Imagine that writing picture books was super easy. The story, the characters, the setting -- everything -- would come easily and you would end up in deep water, going with the flow.
In the Flow
I love writing. There are days that I can just sit down, either at the computer or with a notebook and I am in the flow. It’s all happening. And all I have to do is to follow that flow. However, I am finding that the life of a picture book author isn’t always smooth sailing. In fact, this week alone I have read a least two blog posts, a few Facebook posts and a couple of comments that show that no writer's journey is smooth. In fact often, the stream dries up—or at least hit some rapids.
Take for example one of my latest W.I.P. (Work In Progress).
Two dogs. One fox. One deep muddy hole. What could go wrong?
This is the original outline of one of my children’s picture books that I am working on. I start with the bare bones of the story. Then I have to flesh it out. Of course, it is a picture book and every word has to earn its place, as well as leave space for the illustrations to tell the story. It’s a balancing act.
Writing picture books is a balancing act
A Shallow Stream
Lately I’ve been re-working aforementioned dog story. It is one that I, late last year, got written in a week—rather than taking weeks to write—and have barely felt the need to tweak it. It was described by one publisher as 'lovely writing'. So I thought to myself, well, I don’t need to touch it much. I made the necessary suggested tweaks. Done! Ready to send out into the world again. Oh how wrong I was.
An author who mentors writers, and whose opinion I respect and value, had a look at it. She could see that my story had the potential to be so much more than it was. In other words it was a shallow stream. Pretty but it can be better—deeper. Was I willing to spend the necessary time to draw the real story out? You bet I was! I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to get started.
So I get out my dog story after this author has looked at it and given her feedback. I spent all morning looking at each verb. Is it active or passive? Spent ages scouring through my Active Verbs list to find the right one to describe what I want.
Could I put some rhyme in? Or not? Oh I can…just here and here. Spend another hour finding the right phrase to describe what is happening, making sure that it rhymes correctly.
Should I change the names? What names? Think of the dogs and what they are each like. What are their personalities like and their behaviour? Spend an hour making up a list of names before choosing one each. Will it make much difference? Oh! It does! How cool is that? It totally changes how people would perceive each dog, even before reading the story. Okay. I am in the flow and now that the characters are deeper, the story too, has more depth—I’m heading into deeper water. Lovely.
Changing names does make a difference.
The Ripple Effect
Oh no…the ripple effect. I made a few changes and now the story has changed and has a different rhythm. Is it good? Spend next half an hour reading it out loud. Then spend another hour deleting twenty words and adding ten different ones.
Does any of this sound familiar?
So, I’m still in the flow. Drifting now and letting the story sink in a bit before moving on again, before I am ready to have another look at it. The journey is not yet over. My two dogs are not ready to meet the world…yet. I love this process though, and I am looking forward to seeing where the story will go to from here. Very soon we will reach deep, tranquil water, and my story will be ready to be released into the world.
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