Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tips for Picture Book Writers

Right before bed last night an email message arrived from  the good people at  Rocky Mountain Chapter of Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators  (big breath.)  

I was sleepy, but I read it anyway.  A Spring workshop presenter was looking for published authors to share their tips for writing children's picture books.  As I drifted off to sleep I was pondering what would be on my list.... list.... list... (that's when I fell asleep.)  

When I woke up, I had this list of tips:   
  • Keep chocolate in your desk drawer. (I prefer 70% cacao... lah-dee-dah.) 
  • Picture book writer's are on word diets.  Celery, carrots, broccoli, maybe some whole grains, but remember make it YUMMY!!  You do not have access to words like  fromage or pate brioche.  Dang.   Keep it simple, BUT YUMMY!!  (Average picture book length is getting shorter by the minute--under 1000 words-- but  have you ever counted how many words are in Olivia??)
  • Trim-trim-trim... do not be afraid to trim.  Sometimes your all-time, very favorite sentence doesn't move the story ahead.    A wise, old editor (she really isn't old, just wise) once told me, "You'll use it, someday,  in another story..." 
  • It's okay to throw in a couple zingers for good measure.  In my first book,  Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots,  (all 250 words of it!)  I use the word "delectable" because, well because,  it stretches children's vocabulary...  Plus I couldn't find anything else that rhymed with "vegetables."
  • Think of yourself as Gumby!!  You know, the little bendy guy that looks like the gingerbread man?  Only Gumby's smarter because he's made out of a slab of stinky rubber, not yummy cookie dough,  so... the sly fox isn't going to be interested in eating him up.   Be smart (and bendy)-- editors, agents, publishers,  friends, your mother,  a little bird... are all going to give advice.  Every single suggestion, whether it comes from the industry or the UPS guy, might just be the catalyst to something astounding.   
  • Did you notice that all my tips so far, except one,  have been food related?  Geeez.
  • Have ears like DUMBO  and HORTON.   Listen to every teeny tiny word that children say.  My daughter began saying wonderful things before she could officially talk. Mountains were WOWS and blankies were WEEEE's.  (Long story.)   My personal favorite, "When me looks at the moon, me sees a white banana..."   That said, sometimes kids say things that become book titles!!  I know mine did.    

copyright 2008  all rights reserved carmela lavigna coyle


Thea said...

Great tips....when is this workshop? I know someone who may be interested.

Anonymous said...

my all time favorit word in your princess book..delectable

My daughters eyes get big everytime I get to this page. I read it to her and then she giggles....then "what's declecble"
says it all wrong...and I say SHE FINDS ALL VEGGIES YUMMY...that's a surprise all in itself..
great tips..wish I was a writer..blogs don't count...hehe

carla quental said...

Dear Ms. Carmela Coyle, I am writing from your publishing company (Northland Publishing) and need to make contact with you regarding royalty payments. I'm sorry to use this forum to get your attention.
I can be reached at royalties@rowman.com or by ph at 717-794-3808.
Carla Quental

Kelly H-Y said...

Wonderful and true tips!