I have a new found helpful guidebook, "Writing Picture Books, A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication" by Ann Whitford Paul. Let me first start by saying that I have read quite a few of these so-called "You Can Write" books and the "Become a Children's Book Writer in a Day." books. Although these books are helpful in getting a writer to make sure they are on the right path, nothing can substitute for a creative mind. Sometimes, though we need a little help. Our stories may sound great in our head, or a story may sound great as we recite it to our own children, but the publishing industry is changing. As the costs of books go up the attention span of children and their parent's goes down a picture book has to grab within the first few seconds. No matter how short or long a story is – it has to have a beginning, middle and end, you have to hook your reader in the first sentence, and you have to have some sort of plot. Yes, even "Good Night Moon" had a plot.
I took an intensive children's book writing and illustrating class and Ann Whitford Paul's book was required reading. I learned a lot from Ms. Paul's book and some things I had already read were re-instilled into my thick skull. Here are a few items I took away.
1) Children have short attention spans – your story must be focused (one aspect of one thing)
2) Everything is new to children
3) Children care deeply
The book starts by helping you start your manuscript. For example, Ms. Paul helps you build the frame for your story, structure your story, and hold your story together and basic plotting. After following her guidelines, on a story I had already written, I rewrote again and again until I had a story with an opening that would grab any reader, a succession of events that pushes the reader to turn the page and an ending where the main character's problem is solved. I tested my manuscript using several of Ms. Paul's suggestions (act 1, 2 and 3 for example) and found that I passed several tests.
I already had a great idea, but the "Writing Picture Books" guide helped me to hone it in, fine-tune it, and turn it into a strong manuscript.
I'll let you know when I get my offer from the publisher!