Monday, January 25, 2010

SCBWI-IL Prairie Writer’s Day Conference 2009, part 2

Last week, I posted author Cynthea Liu’s notes on using public relations to promote yourself and your books. Today, I’m going to share what Yolanda LeRoy had to say.

Yolanda LeRoy is an editor at Charlesbridge, a publishing house that focuses on books for younger ages. Yolanda told us much of what she knows about picture books, but much of her knowledge transfers to middle grade and young adult as well.

Yolanda laid out the basics of a picture book first. It’s thirteen to fourteen spreads (not thirty-two pages) that carries your story arc. And, page-turns are extremely important. She also said that the most successful picture books are the ones that can reach the universe through the specific. Personally, I think that applies to longer books, too.

If you break down a book into Character, Plot, and Voice, these are the elements that Yolanda found most important.

The voice is the mood, emotional color, or attitude of a story. A funny story has an upbeat voice, a dramatic story has a serious voice, and so forth. The voice is also a consistent backdrop against which the characters change. In other words, the characters change and grow, but the voice stays the same.

The best way to learn Voice is through example, by analyzing published works. Look at word choice, sentence structure, and other writing features that create the voice. How did these authors do it? How would you do it? Then, find three contrasting examples – three books with vastly different voices – and compare them.

Some examples she gave of picture books with good voice are DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS and THE STINKY CHEESE MAN.

The plot moves the story along. Basically, it reveals and resolves the conflict. To see whether your plot is moving along at a good pace, you can use a method that Yolanda called ‘paging out the manuscript.’ Basically, you lay out the story and track the plot’s progress. Each page (or page spread) should be the equivalent of one chapter, and should move the plot forward somehow. If it doesn’t, then you might need to rethink that page.

She said this method could be used for longer works, too. Lay out a story by chapters and track the progression of the plot. If a chapter doesn’t move the plot forward, then you might need to rethink that chapter.

Some examples she gave of picture books with good plot are GRANDFATHER'S JOURNEY, TAILYPO, and ZEN SHORTS.

Characters are what the reader connects to. To build a character, you do it through his actions, how he relates to other characters, and his dialog. Without these actions, the character is flat and the reader can’t connect.

The tools that writers have to create a picture book are the setting, point of view, dialog, structure, pacing, tension, narrative arc, and the poetry/prose. Which is just like writing a longer story, only harder. :)


Bish Denham said...

Thanks for this. When I first started writing specifically for children I thought (silly me!) that picture books would be easy. Now I know better. These tips help lay out the process, but I'm still not sure I could do it....

Laura Pauling said...

It would be fun and probably a good exercise to write my middle grade as a picture book. That would really narrow it down to character, plot, and voice.

Tabitha said...

Bish - writing picture books is a talent that I just do not have. :) I have an immense respect for those who can do it well, because it's HARD! :)

Laura - that's a fantastic exercise. I've done it once or twice, and it's incredibly useful.