Thursday, March 15, 2012

8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . .

Week of March 11, 2012—20 Tips for Great Picture Book Manuscripts
Thursday, March 15, 2012—8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . .

Here’s yet another thing I love to teach to students—literary devices. Some literary devices used frequently by picture book authors include: alliteration, assonance, consonance, idioms, irony, juxtaposition, metaphors, onomatopoeia, personification, puns, rhyme, rhythm, similes, and more. Some literary devices are used throughout a piece (for instance a rhyme scheme or a certain rhythm). Others, however, are used only for effect in a particular portion of the manuscript. (For instance, a metaphor to establish the setting, or a onomatopoeia to interrupt the action with an unexpected sound.) I tell my students that literary devices are usually sprinkled throughout a manuscript. If you’re going to use more than a sprinkle, you should have a plan in mind to ensure that the literary devices complement the story and don’t compete with it. To learn more about literary devices, visit:

It should go without saying that if you’re only working with 500 words, each word is extremely important and must be chosen carefully. There can be no wasted words in a picture book. Our earlier tip about vivid verbs and specific nouns was one reminder about word choice. But there’s more to think about—the names of characters, words that set that correct tone or feeling, words that add humor, words that are clear and precise, and so on. A picture book writer has to evaluate his/her manuscript word by word. We look for ways to be concise and communicate the same information in fewer words. We look for opportunities to let our words paint pictures. And we delete words in order for the illustrator to have room to tell his/her half of the story.

I love a surprise. I love an ah-h-h-h-h moment. I love reading a last line and immediately hearing, “Read it again!” Each of those feelings can be accomplished through a wonderful ending. On the other hand, nothing is more disappointing than a disappointing ending. You’ve read books that just seem to stop, or don’t give you the emotional pay-off you were hoping for, or don’t resolve all the issues raised in the book. When fourth graders get tired of writing, they will do one of two things. Sometimes they just write THE END. It’s like saying, “So there. Take that. I’m stopping and you can’t do anything about it.” Or, they will write, “To be continued . . .” They know it’s a lie, and so do their readers. The author never plans to continue that story, he/she just stopped and left you hanging. For heaven’s sake avoid those fourth grade tricks. If you do, I promise to keep teaching fourth graders to avoid those tricks, too! Read more about endings at:

I worked as an editor and editorial manager for years. So I love to edit. As a writing teacher, I’ve had to retrain myself because the job of editor and writing teacher are much different. Editors improve writing. Writing teachers improve writers. Marking up someone else’s paper never teaches that person to edit his/her own work. Each writer has to learn those skills for himself or herself. Editing deals with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice. Revision (which we’ll talk about tomorrow) is where the “meat” of the writing is improved or altered, but editing really deals with improving the conventions of the writing. I’ve written more about the difference between editing and revising at:


Cathy Mealey said...

Great series Rob - I can't wait for the Final Four!!

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks a million, Cathy!