Planning a picture book

Last week in my ‘Anita says…‘ writing tips regular blog I talked about Planning a novel. This week I thought I would talk about planning a picture book. As you know I had two new books out on the 17th of this month but how do I actually go about planning ALL the picture books I have had published?

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A good picture book is not just written it is constructed. Every word counts. When I plot a picture book I think carefully about the beginning, middle and end. My first task is to jot down a brief sentence or two of what I want to happen in each of these three sections. These are my key points. It is important to me to know how the story is going to end before I start writing so I know exactly where the story is going.

My next task is to think carefully about the structure of the book. There are 32 pages in a picture book:

Picture book page breakdown

As you can see this is briefly broken down as:

Page 1 – Front cover

Page 2 and 3 – End papers. These are the pages that appear immediately after you turn over the front cover. Sometimes they include themed illustrations.

Page 4 – Prelims and dedication. It includes information about the publisher, the printer, the ISBN number, copyright notices and sometimes the author or illustrator’s dedication.

Page 5 – Title page. This features the title, series, author, illustrator and publisher’s logo.

Pages 6 – 29 – The story. 12 double-page spreads. Pick up a picture book and count them.

Pages 30 – 31 – End papers

Page 32 – Back cover. The blurb, price, ISBN number and bar code.

The part you have to write is twelve double-page spreads. Sometimes they can be slightly different formats but usually they are 12 double-page spreads. Most songs, nursery rhymes and fairy tales are built upon the rhythm of this magical number three. Take a look at how a familiar fairy-tale such as, Goldilocks and the Three Bears,  fits to this picture book structure.

Picture book page breakdown with Goldilocks example

Notice how there are three bears, three scenes – porridge, chairs and going to sleep on the bed. The Power of three is an important tool when writing children’s books, especially picture books. In the case of picture books THREE really is the magic number that young children can identify with. Think about it… the rhythm of the day has three parts – morning, noon and night – there are three main meals in a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The rhythm of growing has three stages: baby, child and teen.

When I plan a picture book I always try to think of the plot, which goes into the middle section of the book, in three parts too. I also try to keep in mind Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure and the story arc. I outlined both of these ideas in my blog post on The Art of Plotting.

Just as for a novel the stakes have to get higher and higher. I keep these in mind and think carefully what I would like on each of the twelve spreads. I use this planning sheet to help me as part of the rough sketch phase of my planning. Again I just jot down a few words for each section.

My picture book plannerWhen the plan is in place and I am happy with it, I start to write the picture book. My recommendation to you if you are just starting out is to try and use this format. I hope you find it helpful. Of course if you use other methods of planning I would really be interested to find out more. Please let me know.

Book Review: My First Book of Relativity

Title: My First Book of Relativity

Written by: Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón

Illustrated by: Eduard Altarriba

Published by: Button Books

My First Book of Relativity by Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón

Before we can understand Einstein’s special theory of relativity we need to fully understand what time and space is. My First Book of Relativity achieves this as it starts by explaining exactly what time is and how it is measured, from sundials to the exceptionally accurate atomic clock. Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón then goes on to define in a beautiful concise way what space is and how it is measured, explaining how using standard units of measurement, such as the metre stick, came into being.

The next important concept to understand is speed. Again, Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón, walks the reader through the concept of speed in a clear and easy to understand fashion, so that when he goes on to explain how movement is relative it just all makes sense and the reader can make the connection instantly to how frames of reference are used to measure positions, distances and speed, just as Galileo Galilei had said 400 years ago. Her then goes on to explain exactly why light always travel at the same speed of 299,792 kilometres per second. The illustrations support and extend the readers understanding with each double-page spread having its own distinctive limited palette.

Each of Einstein’s thought experiments are broken down into small segments by organising the text into short, distinctive sections using the engaging illustrations, bullet points, bold and capitalised words to emphasise important information. My First Book of Relativity talks us through the incredibly difficult to understand concepts of time dilation, length contraction and mass increasing outlined by Einstein in his special theory of relativity in a fun, appealing and easy-to-read way so it is accessible to young readers of about 8+.

This is an ideal book for introducing the concepts of speed, light and movement to the class, or your own child. I believe it will inspire young scientists to think about time and space and even come up with their own thought experiments.

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.

An interview with… Christopher Lloyd

For my Writing 4 Children column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month, I interview Christopher Lloyd about his inspiration for creative non-fiction books.

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In the interview he explains how he realised that in order for children to explore learning, their own natural curiosity knowledge needed to be stitched back together again, not chopped up into separate subjects and curriculum.

“Afterall, the brain is not divided into separate sections for maths, music, art, languages, history, science – how absurd! It is all connected! So my books became all about ways of connecting knowledge into giant narratives.” (Christopher Lloyd)

Christopher revealed he originally submitted the proposal for What on Earth Happened? as a children’s book but when Bloomsbury bought the rights, they wanted him to write it for adults, so he had to change tracks. Ten years later, the original concept has finally been published (and entirely re-written) as a children’s book: Absolutely Everything! A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention.

The first Wallbook timeline books were his first children’s books and they were written as a result of his home educating experience. He stuck sixteen pieces of A4 paper together and started drawing pictures and writing captions. Three months later (and various pencil, and rubbers consumers) the blueprints for the Big History Wallbook were born.

The Big History Timeline Wallbook cover

His latest book, Humanimal, explores the connections between humans and other animals. The whole concept of What on Earth Books is to find new perspectives for looking at the real world – far more amazing than anything you can make up! Once I had finished Absolutely Everything! I was left with the dangling question in my mind – how clever are humans really? Are we so much more advanced and intelligent that other life around us? Or is that just a human arrogance fuelled by ancient religions and modern scientific traditions?

He states:

“Children have an intuitive sense that humans and animals are far closer than many professional adults realise and I thought it would be good to create a book that’s scientifically rigorous but totally accessible to younger people to explore this theme further.” (Christopher Lloyd)

The title Humanimal shows his conclusions were that the links are very strong indeed – far more profound than the differences, hence the need for a new word – describing us all as Humanimal is in many ways, far more accurate than the artificial divisions we wedge between species by using traditional scientific conventions. After all, human DNA is approximately 84% similar to dogs and 98% the same as chimpanzees.

Humanimals

He explained that during the writing process he divided the book into three themes that best characterise what most people would say it means to be human – Living Together, Having Feelings and Being Intelligent. He then researched to see what other animals have behaviours that seem similar and came up with a huge list. It was then a matter of honing them down to see which ones made the best stories and could be backed up by really reliable scientific evidence. The copy then went through a rigorous editing, fact-checking process before he received it back again to make any final stylistic changes with the editor.

His tips for other non-fiction children’s writers is to think what you want to write then think what will make the child go WOW! when they turn the page. There are plenty of triggers for this rush of dopamine in our natural reward system such as powerful visuals, finding out stuff that’s surprising, giving them different routes through the information.

“I think non-fiction had traditionally been poorly served as in terms of the priority given to it by schools in reading schemes and honestly many children find learning about the world we live in so fascinating. I hope that more focus will be given to non-fiction at festivals, in schools and generally in the field of writing for children.” (Christopher Lloyd)

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #222 Apr Writers’ Forum from your nearest good newsagents or order online from Select Magazines.

You can discover more about Christopher Lloyd and his What on Earth Books on his website: www.whatonearthbooks.com and follow him on Twitter: @chrislloydwoep and @whatonearthbook

Planning a novel

Planning and plotting are not the same things. to find out my views and writing tips for plotting take a look at:

Yes it is true that a plan will ultimately show you the possibilities , potential and pitfalls in your story but in contrast to plotting, planning helps to clarify direction and method. Having a plan helps you focus and in the long run saves a lot of time and effort. Good planning means you have done some of the work before you actually start writing.

There are lots of different ways you can go about planning your novel.

1. Rough Sketch

This includes anything from rough sketches on a napkin or the back of an envelope to a causal list of how you imagine the story to go. This is planning at its most basic and can open up the thinking process to lead to so much more.

planning - rough sketch

2. Synopsis

A synopsis is a more orderly story line ‘telling’ the story in brief to help you on your path. this is also useful when approaching agents and editors when it is complete with characters and the ending. I have written other posts about writing a synopsis here:

planning - path

3. Chapter breakdown

This is a more detailed progression of your story showing the progression chapter by chapter. in this way you can ensure each chapter has its own beginning, middle and end. It also helps to keep track of the main plot and any sub plots.

Plot and sub plot Plan

4. Key Points

Using key points you can outline the bursts of action and tension that form the backbone of the plot. This offers a useful framework that you can use as you are writing to fill in the gaps.

planning - backbone

5. Timeline

A diary is like a diary of the novel, showing the chronological events in the correct order. this helps to keep things in a logical sequence and help avoid any major pitfalls. I have written about the pitfalls of writing in my blog post: Writing Pitfalls.

planning - diary

A timeline is particularly useful when timing and events are crucial to the story arc. It will help if the story takes place over several weeks, months or years to keep track of what has happened and also if the story is taking place over a very short period of time where every minute and second counts.

6. Character biographies

I have written about character biographies before. Take a look at my previous blog post on Characterisation. A character biography can include anything from a couple of lines of description to a full biography. I like writing biographies of my characters. it really helps me to get in to their head. I include: age, appearance, background, dreams, education, family, fears, joys, likes and dislikes, positive traits and negative traits as well as reactions in particular situations relevant to the story.

character biography

I find it a great way of not only ensuring I keep their physical descriptions correct throughout the novel but also to ensure they act true to their character so when they learn and grow it is more evident.

7. Elevator pitch

Describing your book in one sentence is always a great thing to tr. not only does it help when pitching your novel but it can help clarify your mind and keep you on track.

plnning - elevator

This is also a way of identifying the theme of your novel. I have talked about theme in my blog post on Think About Theme.

Book birthday

Today I have not one but two new books out: Rabbits’s Spring Gift and Frog’s Summer Journey. They are part of the A Year in Nature series of seasonal animal led picture books published by Quarto Educational (QED). The other two book  in the series are released in September. The beautiful illustrations are by Lucy Barnard.

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Rabbits’s Spring Gift has a theme of sibling rivalry set around the concept of spring. Rabbit wants to give her mum a thank you gift, but her brother tries to out-do her at every turn. Take a look and discover if Rabbit can find the ideal gift. The book intertwines family relationships and the changing seasons.

Frog’s Summer Journey was inspired by the ‘grass is greener’ proverb and is set during summer. Frog is looking for somewhere new to live but none of the places he visits on the pond are just right. You can follow Frog on his journey and discover all the signs of summer on your way.

At the back of each book I have included seasonal activities, crafts and discussion points to help develop a child’s understanding of the natural world. these books could be used in schools, nurseries and at home to support topics on the seasons and animals. The gorgeous illustrations give the perfect ahhh-factor.

These books compliment my previous Animal Seasons series picture books also published by Quarto but illustrated by Daniel Howarth.

Here are the new books being modelled by my dog, Logan.

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You can find out more about me and my books on my website: www.anitaloughrey.com or follow me on Facebook: @anitaloughrey.author  Twitter @amloughrey  and Instagram: @anitaloughrey

You can find out more about Lucy Barnard on her agent’s website: www.advocate-art.com or follow her on Facebook @lucybarnardillustration Twitter @barnard_lucy and Instagram @lucybarnardillustrates

Another interview with… Sue Wallman

This month for my Research Secrets column I have interviewed Sue Wallman about her research for her award-winning YA thrillers. I have previously interviewed and blogged about Sue Wallman before when I interviewed her for Papers Pens Poets. Take a look at: An interview with… Sue Wallman

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Her first book, Lying about Last Summer was selected for the WHSmith Zoella Book Club, and is about a girl who feels guilty about the death of her sister who drowned in a swimming pool the previous summer. While at a bereavement camp, she receives messages from someone claiming to be her dead sister. That book was followed by See How They Lie, set in a luxurious wellness retreat in the States. My third book, Your Turn to Die, is about three families who meet every year to stay in an old house, and my latest, Dead Popular, takes place in a boarding school by the sea. They are all published by Scholastic in the UK.

Sue told me that when she is researching:

“I prefer to write first and check later, unless it’s impossible to get the scene down without prior research. It feels more efficient because then I understand exactly what I need to know.” (Sue Wallman)

Her main research tools are the internet and talking to experts, or people who have experienced what she wants to write about. For example, Dead Popular is set in a boarding school. Sue didn’t go to boarding school, so she sought out people who had. Someone told her how she and her friends would use their phones to photograph staff inputting a PIN on a gate, then zoom in afterwards. She used this information when her characters to crept out of their boarding house. Such ‘real life’ accounts help Sue to develop her story.

“One of the reasons I write for teenagers is because I clearly remember how it felt to be one myself. I can tap into the emotions I felt in the 1980’s pretty easily and that’s very useful, but to write in a voice which feels authentic to today’s teenager requires me to do a lot of listening.” (Sue Wallman)

Sue listens to how her own children speak with their friends, and it’s often different to how they speak to adults. She loves teenage slang and find it fascinating but does not to use too much of it in her novels because it dates, and can be particular to a certain region.

As a school librarian Sue is well placed to listen to teenage speech patterns. She listens to the way the students start their sentences with “Wait,” or “Also” and end it with “right?” and writes down phrases which appeal. Recent ones include “Don’t kill my vibe” and “If you’re interested, hit me up.” If she is not sure how to phrase something, she simply asks but is aware the danger is when you don’t know what question to ask.

Sue told me that her characters really come alive for her when she is discussing them with others as if they’re real. She explained this is because the voice is not just about the words – it is young people’s sense of injustice about situations they have no control over, loyalty to friendship groups, anxieties about how they are perceived, and their opinions on a diverse range of topics.

In the interview, Sue explained how setting is especially important in thrillers because it builds suspense. She describes her thrillers as claustrophobic. She revealed that  bereavement camps like the one she wrote about in Lying About Last Summer don’t actually exist but regular activity ones do, and there are also various charities which run holidays for teenagers, so she meshed them together. She also makes use of experiences she has had in different areas of her life – for example, one of my daughters had a paint-balling party so I used paint-balling as an activity in the bereavement camp.

Her research tip to other thriller writers for children is to think about the sorts of phrases your own characters use. Type them into the search line of your search engine and a blog or article may come up, written by someone with those views and experiences that you can use as good background knowledge for your novel.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #222 Apr Writers’ Forum from your nearest good newsagents or order online from Select Magazines.

Find out more about Sue and her books on her website: www.suewallman.co.uk, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @suewallman.

My Top Ten Tips

With over 100 children’s books published by a wide range of traditional publishers, I thought I might share with you today my top ten tips for becoming a children’s book writer:

My top ten tips

Join Writers’ groups

These can be local or online writers’ groups. By joining writers’ groups you will be able to network, learn about the publishing world, obtain feedback on your work and make friends with similar interests. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have a large network of online and local critique groups.

Read a lot of recent children’s books

Take notice of what you like and what seems to work. Study the writing. You’re reading for research first, pleasure second. Actively look for recent releases. Ask your librarian. Send for publisher’s catalogues or pick them up from book fairs. It is important to keep up with the market and what’s being published. If a book with a similar story line has been published in the last few years, your story is unlikely to be published, no matter how good it is.

Know the different types of children’s books

Take into consideration the various age groups when writing your own books. Think about the word lengths, language, style, etc.

Write the type of children’s books you enjoy the most.

If you enjoy the books you are more likely going to write something someone else enjoys too.

Write every day if possible

Practice makes you a better writer.

Take courses on writing for children

There are lots of writing courses specifically aimed at writing for children out there. Take a look at the SCBWI masterclasses or those offered by NAWG. 

Enter competitions specifically for writing for children

There are a lot of competitions for aspiring children’s book writers. Check the rules and the closing dates. Some of the competitions specifically for children’s writers I am aware of are:

Extend your CV

Seek ways of filling your writer’s CV with publishing credits, such as writing articles and short stories. Contact your local newspaper about writing a column or regular slot or write fillers for magazines.

Send your manuscript out to publishers and agents.

Get a copy of the latest Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook and find out who takes unsolicited manuscripts for the age-range you are writing for. Check if they take emails submissions or prefer them to be posted. Usually they want the first three chapters, one page synopsis and a covering letter. It is very important the book is finished.

Have FUN!