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Making a picture book text more book-y and less magazine-y?

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Can anyone explain to me what elements or styles might be more picture book-y rather than magazine-y?

I know that a picture book has different pacing, and needs more 'scenes' so that there are plenty of illustration opportunities for 12 or more spreads, but are there other aspects too?

Is a PB character's story arc similar to a magazine character's story arc?

Anyone got some fabulous insights for me? Thank you!!!
#1 - August 07, 2013, 09:44 AM

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Picture books are more than just short stories. The best way to get a feel for them is to go read 50-100 picture books that have been published in the last few years. Then go read a few 'classics.'

You'll start to see that a picture book has rhythm even if it is not in rhyme. Each word is carefully picked to add lawyers of sound and shades of meaning. A picture book must sound great when read aloud. You must want to hear it again and again.

I recommend reading Eve Heidi Bine-Stock's three books about picture book writing as a good starting point.

Good luck!

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#2 - August 07, 2013, 10:06 AM

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Fabulous insights? Probably not. Random ideas? You betcha.

PB=economy of words, few if any "stage directions," dialog tags of "said" or "asked" suffice in almost every situation, big picture idea "feels" more important, more substantial than magazine stories (sometimes), as you said 12-14--usually different--illustrable scenes, transitions aren't as important in PBs as in magazines (the page turn does this).

Yes, the MC's arc is similar in both genres.

And what's hard is that different people assess the same work differently. I've had critiquers tell me a manuscript of mine was clearly for the magazine market, while others put it firmly in the PB category. One of the latter was the editor who almost acquired this story. The other is my agent who is subbing it.

Ya never know. Helpful, huh?  :aah

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#3 - August 07, 2013, 10:38 AM
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Almost no sight descriptions in the text, unless something like "red hat" is vital to the plot. Concentrating the words on what an illustrator can't draw.
#4 - August 07, 2013, 10:59 AM
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Thanks all. Someone (an agent!!) has suggested I put the PB in present tense to make it feel less magazine-y. That's why I wondered...

There aren't any visual descriptions in the text so maybe it's just the tense I should worry about. I'm probably overthinking things and should just do what she asked me rather than trying to second-guess what she's after!!
#5 - August 07, 2013, 11:14 AM

I'm all about typing out picture book texts to get the "feel" of them. I bet I've typed out more than 100 over the years. I put in an extra double space to denote page turns. You could give this a try and you could also type out couple of short stories from Highlights for comparison.

I'm not sure why a change to present tense would make the ms more pb-like. Hmmmm....
#6 - August 07, 2013, 11:20 AM
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I'm all about typing out picture book texts to get the "feel" of them. I bet I've typed out more than 100 over the years. I put in an extra double space to denote page turns. You could give this a try and you could also type out couple of short stories from Highlights for comparison.

I'm not sure why a change to present tense would make the ms more pb-like. Hmmmm....

Katy, I love doing that too. In humour, particularly, it really highlights how the text is so often the 'straight guy' in picture books. I typed out Olivia a few years ago and was quite amazed by how unfunny it is without the illustrations! I've never tried it with magazine stories, though. I'll do that now. Great idea.

Maybe past tense makes it all feel a bit, Once Upon a Time, in a Faraway Land? (My PB doesn't start like that, don't worry! It's not even a fairytale.) I dunno.
#7 - August 07, 2013, 11:28 AM

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You already know about tight writing, words that sing and dance, visual pacing, picturability. I'd like to add depth to the mix. If a parent is going to spend a whopping $17 on a book, you want to make sure it has that special something that a kid will want to read over and over and over again. It needs to work on many levels -- entertainment, educational, even nostalgia. That said, I have read a few PBs that were originally magazine stories.

Good luck, Franzilla.
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#8 - August 07, 2013, 11:38 AM
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You already know about tight writing, words that sing and dance, visual pacing, picturability. I'd like to add depth to the mix. If a parent is going to spend a whopping $17 on a book, you want to make sure it has that special something that a kid will want to read over and over and over again. It needs to work on many levels -- entertainment, educational, even nostalgia. That said, I have read a few PBs that were originally magazine stories.

Good luck, Franzilla.
Vijaya

That's so true. Layers/depth. Everyone I know who's published has these in their PBs! (And they're often asked to put another layer in too! But without adding to the word count, obviously. Ha!) That extra depth gives it more value for money, it's true. This is different but I always felt like I really got my money's worth out of Eliza Kleven's books because her illustrations have so many details in, we could spend hours just looking for cats. If a picture book can 'give' you different things each time you read it, you've hit the jackpot. And off I go to jackpottyify* my PB!

Thank you! Wish me luck!

*Not a real word.
#9 - August 07, 2013, 11:59 AM

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These categories overlap a lot. I've had many editors tell me that a certain ms. was more appropriate for a magazine--and I later sold it as a pb. In fact one extremely influential and knowledgeable editor from a big house rejected CINDER EDNA because it was a "magazine piece." That book is still in print after 20 years, so I think it's fair to say she was mistaken.

But really sometimes I think editors know that they don't want to publish something and just give their first impression. I'm not sure this is the case with you, but never take what someone says in a rejection letter too seriously. Sometimes those letters are written by interns.

As far as it goes, I agree with what others have said on this thread--especially Vijaya. If it has some depth and tells a universal truth (plus action and illustration possibilities) it's a pb.
#10 - August 07, 2013, 12:58 PM
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I've noticed that younger picture books seem to be in present tense more often. Is yours targeted at a younger audience? Could that be what the agent is reacting to? Or maybe there's some other reason the agent suggested that?

Perhaps you shouldn't read too much into it and just try it out. See if you think it sounds better that way. Does the feedback resonate? Because it's so subjective.

 :goodluck
#11 - August 07, 2013, 01:43 PM
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I think one key difference is also the "page turn" effect you can achieve in picture book writing that isn't possible in a magazine piece. Page turns can accomplish a lot - a surprise, a passage of time, a change of emotion. The picture books I love best use the page turns effectively to accomplish these things.
#12 - August 07, 2013, 02:56 PM
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The most obvious answer to me is to make the pictures imperative in the storytelling or concept, and the page turns wowsie. Audience participation is a must. These things are what little kids love. And of course they must identify/connect with it.
#13 - August 07, 2013, 03:58 PM
« Last Edit: August 08, 2013, 04:42 AM by Abracabarbara »
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 :goodthread: Also, Allyn Johnston at this year's SCBWI LA emphasized PBs as performance pieces: the adults reading the story are the actors, and the author makes the various characters' parts they play so much fun to act out (i.e., read with various characterizations) that both the child and the adult want to read it again and again.
#14 - August 07, 2013, 03:59 PM

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:goodthread: Also, Allyn Johnston at this year's SCBWI LA emphasized PBs as performance pieces: the adults reading the story are the actors, and the author makes the various characters' parts they play so much fun to act out (i.e., read with various characterizations) that both the child and the adult want to read it again and again.

Ooh yes. And that reminds me of another thing too – presumably a lot of story-based magazines are read by the children themselves. (Not all, but a lot.) Which means the vocabulary would also be different too. 
#15 - August 07, 2013, 05:58 PM

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Good thread and a lot of great information.

In a few sentences, this is how I look at it:

When I write a picture book or magazine story, I often write it in threes.

The difference is I think of a magazine story, kind of like a short story.

In a picture book, I would want several different scenes for the illustrator. I also would want a rhythm to the text and want the child wanting to know what comes next on each page (a page turner).

That said, I've published short stories but not a picture book yet… :chickendance
#16 - August 07, 2013, 06:05 PM

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Good points. I've also been told that magazine stories can have more dialog than picture books.
#17 - August 07, 2013, 07:29 PM
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