Here's part 2 of the Picture Book Intensive I took with Lisa Wheeler and Alexandra Penfold at the FL SCBWI Workshop in Orlando.
Lisa gave us great questions to ask when revising. I can’t include all of them, but here are a couple important ones to think about:
• Does the main character solve his or her problem? (I think this is one of the most important things to keep in mind!)
• Does a secondary character hijack your story?
Naughty main characters
Even if they’re naughty, they still should have something likeable about them. Word choices can help…like The Recess Queen. Other great ones to check out are: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Wolf’s Chicken Stew, Elinor and Violet, A Visitor for Bear.
There are so many stories with animals who stand in for humans, because they’re universal. Animals can represent every sex, race, and it’s often hard to tell if they’re rich or poor. It blurs those lines and allows the character to do more. It’s hard to tell what age most animals are, so they can often represent both a child and an adult. It also allows a character to be naughty. Kids aren’t very forgiving of other children, which could make them dislike a naughty main character…but they usually don’t have a problem with a fuzzy, adorable troublemaker like Peter Rabbit. Maybe that’s why he’s here a hundred years later!
Don’t use personification unless it’s really needed and you can do it well. It’s very hard to do! Some great examples are: The Very Small Pea and the Princess to Be, Giant Meatball, and When Moon Fell Down.
If you use an adult as the main character, there must be something very childlike about him or her. Some fantastic books that do this well are: The Old Woman Who Names Things, Saving Sweetness, Mrs. Toggles Zipper, Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom.
Watch for redundancy in your manuscripts…but remember that it isn’t all bad. Repetition for emphasis is okay. Learn to spot the difference!
Read it out loud and see how it flows. Page turns are scene separators. They’re almost like time travel devices!
See if you can work in the rule of threes…it can be in sentences, scenes, or maybe even the big picture. Also look for places to use alliteration and other kinds of word play.
Go back to the beginning to bookend the end of the manuscript. You can make it go full circle, or have a shocking surprise ending.
Alexandra Penfold likes humorous picture books with quirky bits parents appreciate. She often doesn’t love gross humor or manuscripts that are overly sentimental. She doesn’t seek rhyme—it needs to be exceptional.
She spoke about favorite first lines. Some favorites mentioned by the participants or authors and agents who let Alexandra know ahead of time were: The Big Red Barn, The Library Lion, The Whales, Bear Snores On, Harold & and Purple Crayon, Parts, Where the Wild Things Are, Eloise, Click Clack Moo, Madeline (Alexandra loves this one—it establishes the character, setting, and the problem.)
Both Lisa and Alexandra agreed that first lines are hard to get right…but there’s plenty of time to nail the first line after writing the story. Don’t let it bog you down!
Alexandra Penfold did an amazing exercise that I’ve never seen before in a conference or intensive (and I’ve attended a lot of events). She read us a dummy she enjoyed at a conference, then showed us how Lee Harper’s revisions changed the text and illustrations from page to page until it turned into his published book, Snow! Snow! Snow!
When she sees a manuscript, she has to consider if it’s resistible or irresistible...and how she’ll feel if she lets it go.
Here's a link to part 1 of The Picture Book Intensive. I'm off to interview another picture book character. I hope I'll strike gold five times in a row, and that all the information helps you as much as it helped me!