SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Is Someone Teaching that all words are BAD in a story?

Discussion started on

pretty pink princess poster
Member
Poster Plus
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
#1 - August 08, 2015, 06:23 AM
PBU
http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/p/picture-book-university.html

Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight series

Princess Peepers
Multiplying Menace

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.
#2 - August 08, 2015, 06:48 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
http://www.dianamurray.com

pretty pink princess poster
Member
Poster Plus
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!
#3 - August 08, 2015, 07:24 AM
« Last Edit: August 08, 2015, 07:26 AM by Pam »
PBU
http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/p/picture-book-university.html

Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight series

Princess Peepers
Multiplying Menace

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
#4 - August 08, 2015, 08:10 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.

#5 - August 08, 2015, 09:24 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

Admins and Mods Emeriti
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region epa
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.
#6 - August 08, 2015, 09:33 AM
« Last Edit: August 08, 2015, 09:35 AM by Kell »
Kell Andrews
www.kellandrews.com
Twitter @kellandrewsPA

THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE, Sterling, 2016

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region sfnortheastbay
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.
#7 - August 08, 2015, 10:53 AM
THE VOICE OF THUNDER, WiDo Publishing
THERE'S A TURKEY AT THE DOOR, Hometown520

www.mirkabreen.com
http://mirkabreen.BlogSpot.com

pretty pink princess poster
Member
Poster Plus
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.
#8 - August 08, 2015, 11:30 AM
« Last Edit: August 10, 2015, 08:02 AM by Pam »
PBU
http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/p/picture-book-university.html

Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight series

Princess Peepers
Multiplying Menace

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
#9 - August 08, 2015, 11:31 AM

Admins and Mods Emeriti
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region epa
I haven't seen it, Pam. Is there a common thread among your clients -- a critique group, regional SCBWI attendance, online course?
#10 - August 08, 2015, 11:41 AM
Kell Andrews
www.kellandrews.com
Twitter @kellandrewsPA

THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE, Sterling, 2016

Dionna

Guest
 :nicethread
Maybe they've read advice like: Leave Room for the illustration. Less is more. And they're not understanding what it really means???
#11 - August 08, 2015, 12:56 PM

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region newengland
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 
#12 - August 08, 2015, 02:02 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
#13 - August 08, 2015, 04:45 PM
Ghosts In the Night - Mackin 2019
Minnie's Green Book - HMH 2015
Mossy Marsha - Amazon
Blog: www.katherinerollins.blogspot.com

pretty pink princess poster
Member
Poster Plus
: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.
#14 - August 08, 2015, 07:42 PM
PBU
http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/p/picture-book-university.html

Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight series

Princess Peepers
Multiplying Menace

pretty pink princess poster
Member
Poster Plus
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 )
#15 - August 08, 2015, 07:49 PM
PBU
http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/p/picture-book-university.html

Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight series

Princess Peepers
Multiplying Menace

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region ksmo
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.
#16 - August 09, 2015, 04:33 AM
PRUDENCE, THE PART-TIME COW, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK, BUSY BUS series, EMERGENCY KITTENS, and more!
Twitter @jodywrites4kids

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).
#17 - August 09, 2015, 07:11 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
http://www.dianamurray.com

Member.
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region arizona
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.
#18 - August 09, 2015, 08:23 PM
BACKHOE JOE, HarperCollins, 2014
FAMOUSLY PHOEBE, Sterling, 2017
ALL IN A DROP, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019

http://www.lorialexanderbooks.com/

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"
#19 - August 09, 2015, 09:05 PM
SurfYourOwnMind.com, children's creativity blog currently in development.

New Poster
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region newmexico
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.
#20 - August 09, 2015, 10:49 PM

Chidren's Friendship Expert
Member.
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region newjersey
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.
#21 - August 10, 2015, 05:52 AM
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD
author/psychologist
www.EileenKennedyMoore.com
www.GrowingFriendshipsBlog.com *For parents
www.DrFriendtastic.com *FOR KIDS!

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
#22 - August 10, 2015, 06:48 AM
« Last Edit: August 10, 2015, 07:00 AM by Ree »

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
#23 - August 10, 2015, 07:07 AM

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region newengland
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?
#24 - August 10, 2015, 07:16 AM
www.carriefinison.com
DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS - Putnam (July, 2020)
DON'T HUG DOUG (Spring, 2021)


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
#25 - August 10, 2015, 07:38 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
http://www.dianamurray.com

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
#26 - August 10, 2015, 07:40 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
http://www.dianamurray.com

pretty pink princess poster
Member
Poster Plus
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???
#27 - August 10, 2015, 08:12 AM
PBU
http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com/p/picture-book-university.html

Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight series

Princess Peepers
Multiplying Menace

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!
#28 - August 10, 2015, 08:39 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
http://www.dianamurray.com

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.
#29 - August 10, 2015, 09:46 AM
Ghosts In the Night - Mackin 2019
Minnie's Green Book - HMH 2015
Mossy Marsha - Amazon
Blog: www.katherinerollins.blogspot.com

Admins and Mods Emeriti
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region epa
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.
#30 - August 10, 2015, 10:10 AM
Kell Andrews
www.kellandrews.com
Twitter @kellandrewsPA

THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
MIRA FORECASTS THE FUTURE, Sterling, 2016

Members:

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.