Monday, May 10, 2010

Critiquing Picture Books

I'm in a new online critique group that came out of the Picture Book Marathon in February. We were having an e-mail exchange about what types of things we'd like to see in a picture book critique. I started making a list. I want it to be collaborative. I want my group members to add to it. And if you have any experience writing or critiquing picture books, I'd like you to chime in. What is missing from the list? I hope it will be a helpful list when self-critiquing or critiquing other's picture books. Here's what I came up with so far:

1) Does the story allow for illustration? You don’t want to be so specific that it leaves no room for the illustrator to interpret.

2) Word count: Must be less than 1500. Under 1000? Even better. Under 500? Awesome! However, these word counts will fluctuate with the type of content and age level.

3) Words must earn their place. Point out places the writer can cut unnecessary words. Every word counts in a picture book.

4) Read-aloud-ability. Does this book make a good read-aloud? Read it out loud and try it out. Mark the places that you stumble. Most picture books are meant to be read out loud to kids.

5) Language. Picture books are often very lyrical. Does the language have a rhythm, unique language, voice? Where does the language work? Where does it not work?

6) Unique premise. Does this story make something ordinary fresh? Unique? Funny? Aha moment? Will it stand out in the marketplace?

7) Does this story really work as a picture book? Sometimes it’s really a short story, or a novel, but just told in a few words. If it really isn’t meant to be a picture book, then it’s helpful for someone to point that out. Don’t be offended. If you agree with them, use it as a springboard for another project.

8) Story structure. Map out the story. What happens? A good way to plot your book or find the arc of the story is to do a storyboard. I recommend the one on Kim Norman’s site. There is also one in Anastasia Suen’s book Picture Writing.

Important: It’s ultimately your book. You decide whether the comments are something you want to incorporate. If one person mentions it, it may just be that person’s opinion. But if several people notice the same thing, then it’s probably something worth considering changing.

Disclaimer: I am no picture book expert. I have written a few, had some good comments from editors and agents, but nothing has been purchased to date. So, I’m still learning and obviously I need to work on my picture books a lot. Please don’t take the above ideas as gospel. These are just some things I’ve learned from other groups and workshop classes.

Your turn: What else do you want to add? I will add more to the list. I think it will help me keep my critiques more focused with some ideas to jump on. Obviously, we won’t hit each point with each picture book, but this might help if you aren’t sure what to comment on.

I'll compile a list including suggestions from others and post it.

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