been in prose some in rhyme. My latest, RED TRUCK, YELLOW COPTER and soon to be published (okay, next spring) BLUE BOAT have just 120-ish words each. One of the two I have going to acquisitions now has 119, the other just 64. One in prose, one in rhyme.

It is an extreme art form, but if you feel drawn to it don't give up or despair because you are not an illustrator. Just learn and learn and learn and practice and practice and practice….and practice.

:) eab
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: HaroldU on August 31, 2015, 08:04 PM
Auntybooks, that's great that that has worked for you. But I have encountered many writers for whom that approach does not come naturally, and they need to know that PB texts do not have to be 200-300 words...
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: AuntyBooks on August 31, 2015, 09:24 PM
I agree that they don't have to be, Harold. I love longer books. I just don't want to discourage writers who are not artists but still love the short form.

It can be done--and it is not a mistake for writers to try it. You just have to understand how to do it well.  :yup

:) eab
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: jessica-fox on September 01, 2015, 06:11 AM
I don't think all dialogue or mostly dialogue means the same as "almost wordless".

The words in dialogue can be just as lush, lyrical, and intriguing as words outside of dialogue.

A lot of the popular and very good kids books lately have been mostly dialogue:
Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus
All the Elephant and Piggie books (Yes, I'm a Mo Willems fan)
The Day The Crayons Quit (Letter format, but that's still entirely dialogue)
If You Ever Want To Bring An Alligator To School, Don't!

I'm going to stop here because I know you don't want to read a long list of dialogue-driven books.

Point is: When I read books to my own kids, I prefer the dialogue to be the meat of the book, with very little description.

Oh, and when I was at SCBWI LA, editor Jordan Brown said he wants writers to cut out as much description as they can muster. He doesn't do many picture books, but there's that.

As far as picture books that actually are wordless... I always put those back where I got them in a hurry.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Vijaya on September 01, 2015, 07:03 AM
Pam, late to the discussion but I've been reading this thread with interest and puzzled that you've rec'd so many manuscripts to critique that have this problem. I'm not aware of anybody teaching that all words are bad.
I also want to encourage others who want to write short and well. I've written several short folktales (retellings), some original fiction (PBs), and loads of NF that is short and it is something I learned how to do. My first short stories for even little kids were around a thousand words ... and learning to get to the essence of it in just a 100 words took a lot of time and patience.

A suggestion: type out the short stories and PBs you like (including Evil Aunty's) and see how much every word counts. Double or triple space between page breaks to see how much room there is for the illustrations. Only rarely do I add in art notes. In fact, I have always been very pleasantly surprised to see how the artist brings a whole another layer to the story. I couldn't presume to tell them how to do their job, because their vision is so much greater than mine. It adds. Never subtracts.

Oh, read poems.

Another helpful resource is picturebookbuilders blog.

Good luck to all,

Vijaya
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on September 08, 2015, 03:04 PM
I just have to add that visual literacy is a thing. It's becoming more important every day. Graphics are everywhere from the side of the bus to the Google map. Kids need to learn those skills too. Wordless books often help teach them. In fact, you can't build Legos without visual skills.

That's not to say words aren't important. There needs to be balance. There's room for books that teach both forms of literacy and books that show the interplay between the two. Give me all kinds of books.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Carol Samuelson-Woodson on September 08, 2015, 03:32 PM
Don't hate me but I suspect the concept of "visual literacy" has been created to justify giving kids what we used to call "comic books" as reading material. Graphics are indeed everywhere and the average kid understands them without being taught. Or at least did. They're fun and accessible because they're easy. What happens when we expect a child who is used to graphics and videos to pay close attention to little black symbols? To work at it to derive meaning. But, isn't it supposed to be easy?
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Ree on September 08, 2015, 10:04 PM
I wonder if comic books were every considered a poor form of writing??? They are certainly classics now.

Ree
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: christripp on September 09, 2015, 04:41 AM
Ree, comics were always considered a poor form of writing (and often they deserved the reputation, the writing was basic and done fast because comics were pumped out by the hundreds per month)
There are graphic novels that are very text heavy, there are those with almost none (such as Matt Phelan's GN's)
I love a well conceived wordless pic book, it allows a child's imagination and creativity to be put to task. I'm thinking the trend to fewer and fewer words has to do with what was said earlier, the target age range seems to have been lowered as more 6 year olds start into reading chapter books. At a round table Q&A a few years back a well respected Agent on the panel said the age for pic books is more like up to 4. The two Editors chimed in saying they felt it was more like up to 6, but the agent may be right, that 4 is probably the age where BUYING pic books peeks and lessens after that. I know my granddaughter is getting out of pic books, as she is just entering grade 1. They still enjoy them at that age, heck so do I:) but parents, grandparents are probably not buying them as gifts etc.
At 3 and 4, too wordy pic books can loose an audience. I read one book that was around 1500 words once and saw 3 and 4 year old kids laps into a comma:)
If the art is too simple (not enough detail to keep them looking as you read) and the words too many, the child often times starts turning the page before your finished. I think higher or lower word count just depends on the style of art used, the subject matter, as to if it works or doesn't work.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: mrh on September 09, 2015, 08:04 AM
Graphics are indeed everywhere and the average kid understands them without being taught. Or at least did. They're fun and accessible because they're easy.

I agree to a point, but I do think at least some children need to hone their ability to grasp visual symbols. I certainly was/am one. When elevator buttons use stylized arrows and stove knobs use little pictures of circles, I have to stop and interpret. I've been heard lamenting, "Why can't they just say OPEN and CLOSE?" "Why can't they just say FRONT and REAR?" Of course, part of the reason is to help surmount language barriers, but my point here is that words are indeed easier for some, and some training and practice in interpreting graphics would not be amiss.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Carol Samuelson-Woodson on September 09, 2015, 09:34 AM
 :sadcry OK, I'm going to get myself into real trouble here, but it's a topic I'm passionate about. (PISA scores anyone?) I agree that wordy picture books for 3-4 year olds are not what the market wants. Not what a busy parent wants. Not what a time-stressed kindergarten teacher wants. But as a parent, it's what I wanted and what I would hope for my grandchildren, and for that matter, for any child that I had influence over. Children's attention spans could not have evolved (devolved?) in so short a time. Are we turning the clock back to hieroglyphics? Picture writing? I'd say environment is responsible. If you start in infancy, with complex books, if you limit to zero! tv and videos and electronic devices, if the child is not constantly stressed and bombarded with stimuli and diversion, attention spans would probably increase (imaginations too) to where they used to be. This is just an idealistic view; not going to happen. In fact, this sort of parenting is now considered unfair! Gives a child UNFAIR advantage. Let the market thrive!
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Vijaya on September 09, 2015, 10:37 AM
If you start in infancy, with complex books, if you limit to zero! tv and videos and electronic devices, if the child is not constantly stressed and bombarded with stimuli and diversion, attention spans would probably increase (imaginations too) to where they used to be. This is just an idealistic view; not going to happen. In fact, this sort of parenting is now considered unfair! Gives a child UNFAIR advantage.

LOL Carol. I was one of those parents and many others criticized me for depriving my kids of electronics. However, my kiddos are growing up with normal attention spans. IN fact, now that they do use electronics, I see in them a distinct lack of focus. However, they know how to put those devices aside and work.

Vijaya
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: JodyJS on September 09, 2015, 11:40 AM
I was one of those parents, too, V! And ditto with the lack of focus, now that they do use electronics. But we still have rules for when they need to be turned off.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: christripp on September 10, 2015, 03:46 AM
Vijaya and Jody, do you mean they are focusing so hard on the game/electronics that they lack focus on other things around them at that moment? Wasn't sure what you meant by "lack of focus"? I do remember saying things to my teen son (the 90's) while he was playing a game and I KNOW he never heard a word, he was so involved in whatever evil he was on a quest to obliterate from whatever fantasy world:)
I have to marvel at the extreme focus of my grandson, when he is consumed by Minecraft and constructing Cities/Worlds. I just wish that same focus could be transferred to his school work and book reading. It could be that because games such as this do not require the dyslexic (which he is) to read, but to only think and use their creativity, they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride that they don't get when they struggle with words or attempt to read out loud and make what they feel are fools of themselves.
I think for a balanced child, experiencing a bit of everything is not amiss. They will most times, inspired by us or in spite of us, find their passion and their way.

Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: JodyJS on September 10, 2015, 04:18 AM
I meant checking their phones while they're doing homework, that kind of thing. Sorry to derail your thread, AnneMarie!
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: christripp on September 10, 2015, 04:42 AM
ahhh, I get it Jody!:)

Adults are having that same issue, I see more adults then not (and the 50 to 60 year olds are no exception) who stop what ever they are doing to check a text message or look at their email.... it's insane!

also sorry I'm off topic, just had to agree:)
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: mrh on September 10, 2015, 05:21 AM
I see more adults then not (and the 50 to 60 year olds are no exception) who stop what ever they are doing to check a text message or look at their email

Yup. It might be because our brains are getting rewired, but it might also be because this is how we converse these days, since conversation is no longer about being face to face. And humans have long stopped or paused what we are doing for conversation. In fact -- checking our phones is no sillier than dropping everything and running to answer a bell whenever it chances to ring, which we've been doing for the last hundred years, give or take.

This is on topic in the sense that it speaks to attention span and our increasing exposure to and use of graphics, both of which probably figure into the very-much-shorter PB trend.

Good discussion. :)
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Vijaya on September 10, 2015, 07:25 AM
What Jody said. OH, yes, they are very focused on the screen, just not what they should be paying attention to.
V.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: JodyJS on September 10, 2015, 09:03 AM
 :dr, V!
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Dionna on September 10, 2015, 09:10 AM
This is on topic in the sense that it speaks to attention span and our increasing exposure to and use of graphics, both of which probably figure into the very-much-shorter PB trend.
Good discussion.

I agree, Marcia! When watching older movies I notice that the scenes were longer. The dialogue lengthier. And the overall time count heftier. (I found that to be true even when comparing movies from the 80s and 90s!) It's almost like conversation, moments, life is expected to come at us in quick, successive, visual soundbites in order for it to be interesting. I definitely think that's why books are shorter. They are competing with the fastness in which information is being doled out.

That said, books like A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter's originals are still being enjoyed by today's generation of kids. I think when parents are reading to their kids, especially at bedtime, they want to just slow down and enjoy the moment. So I don't think longer PB are ever going to go out of style. But is it possible for a newbie to sell one longer than 500 words? I don't think so.
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: christripp on September 13, 2015, 03:11 AM
>checking our phones is no sillier than dropping everything and running to answer a bell whenever it chances to ring, which we've been doing for the last hundred years, give or take.<

And suddenly I felt like a lab rat or Pavlov's dogs:)
Title: Re: Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on October 05, 2015, 06:28 PM
Yup. It might be because our brains are getting rewired, but it might also be because this is how we converse these days, since conversation is no longer about being face to face. And humans have long stopped or paused what we are doing for conversation. In fact -- checking our phones is no sillier than dropping everything and running to answer a bell whenever it chances to ring, which we've been doing for the last hundred years, give or take.

This is on topic in the sense that it speaks to attention span and our increasing exposure to and use of graphics, both of which probably figure into the very-much-shorter PB trend.

Good discussion. :)

This is insightful.

But visual literacy goes further. Yes, we are returning to hieroglyphics, but we never left them. They are brand insignias. (My son asked the difference between the Hyundai and Honda "h"s the other day). They are peace signs, yin yang, and anything else you might find on a graphic T. We identify ourselves with symbols. Look closely at your jewelry. Kids need to know what these things mean. They need to know the history and significance for some, so the words must come with those graphics.

Visual literacy is still literacy. You still work left to right, top to bottom if you work in English. You still have to draw meaning from the images on the page.

As far as movies go, I'm pretty sure The Lord of the Rings films did well. They are darned long, 178 minutes for the shortest. Snow White was 83 minutes. The difference is the target audience. Perhaps, as it should be with books, it depends on the needs of the piece.