Being Ruthless

To put it in very simple terms, picture books are like very complicated puzzles. Everything in a picture book needs to be in it for a reason. The wrong piece in the wrong place, or a piece from another puzzle, will stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a square peg in a round hole kind of thing. 

Try going through your finished manuscript and… 

– Check if, by the end of spread 3, you have set up the problem, the main character and what’s at stake – I.e. the conflict. 

– Consider if there is anything you can do to make this conflict more dramatic? Can you make something even worse happen for your character? 

– Try circling the parts of the story where tension builds. Are they powerful? 

– Highlight the action. Does it move the plot forward? If not, cut it! 

– Be sure that you have delivered your story with vivid scenes that Show and not Tell? How could the scenes be even more exciting? 

– Find the ‘turning point’ or ‘climax’. Is it around spread 9? 75% of the way through your story? 

– Check that the climax followed by a believable and satisfying resolution. 

– If a character, event, scene, line or word is not in your story for a very good reason, take it out! 

As mentioned in Content Three, there is value in making a paper or digital dummy of your book. At the very least, listen to someone reading it aloud or record yourself reading it and play it back. Another option is using the ‘Read Aloud’ function on your computer (Great for spotting typos!) Reading your manuscript alongside another picture book or a mentor text might also be helpful. We can learn a lot from reading and analysing stories and the way they work. Whether or not you rate them, reading a text slowly and then reading it again, being mindful of what do you like/ don’t like, is a great way of moving your own writing forward. This doesn’t just include published books, but also those early drafts from your peers and critique partners. 

And don’t be afraid to: 

  • cut 
  • listen to your gut feeling 
  • heed those niggles and rewrite 
  • start again (but always save previous drafts) 

When I critique other people’s stories professionally, I mark texts against a list of ten points that I think all good stories need. I have listed them below in THE ULTIMATE CRITERIA FOR A BRILLIANT PICTURE BOOK and added some notes about each one. Hopefully they can be used as a self-evaluation tool for your own writing.