So many books. So little time.
A good friend of mine wanted to write a picture book. Crystal is a physician and an editor, but she has never written any fiction for children. She asked me, "Would you take a look at my story?" She felt confident about her manuscript. Little did she know that writing for kids can be challenging.
After reading her work, I told her she was off to a good start, but she needed to work on three things. One, the story lacked conflict. It was merely a slice of life piece: the meandering of a butterfly over flower fields conversing with other insects and animals. Secondly, the manuscript was too long. Lastly, the piece was more appropriate for ten to twelve-year old kids as indicated by the Flesch-Kincaid grade level tool.
We started by talking about conflict. When writing any story, whether it’s for kids or adults, there must be conflict. Without it, there is nothing for the main character to do, solve, or overcome. A main character must face a problem so that readers will root for her as she journeys to find a solution. So we came up with a conflict for the butterfly and discussed the plot, the sequence of events that describe how the insect might solve that problem. Then I pulled up a website that showed Freytag’s Pyramid. This diagram could be something she could refer to in developing the story.
Once we had an idea about the conflict and the plot, we talked about word count and language. Crystal's story was over 1000 words long. Today, most picture books are short. She would have to cut 500 words. With this limit, word choice is critical. The language would need to be age-appropriate because picture books are generally for four to eight-year old children. In addition, she would need to develop voice to give the story a unique personality.
Before we finished, Crystal asked how to go about illustrating the book. She was relieved to find out that writers don't have to find an artist to illustrate their work. Crystal gathered her notes and hoped we could meet again. In the meantime, she would have to consider how to go about editing her manuscript.
But with a grasp of the basics, she was ready to meet the challenge of writing for kids.
Randi Lynn Mrvos is the editor of the Kid’s Imagination Train e-magazine, a former consultant to Pearson Digital Learning, and a member of SCBWI. Her publishing credits include Appleseeds, Know, Nature Friend, and Highlights for Children. She has earned over thirty awards for her picture book manuscripts. In addition, she has taught writing classes at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky.
Visit her at Randi Lynn Mrvos