A PICTURE BOOK WRITER’S CHECKLIST

To mark the launch of HOW TO BE COOLER THAN COOL I had an Instagram Live conversation with my longtime editor at Walker Books, Maria Tunney. Instagrammers can see our chat here.

Maria asked me to come up with ‘five key picture book ingredients’. That felt like an interesting challenge and what I had to say seems to have set others thinking too.

There are no definitive ingredients for picture books, or any other kind of creative writing. But over the years I’ve developed a list of 9 questions which I ask myself, to test the readiness of a developing picture book text. Sometimes a new story is strong in a number of areas, but not all. Checking through these 9 pointers can identify what needs to be worked on. And it can spark the ideas that a story needs, to evolve…

  1. Is there a character with whom young children will fall in love – preferably after one sentence?
  1. Is there something about the story that will ‘hook’ readers in from the start?
  1. Does the story have a page-turning quality as it progresses?
  1. What does the main character want?
  1. Is there an emotional journey, as well as a story journey? (It doesn’t matter what the emotion is.)
  1. Is there visual variety for an illustrator?
  1. Does everything happen across a short time-span? (Picture book stories very often describe a single day, or even less.)  
  1. Is the story truly young…truly for and about children under 6?
  1. Is there some kind of ending uplift that will delight young readers? (There are many kinds: twists, jokes, echoes, questions, satisfying resolutions. Best of all, perhaps, none of those…but something no one’s come up with before!)

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