Monday, March 14, 2011

How Not to Write a Picture Book

While waiting with my mother in the ER, I happened to catch parts of Celebrity Apprentice. Their task was to write a picture book. I had to see this. Then they announced that Margery Cuyler was going to be the judge. I worked with her on my Medicines from Nature book when she was at 21st Century Books. She wasn't on the show much, but she looked great in a lemon yellow jacket.

Between the whirring of the blood pressure cuff and an EKG, I watched the two teams of famous people I don't know try to do in an afternoon what takes me and most authors years to do. This exercise in embarrassing ill manners seemed to illustrate how not to write a picture book.
1. Ignore the advice of editors -- I was impressed with the team of guys who sat down and asked Margery what she thought about rhyme. Like most editors in the world, she said to avoid rhyme because it has to be perfect, which is difficult to accomplish. The next clip is some cowboy saying that he took it as a challenge! Yeah, that's just how she meant it, too.

2. Decide on a theme first -- The team of women, who looked a mite more familiar to me, were acting like asses. They stood around an easel trying to decide if they wanted a funny, feel-good story or one that taught a lesson about diversity. Is there a character involved?

3. Write in a passive voice - was-was-was --The only little snippet of text I heard was -- It was a sunny day. Latoya was a lion... Doctor Cooper to room 8, stat. Or something like that. And these women all claimed to have written children's books before. Yikes!

4. Stand Over the Illustrator's Shoulder -- I hope the illustrators got paid handsomely for having professional celebrities standing behind them commenting on their work. Half of a picture book is the picture part and that means the illustrator has to have his voice. A writer has to commit their words to someone else's interpretation. A picture book is a unique art form that is a collaboration of two artists working separately.

5. Underestimate Children -- They questioned whether kids would know what shy was, and if the word 'nobody' gave the wrong impression. Although I appreciate carefully considered words, over-thinking it can get you into lots of trouble. Get your story down first. Futz with the details later. And trust your readers.

Then it was time for a CAT scan. I didn't get to see the end, so I don't know which book 'won', and I hope I never see it. It would be a slap in the face to all children's writers if that book showed up at Barnes & Nobles.

Oh, yeah. Mom is fine.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad your mom is fine. Your post may me laugh. I never watch Celebrity Apprentice because I think it is dumb, mean and I can't stand Donald Trump. And now I can add insulting to the list of reasons not to watch.
    But thanks for the chuckle, I really needed one this morning.