This is the blog home of #kidlitart, a live Twitter chat Thursdays at 9:00 pm Eastern, for children's book illustrators, picture book authors, author/illustrators and friends. Check back weekly to read transcripts, comment on previous chats and suggest topics for upcoming chats.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#PBDummy Challenge Step 2

Note: You may sign up for the #kidlitart picture book dummy challenge through midnight, Eastern time, on January 16. You do not have to be registered to participate in the challenge--only to be eligible for the Agent Pitch Contest. Click here for sign-up and FAQs.

The following post is an edited version of last year's Step 2 post, which is also included in the #PBDummy ebook compiled by Wendy Martin.



Now that you have an idea for the picture book, the emphasis for the next four weeks will be on writing the story. For the challenge, we’ll assume most of you are creating original text, but those of you illustrating existing folk tales for your portfolios, working on nonfiction, or developing concept books, all need to be concerned with story—even a wordless picture book requires a script!

Some of you may be participating in Julie  Hedlund's #12x12in2012 challenge to draft one picture book a month during 2012. If so, consider this your February assignment!

How to write a story for children is beyond the scope of the picture book dummy challenge. There are excellent resources available, though—and the best advice is to READ, READ, READ! Read current picture books and classics. Read prize-winners and family favorites. Read aloud! Read to kids if you have ’em. Conventional wisdom says you must read at least 100 picture books before you attempt to write one.

Some things to keep in mind:

• Picture book plots are usually linear; they move forward through time (no flashbacks).

• Subplots may be implied (or carried through the illustrations), but the text adheres to a simple, single plot line.

• Picture books must have a child as the main character—a child or a child stand-in (a pet, furry woodland creature, etc.). An adult main character can work only if he/she exhibits childlike characteristics or behavior (Amelia Bedelia).

• Picture books address universal themes of childhood.

• Problems are solved by the main character, not by a wiser adult.

• Modern picture books are short: 500 words or less is not unusual.

• Beginning-middle-end structure results in a short story; a picture book plot contains tension that can be charted on a curve: rising action (exterior or interior) leading to a climax and quick resolution.

• Picture books most often use third-person point-of-view.

• Just as in a chapter book or novel, the main character should experience growth: change of attitude; newfound confidence; greater understanding, etc.

• Don’t be tempted to rhyme your text unless you’re willing to work to make the rhyme and meter perfect.

• There are exceptions to every “rule” about writing picture books!

Build your library:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book: Vols. I, II & III , by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock
Volume I: Structure
Volume II: Word, Sentence, Scene, Story
Volume III: Figures of Speech
This series uses classic children’s books as examples to examine structure and grammatical building blocks.

How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published, by Barbara Seuling
Contains a useful section focused specifically on picture books.

How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books and Get Them Published, edited by Treld Pelkey Bicknell and Felicity Trotman
Though dated in regard to some business details (first published in 1988), this book contains valuable insights into genres and styles, as well as solid writing advice.

Writing for Children & Teens: A Crash Course, by Cynthea Liu
A breezy intro to the full spectrum of children’s books, with pithy comments on mistakes to avoid.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book, by Darcy Pattison
Ebook based on the popular series of posts, "30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book," from Darcy’s writing blog, Fiction Notes.

Picture Writing, by Anastasia Suen
A unique approach to writing visually.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books, by Uri Shulevitz
A classic and still one of the best introductions to picture book creation.

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, by Nancy Lamb
Not specifically about picture books, but a fantastic reference for anyone writing for children.

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication, by Ann Whitford Paul
One of the newer entries in this category, and fast becoming a favorite.

Links to check out:












  1. EEK! I am SO excited. I actually have a ROUGH! And based on recent illo comments, another IDEA!!!!

    1. I hope that adorable dragon is featured in one of them! :-)

    2. Jeepers Creepers! I have a dragon story too!

  2. I'm ready - got my idea and my story - working on research for the characters and scenes! Thanks for all the great direction/advice etc!! I'm actually getting nervous that I've written a poem to illustrate but there you go - dive in fancy dress and all!

  3. My idea is set and the basic story is swirling in my noggin'. Just finished reading Ann Paul's book so I am ready to begin the writing. Hopefully I will have a rough draft before heading to New York next week for the SCBWI conference. I want to revise and edit on the train.

  4. I have my rough draft and I'm looking forward to revising, revising, revising this month. Great resources in this post, thank you!

  5. I'm outlining the story now and will have my first draft later this week. Stoked!

  6. I'm too late for the challenge but will play along anyway have my story ready to go!

  7. I am very pleased with my draft so far and excited by this challenge. Thank you for the list of suggested books, I shall think long and hard about my choices.