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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guest blogger: Picture book author Kelly Hashway

Special treat today! Here is the first of what I hope will be a series of guest blog posts. Our inaugural guest is Kelly Hashway, author of the picture book May the Best Dog Win. I asked her to discuss her process for writing picture books.
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First I'd like to thank Anne for having me today and allowing me to share what I've learned about writing picture books. I love to pass along information to other writers since I've been fortunate enough to get help from some very talent and multi-published authors. Pay it forward, right?

There are a few things you really need to keep in mind when writing picture books. Possibly the biggest thing to remember is that every word counts. You would be amazed at how many round of edits my picture book, May the Best Dog Win, went through before it came to print. I learned a lot from the talented editors who worked on the book with me. You have very limited space in a picture book, so you need to tell your story in the best way possible in just about the fewest words possible. You can do this by using specific verbs. What do I mean? One line in my book originally read, "Mom took the rope bone and put it in the garbage." In the final version of the book it reads, "Mom took the rope bone and tossed it in the trash can." There are subtle differences here but the final version more clearly and accurately reflects what takes place in the story; "tossed" and "trash can" are more specific than "put" and "garbage". So be as specific as you possibly can. When you revise, go through every word and make sure it's the best choice for that sentence and for the story as a whole.

Another thing you really need to consider when writing a picture book is the illustrations. I know you're probably thinking, "But I'm a writer, not an illustrator." Yes, that may be true, but as a writer you are only half of the picture book. A picture book is a partnership between the author and the illustrator. The illustrations are telling just as much of the story as the words, and you must allow them to do so. That means you need to give up some control, which isn't always easy for a writer to do. I had to take out certain descriptions because they weren't necessary to the story once the illustrations were in place. It's perfectly fine to write illustrator notes in parentheses to keep yourself from overwriting. I find that very helpful. One trick I learned is to take a well-known picture book and type up the text. Then read the text without looking at the illustrations. It will instantly become clear that the illustrations are telling part of the story. Your text will in some ways seem incomplete without the help of the illustrations, but that's okay.

Like I mentioned before, my book went through several rounds of revisions. And one of those rounds came after my amazing illustrator submitted her illustrations. I had to make changes to accommodate the illustrations. I told you this was a fifty-fifty between the author and illustrator. So be prepared to make adjustments to match your illustrations. You have to remember that the illustrator is the expert on the pictures. Taking their lead and adjusting little things in the text is worth it.

The last bit of advice I'll give you is to remember that kids are smart. They will pick up on the lesson in the story without you having to shove it in their faces. Don't talk down to kids or they will quickly put your story down and move on to something else. Really the most important thing is to have fun. If you enjoy writing your picture book, then it's more likely kids will enjoy reading it.

So there you have some very important lessons to keep in mind when you are writing your picture books. Happy writing!
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You can find Kelly at her blog and buy May the Best Dog Win at Amazon and BN.

21 comments:

  1. Thanks again for having me, Anne!

    I'll be popping in all day so if anyone has questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll be happy to answer.

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  2. As a proofreader, this article hit home with me. Now I have a few more points to consider when proofing a kids' book. Thank you for posting.

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  3. Hi, Kelly! Do you currently have a new picture book in development? If so, can you give us a hint regarding the theme? And when you begin a new book, do you work with a new illustrator? Or is it better to stay with the same artist for the sake of consistency in the final book?

    Wishing you much success with May the Best Dog Win. It's adorable!

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  4. Christine, I recently signed my second picture book contract for a book tentatively titled Fish Detectives. The title pretty much says it all. It's a humorous picture book.

    I don't choose my illustrators. They are chosen by my publishers. However, with my new PB, the publisher allowed me to give my top three choices of the illustrators they use. So that was really fun going through them and checking out their illustrations to see who I'd like to work with. No word yet on who is being signed on for the book, but I'm excited to find out.

    Thanks for the kind words about May the Best Dog Win!

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  5. Great post Kelly. I hadn't heard about your latest upcoming PB. Congrats!

    ctny
    www.ctnyrene.blogspot.com

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  6. The Fish Detectives. I love it! Kelly, you choose absolutely darling titles.

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  7. Thanks, Courtney!

    Christine, I'm glad you like the titles. I actually find it difficult to come up with titles. There's a lot of pressure to think of something that will get people's attention.

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  8. Children's lit, and particularly the illustrated books, are a completely different kind of game then what most of us as writers are doing. The closest I would think of would be the working partnership between writer and artists in the comics-graphic novels side of things. I think you've done a fine job explaining the process, Kelly.

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  9. The title of your new book conjures up so many wild and wacky pictures it’s bound to be successful.

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  10. William, thank you. I hope I've helped a few people. And you are absolutely right. I'd imagine the relationship between the author and the illustrator of graphic novels and comics would be very similar.

    Barbara, that's so sweet of you to say. The title is meant to be humorous since only one of the two "dogs" is actually a dog. Hopefully that makes you even more interested in the book. ;)

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  11. Just wanted to thank Kelly for her great post and for fielding all these questions. Keep 'em coming!

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  12. I am amazed at people who write picture books. The editing on 1000 words or WAY less has GOT to exhausting.

    Very cool accomplishment :D

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  13. Jolene, it does sort of make your head spin since the lower word count makes the story stick in your head almost word for word. But on the other hand, it doesn't take nearly as long as revising a novel.

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  14. What a great interview, filled with juicy insider information about bringing a PB to print. I was particularly interested in the fact you had to take out some descriptions because they weren't necessary with the illustrations. Great info--thanks!

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  15. This is a wonderful interview at an excellent timing for me! To make a PB lyrical, magical, and short takes exquisite patience but it is so rewarding. Congrats, Kelly, on the success of Dash and the upcoming 'Fish Detectives!'

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  16. Laura, it's so important to realize that you don't have to describe everything because the reader will be seeing the story through the illustrations. As a writer, it's tough to get used to though!

    Claudine, thank you very much!

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  17. Thanks again for having me, Anne!

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  18. Wonderful job to both Kelly and Anne! Kelly, you gave some great info that every picture book writer definitely needs to know. And I just love the idea of "Fish Detectives!!" Can't wait to read it.

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  19. *clap* *clap* *clap* Excellent. Thank you for writing this. I've met a number of people who throw together children's books not realizing that it's more in-depth than they think.

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