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How to start my on picture book?

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I am new to this message board. I was referred by a friend. I am so interested in starting my own picture book or children's book. I just don't know where to start. I sit here and I just draw a blank. What can I do to start generating some ideas? What is the process of writing a picture book? Any advice is much appreciated!
#1 - December 26, 2016, 07:11 PM
Alexandra G. Kirkman

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Hi Agkirkman. Welcome to the boards, and congratulations on deciding to learn to write PBs. It's not an easy task, as you have already found out. It would probably be a good idea to order one or two How-to books online, or look for them in the library. It's also a good idea to go to the library and just read as many PBs as you can. Then go back and read some more. I agree that coming up with ideas can be hard, but they'll come.

Good luck.  :star2
#2 - December 26, 2016, 08:12 PM

Thank you and I will consider that. I appreciate the advice! :like
#3 - December 26, 2016, 08:15 PM
Alexandra G. Kirkman

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Welcome to the boards! :welcome

Pons gave you some great advice. I tend to request close to 50 PBs at a time from my library (it's great to ask a librarian in person--but a lot of the time I hear about great picture books here and other places online and add them to my library list). Try to concentrate on books that were published in the past few years, because those will reflect the current market. Current books (especially fiction PB) typically have sparse words (many of them are under 500 words).

There are tons of great writing books for picture books. My regional chapter of SCBWI recently ran an online class using Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, and we all loved it (it's the kind of book you can read and learn from as a beginner then go back to it after you've worked on your craft and learn even more).

To start generating ideas, look around you and think about what could appeal to children. Or think back to when you were a child and what you loved, feared, dreamed would happen, etc. You can create a file for the ideas, put them in a journal, on scraps of paper (and hopefully keep them in a place you can find them easily when you want to use them). Try to write them down as soon as possible, because they tend to fade if you don't (I've lost some ideas that seemed awesome at the time because I was sure I'd remember them later.)

Here's a great challenge that starts in January that will help inspire you to come up with ideas. It used to be just for picture books, but this year it's changing to a new name (STORYSTORM) and will be for any genre. In the past, there were some amazing picture book posts that you might want to browse through: https://taralazar.com/ 

Start writing, and don't forget to have fun! Collect as many ideas as you can, see which ones demand attention the most, then start working on your story! There are many ways to write a picture book, but one format that might help you start is a character who wants something, but can't have it...so the character tries three things and fails (each attempt even bigger than the last), and then finally finds a way to fix his/her problem. It's important for your character to do this on his/her own and not rely on adults or others to fix it for him/her. Then, see if you can end with something that's surprising or makes readers laugh--something that makes them want to read it again and again. By the end of the book, your character should've somehow grown or changed. 

 
#4 - December 27, 2016, 12:07 AM

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You've already gotten some great advice, but I want to add one more thing: Use whatever ideas you have, even if they don't seem good. It's perfectly okay to spend your writing time putting a crappy story on paper--infinitely better, in fact, than staring at a blank screen (or page) instead. There's a good chance you'll be able to make that bad story better in revision. And even if your first story or two is so embarrassing you just want to throw it away, you'll learn something about the craft and figure out a few pitfalls to avoid next time.
#5 - December 27, 2016, 04:20 AM
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Hi Alexandra! A great place to start is reading Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books. It is a wonderful introductory text. Checkout kidlit411.com for more online resources and a great Facebook community. Write a bunch, read a bunch, ask a bunch of questions, experiment and have fun!
#6 - December 27, 2016, 06:03 AM
Lisa Katzenberger
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I also just came across this article and thought it might help! http://www.writersonthemove.com/2016/12/writing-for-children-finding-story-ideas.html
#7 - December 27, 2016, 08:34 AM
Lisa Katzenberger
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Hi Alexandra---You've already gotten some great advice. I want to add one more suggestion, a book I've been reading in the last few days: prolific picture book writer Linda Ashman's The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture books, which is available for sale (as a download) on the author's website. I find it incredibly helpful because she takes you through the steps, and also tells you what NOT to do, the common pitfalls she herself ran into when she first started out, and the problems she sees in manuscripts she critiques at SCBWI conferences. Good luck and have fun!
#8 - December 30, 2016, 02:39 PM

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Let me add just one suggestion, based on my own experience. If I had known everything I DIDN'T know about writing picture books when I first started, I would never have even tried. I did LOTS of things wrong, and somehow it all worked out anyway (eventually).

Don't get too intimidated about all the things you don't know--the main thing (at first) is to just let go and enjoy the writing. Have fun! I read lots of beginning picture book manuscripts, and I can always tell when someone's going to succeed. Those are the writers who have a sense of playfulness, who enjoy making up stories, and above all, who still have a childlike sense of mischief and mystery. And don't forget to be ridiculous. If you've got that, you can work everything else out.

#9 - December 30, 2016, 03:52 PM
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My favorite way to generate ideas is to have access to children. I'm lucky to have two of my own, but nieces/nephews/cousins/neighbors work as well. We play a lot of story games and making up stories and while most of them are obviously derivative, every once in a while it'll spark an idea that's cute and clever enough to be an actual story. Reading PBs is awesome, but I find, at least for me, I can't get ideas that way. They can help me perfect ideas but not generate them. (In fact, if I try to use PBs to generate ideas I just get crazy discouraged about how brilliant everyone else is and why does the market need another writer especially one who's not any good and then I stop writing for a few days...or months lol. But that's probably just me.) Anyway, it's just a thought. Made up story games with kids! You'd be surprised what they and you together can invent. :)
#10 - January 21, 2017, 06:31 AM

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Lots of great advice!  I also found these worksheets helpful from
https://writingaccordingtohumphrey.wordpress.com/writers-notebook-worksheets/

especially this one: https://writingaccordingtohumphrey.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/basic-plot-outline.pdf

Most important - just write - seek feedback from other writers - there is a section of the board just for critiques.
#11 - January 21, 2017, 04:53 PM
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You have received some excellent advice from everyone here.

I think the greatest thing that helped me improve as a writer was to not only read current picture books, but to really study them to understand how they work. I think of it as the difference between watching a TV show or movie for fun versus watching and studying the to understand story structure, etc.

Ask yourself how do the page turns work? What work are the illustrations doing? How does dialog work? How do the characters evolve? How do the opening and closing work together? I often will type out entire picture books on my computer to help me with this. Every time I start a new book, I study many mentor texts and use them to make my work better.

Good luck!
#12 - January 22, 2017, 06:58 AM
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