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How To Create A Fantastic Picture Book

Emma Blackburn, editorial director for picture books at Bloomsbury Publishing, gives her top tips for getting started on your picture books.

Dino-baby

READ, READ, READ
Before you start your own picture book, take a look at some of the wonderful picture books that are available at your local library, your school and your bookstore.

This will help you to get a feel for the kind of stories that work and will open your eyes to a fabulous array of illustration styles and design. Of course, don’t copy but use these as inspiration.

Tip: Read lots of picture books for inspiration.


GETTING STARTED

Picture books can be about all sorts of things. Let your imagination run wild and write down all your thoughts and ideas on a piece of paper. Don't be afraid to write down EVERYTHING - you don't want to forget a brilliant idea!

Think about different characters and scenarios. Who will be your central character? Where will your story be set? What will happen? What about the ending?

Leave some time to let the ideas settle. Come back to them and see which idea you think is the strongest and worth developing.

Tip: Brainstorming at the initial stages is really important.


DEVELOPING CHARACTER

There are lots of different picture book characters: aliens, monsters, dinosaurs, children, safari animals, domestic animals.

Choose your strongest and most appealing character and think about how he/she might act. Is he/she loud/shy? Is he/she funny/scary? What is his/her world like? How about friends? What sort of character would your main character be friends with?

It is important that your character will appeal to readers so make sure that your character is developed enough to keep readers hooked and wanting to read more.

Your character's name is important. Think about a name that says something about your character's personality or character traits, or perhaps gives an indication of the story. For example, DINO-BABY by Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd tells the story of a little dinosaur baby and his family.

If your character is strong enough, then he/she could perhaps be developed into a series of stories. Think about other adventures for the character outside the one you are working on.

Tip: Think about a strong name and a series of adventures for your character.


DEVELOPING YOUR STORY

Make sure that your storyline has plenty to keep your reader interested. It's important that each page of your book leaves your reader wanting to turn over the next page.

Time for bed, Fred

Your story doesn't have to be a complicated one but it must have interesting things happening on each page (both in terms of the text and the illustrations).

In TIME FOR BED, FRED by Yasmeen Ismail, the story follows a mischievous dog called Fred and his efforts to avoid bedtime. Each spread of the book has something funny happening to keep the reader hooked until, finally, Fred settles into bed at last.
Tip: Think about page-turning scenarios for your book.


THE ENDING

A satisfying ending is a must. Make sure you know from the outset where your story is heading. See if you can think of an unexpected twist at the end of your book. A great example of an unexpected twist is contained in WHEN TOM MET TALLULAH by Rosie Reeve.


COVERS AND TITLES

The cover image for your book should be striking and immediate. This is the first thing that your reader will see when they pick the book up.

Think about a strong image that says something about what the book is about and also one that is focused and not too busy. Generally a single image works better than a scene.

Titles should also be snappy and give a feel for the story inside.

For example, SHH! DON’T WAKE THE ROYAL BABY by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey is all about the arrival of a new baby at the Royal Palace and the lengths that the Royal Family will go to make sure that the baby sleeps peacefully. The cover image of the Queen parachuting is funny, striking and immediate and reflects the humour of the story inside.
Tip: Keep titles and cover images snappy and striking.


DESIGN AND ILLUSTRATIONS

The illustrations and design of your book should reflect the feel of, and work closely with, your story.

The text, illustrations and design should work in harmony to create an enjoyable reading experience.

Be creative and keep your reader interested by using a clever mix of single page images, double page spreads and vignettes.

Use an interesting font but always bear in mind that the text must not be tricky to read. Lauren Child's picture books are a great example of interesting, creative design working in harmony with a strong text and an imaginative illustration style.

Tip: Make sure that the design and illustrations work with the text to create an enjoyable reading experience.

When Tom met Tallulah


THE TECHNICAL BIT

Most picture books are 32 pages in length. Ideally the story should run over 12-13 spreads.

Keep your story snappy and interesting – try not to write more than 700-800 words.

Make sure that you divide your spreads sensibly to allow for a satisfying beginning, middle and end. It's no good having a fabulous build-up to your story, only to discover that you only have four spreads left for the main story and the ending.

Tip: Pacing is important


KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Show your book to as many parents, teachers and children as possible and get their feedback.

Tip: Feedback from readers is enormously helpful.


MOST IMPORTANTLY!

Make sure you enjoy it. Creating your own picture book is challenging but rewarding!

Tip: Have fun!


This article was originally written for www.readingzone.com

Reading zone


ReadingZone are holding a Create a Picture Book competition, encouraging children and teenagers to create their own picture books.  If you’ve been suitably inspired by Emma’s tips and you’re interested in entering the competition (which closes on 20th April), please click here for further details.





If you found this helpful, you may also want to try:

Writing for children

Interview with Debi Gliori

Tips for presenting illustrations