Words are a writer’s tools. Every sentence requires the writer thinking about words. In a picture book those words need to be chosen with care.
Writing a picture book for children is not as easy as it seems. While you may think you have a great story line, it all comes down to how you tell the story. It all comes down to the words you choose to use. And in a picture book there are not all that many words. Every word must count.
Too many words kill the story. There must be just enough words to convey the story line to the illustrator so that he or she has something to work with. After all, in a picture book the words tell only part of the story, the pictures fill in all the little details.
Words can be elusive things. Choosing the right words can be time consuming. I’ve just spent several hours searching for a word that portrays a particular sound. One word is all I’m allowing myself, not just any word, but a word that speaks to children; a word that will appeal to the child’s sense of rhythmical language.
Expressing sounds in single words is quite an art, one that needs to be developed. I’m not yet good at it. Can you quickly think of words that will appeal to children that portray the sound of a vacuum cleaner, a fridge door opening, the settling of dust, a swinging cat door, raindrops falling, butterfly wings, or rhythmical breathing?
It’s easy to think of everyday words, common and over used words. But to find the word that is going to add magic to your story is quite difficult. Finding a word or phrase that will have a child reader repeating it over and over once the story is finished is the key to success. Those words and phrases need to be searched for. To use a clichéd expression, they’re like mining for gold.
Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be an exact word for what you want to express. When that happens you just need to make a word up. After all, it is a picture book for children you’re writing and special words have special appeal. Many of the world’s best picture book writers have resorted to inventing words, simply to get the right effect in their story line. Unfortunately, so many wonderful words have been invented in picture books you need to take care you’re not stealing someone else’s made up imaginative word.
So, as a budding, as yet unpublished picture book writer, I am currently obsessed with words. They tumble around in my head, trying to impress me. They’re behaving a bit like the prince presenting himself at the king’s castle, trying to prove he is the most suitable suitor for the princess.
One word appears knocking at the door and is quickly shown the way out. Another appears to be a little more suitable and while not quite right, is stored away. Maybe that word has a close relation that will be more suitable.
There was once a popular Bee Gees song, performed more recently by Boyzone I believe, that contains the line ‘Words are all I have’. That line could have been written by a picture book writer. My day is spent searching for words.