Ten Essential Picture Book Elements

By Kathryn Evans

Sorry for the delay SCBWI friends – here, at last, are my notes from the Winchester Conference Picture Book  Intensive. The aim was to explore the essential elements that make  a breakout picture book with Sarah Frost, Commissioning Editor for picture books at Hodder, and Author/Illustrator Melanie Williamson.

The morning session covered the ESSENTIAL  basics:

1.  Title:

A great title should be  memorable, intriguing and match the tone of your story. Rhyme or alliterate, highlight the theme of your book, try and use the main characters name,  is there a catchy refrain from your story that you could use?  e.g Time for Bed, Sleepy Head Be short snappy specific. Check to see if your title has been used before! Be immediate – get attention fast.

2. Popular themes:

Bedtime

Siblings/new baby

Mum/dad

Love

Hugs

Worries

Importance of kindness/sharing

Counting

Feelings

First experiences of toddlers and things they’ll face when they’re growing up – eg potty training

Friendship

Pets

Growing up

Accepting difference

Facing fears.

3. Character:

What is unique about your character?

Is your characters name memorable?

Do they have friends or family?

How do they live?

Are they a goodie or a baddie?

What mood are they in?

Will they appeal to boys or girls?

4. Narrative plot:

Your story should have:

A beginning middle and end;

A problem that needs to be overcome which might then lead to

Conflict;

A resolution to the problem and satisfying ending;

A distinctive shape – cumulative, circular or in a question and answer format;

Not be a set up for other  stories.

5. Setting:

Can your story move between locations/settings – makes things more fun for the illustrator!

Be playful, try the unexpected;

Children are often more willing to accept unusual settings than adults;

Setting helps a child become involved in the story;

Setting can help set the mood of a story;

A white background will keep focus on the character and emotion;

6. Audience/Voice:

Consider your audience – both children and adults who buy the books;

Can your picture book have different layers to broaden its appeal?

Find your voice – individual, energetic, lively…

Is your unique personality coming through in your writing? E.g The Great Dog Bottom Swap

7. Your book should be great to read aloud:

Think about:

Rhythm

Repetition

Rhyme

Word play

Voice

Flow

Onomatopoeia

Sensory words

Similes

Length

Emotion

Animal noises

8. Think about the relationship between words and pictures:

Leave space for child to interpret story

Pictures can tell a part of the story that the words don’t

Pictures can add detail and humour

Pictures can tell a different story from the text

Text and illustrations should not be saying exactly the same thing

Give the child some element of control by having illustrations revealing what’s not said

Set your illustrator notes in seperate column so they don’t interrupt the text

Think about page turns and pacing

You need to tell your story in limited words while:

Increasing tension/suspense

Varying  rhythm

Creating excitement, drama and impact

Creating a ‘big reveal’ moment

9. The physical structure of a picture book contains:

Full spreads, vignettes, panels and frames )these can all be used to manipulate pace);

12 double spreads but it can stretch to 14 plus single page.

10. The ending – things to think about:

Match tone of your ending to the tone of your book

Can you bring your story full circle?

Could your ending have a surprise/twist?

Try to have your end in sight when writing;

A great ending can send the reader straight back to the beginning again.

The morning session carved an editorial pathway for the picture book script I’ve been sweating over but the hands on afternoon session gave me a little time to play with it.

We spent time looking at each of the above elements in detail – playing with our characters – interviewing them to give them depth. Writers played with storyboards to help visualise page turns. We had fun!   When you really examine your own writing, bearing the above  in mind, you might be surprised at what you’re missing.  I was.

Thanks Sarah and Melanie – you were inspirational and a tiny bit bonkers – in a wholeheartedly good way .

Kathryn Evans is the author of  More of Me. She’ll be appearing at  YAShot on 22nd October 2016.  If you enjoyed More of Me, please vote for it in the EdBookFest first book award🙂 You have until the middle of October. Thanks!

 

 

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow! This is quite comprehensive. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Patty Toht says:

    Thank you! Now I can fill in my notes with all the bits I missed. It was a great conference — and I’m so glad I met you and other generous and talented writers.

    Happy Christmas!

    Patty

  3. V. Kathryn Evans says:

    Thanks both! It was a great session – the Winchester conference always shakes my brain up a little. It’s wonderful to spend time with other industry people – truly inspiring.

  4. Paul Morton says:

    just as I remember, and it was memorable and very useful, thanks kathy

  5. I really enjoyed it. Sarah Frost and Melanie Williamson are great. And it’s a great checklist to use when you (think you) have finished your manuscript. I rewrote my title and it was tonnes better…

  6. Thanks for this brilliantly clear checklist Kathryn! Reminds me that I need reminding of this every time I start a new project!

  7. alexander says:

    na na na na na na na, da da da da da da da, bu bu bu bu bu,
    do do do do *CHICKEN*

  8. Reblogged this on Through the Prairie Garden Gate and commented:
    Ten EXCELLENT Essential PB Elements ~By V. Kathryn Evans

    1. V. Kathryn Evans says:

      Thank you! x

  9. Excellent concise post! Many thanks!

  10. Ashley Franklin says:

    Reblogged this on ashleyfranklinwrites and commented:
    Great things for picture book writers to know, as writing without a solid knowledge base can be a huge time waster.

    1. Kathryn Evans says:

      Absolutely – it’s getting them down to such a tiny about of words that’s the tricky bit! I’ve not managed it yet…

  11. hannamccown says:

    Reblogged this on hanna elizabeth mccown and commented:
    Valuable information here for picture book writers by Kathryn Evans.

  12. hannamccown says:

    I shared on my fb page, tweeted it and reblogged commenting, ‘Valuable information for writing picture books by Kathryn Evans. Thank you for this great post.

    1. Kathryn Evans says:

      Thank you – full credit to SCBWI!

  13. Mary McClellan says:

    Great info. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s