WRITE BIG OR GO HOME
When writing picture books, in the end, word count is king. Shorter is better…as long as it serves your story well. But how do you know you’ve got ‘the right stuff’ in place before you start paring away? That’s where the huge benefit of writing big in your early drafts comes in.
It’s best to forget the box in which your story will exist—the picture book format—when you begin drafting the settings, plot line and characters. Think of your draft as one very large brainstorm. No one will read it but you.
Begin where your inspiration brought you: that scene, image, concept. Write it out. Can you reduce it to a sort of mission statement for your story? There’s your guiding principle. Tack it up on a wall by your keyboard.
Do a rough outline of where your story might best take place; what plot actions would tell the story you hope to write; which characters might best move your plot along; who is your main character; what is the main problem to be solved and how it might be solved; what is the main takeaway message you hope to give your reader.
Now that you have the map, let it guide you and your imagination on a very long road trip. Pack snacks, drink lots of water, and ask your inner critic to stay home. Let your pages be whatever they need to be right now. A first draft for a picture book written with the freedom to include all the details, twists and turns that arise for you might be ten to fifteen pages. That’s okay. Keep going until it feels like the end.
Let that fat manuscript of yours sit in a drawer for a day or two. Let your unconscious mind work on the story as you wait for the next go-round. When you do, you’ll be glad for all that unnecessary word count. Why? Because you’ve written a healthy dose of story choices from which to work.
Chances are some of those choices will be cast aside on the third or sixth or twelfth draft, replaced by something that working with your first choice helped you see. Some of the details about setting or characterization will not make the final cut. But some will. Would you have come up with all that richness from which to revise without giving yourself permission to ‘write big’ for the first draft? Probably not.
There’s no single ‘right way’ to write. My gift to you this holiday season is permission to allow yourself the freedom to create BIG. It may be worth a try in the new year. Will you let me know how it works for you if you do?
Happy Reading—and writing!