Are There Genres in Picture Books?

We always talk about genres in novels, but what about in picture books? Are there any? Are they the same as for novels? Is it even helpful categorizing picture books into genres? It seems to me that picture books can definitely fall into the adventure, mystery, sci-fi, horror (monster books), and fantasy genres, even though we don’t usually do this. Instead, we think of them falling into either character-driven or concept picture books. Then, of course, there’s nonfiction like biographies, and fairy tales, fables and folktales. Of course, there’s the ever-popular fractured fairy tale, which are fun twists on traditional fairy tales, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Gliding Hood, and Good Night Baddies.

But there’s also an emergence of other picture book genres that are wowing young readers.

  • The first are what I call Wonder Picture Books. They’re usually beautifully illustrated with rich poetic language, often for a new baby or young child. Adults love them as much as children, maybe even more so! Some examples include: The Wonderful Things You’ll Be, All the World, and On the Night You Were Born.

Mindful Concept Picture Books are similar to wonder books but written for slightly older children. The text is sparse but the feelings are deep and sensory. Books in this category include The Quiet Book, Say Zoop! (which also falls into the meta category below), Water Can Be…, and I Wish You More…

“Meta” Picture Books: They ask the reader to think outside the book and question what a book is. Often readers are pulled into the action with the use of second person and even asked to physically interact with the book like in Press Here and Tap the Magic Tree. This has been the breakthrough picture book category of the past few years. Other books in this category include We are In a Book (Elephant and Piggy Series) and The Book of Mistakes.

The Don’t Books: Maybe, the recent surge in Don’t Books took off with Don’t Let the Pigeons Drive the Bus. Nothing thrills children like a bossy picture book because they’re usually the ones being bossed around. Examples include: You Don’t Want a Unicorn, I am Not Book I am not a Chair, You will not like this Book, The Day the Crayons Quit, and Be Quiet.

The Mash-Up Picture Books combine two popular things and mash them together. Kids love these, too, because they’re unexpected, and they break the rules and that’s pretty exciting stuff. Plus, they are usually packed with a big splat of humor. Examples include: Dragons Love Tacos, Dear Santasaurus, Pirosaurs, and Dinotrux.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know your thoughts on picture book genres!

KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. She lived in Sweden, Lebanon, South Africa and the UK but now lives in the US in a small Connecticut town which boasts the largest tree in the state. She’s an admitted tree hugger, who has on occasion, even been spotted kissing a tree or two.  Her debut picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing picture books, she’s time traveling to the 6th century in her middle-grade novel. You can find her on Twitter.

 

 

 

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MYC: Pacing and Tension: The Heartbeat of Your Story

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about the importance of letting your manuscript sit. This week, we’re talking about pacing and tension.

Pacing and tension are the drivers that have us flipping through the pages from the first chapter through to the last one.

Pacing is the speed at which our story unfolds, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, allowing us to catch our breath and regroup. Ironically, in a fast action scene, we zoom in and slow down the moment, paying more attention to detail with shorter snappier sentences. In between our action scenes we have reaction and anticipation scenes, and when events slow down, we can zoom out and occasionally tell, instead of show, the passing of time or events.

We are always told to cut out the boring bits, which is true. We don’t need to hear routine details, so it’s important to show the progression of time. Here’s a post from writershelpingwriters.net that shows you some examples of how to show the progression of time from one chapter to the next.

Tension is the anticipation before the action. It’s the suspense of now knowing what’s going to happen. It’s expecting and hoping that something will happen. It occurs before the action. The more we care about the character, the more tension we, the reader, will feel.

Tension relies on the author making it difficult for your character to get what they want or need. Conflict is tension. So your character should have both an external conflict and internal conflict.  If your main character is perfectly content and serene and doesn’t want or need anything, your pacing will feel slow. We turn the page to find out if your character will get what they want.

Outlining your story helps you pace your novel, whether you choose Martha Aldersen’s The Plot Whisper or K M Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel or Larry Brooks Story Engineering. Whichever story structure you choose, it will help you pace your story and build the tension.

Here are some more insights on pacing and tension from other writers and editors:

“Sometimes you’re creeping or walking and enjoying the view and other times running for your life.”—Stephen King

“Pace means change.  If plot circumstances don’t change, something must.  In practical terms that means complications, twists, turns and surprises that aren’t visible but are nevertheless real, changes that happen inside.  These are the steps in an arc.”—Donald Mass (Read his excellent post on the four kinds of pacing here on Writer Unboxed.)

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”― Alfred Hitchcock

“…even though you know what’s going to happen next, your readers shouldn’t. They need to have a sense of excitement and uncertainty as the plot and pacing unfolds because this is where magic lies.”–J.K. Rowling

“Pacing is the manipulation of momentum and time in a piece of writing and how the characters and reader experience it. April Bradley.” Check out more the entire post here.

Tune in to next week’s #WPMYC post where we look at writing emotion!

KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. She grew up in Sweden, Lebanon, South Africa and the UK but now lives in the US in a small Connecticut town which boasts the largest tree in the state. She’s an admitted tree hugger, who has on occasion, even been spotted kissing a tree or two.  Her debut picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing picture books, she’s time traveling to the 6th century in her middle-grade novel. You can find her on Twitter.

 

8 Tips for Writing Picture Books

Writing picture books is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written one or one hundred, just ask Jane Yolen or Mo Willems or John Klassen. But good news is if you keep writing and reading picture books, you will get better!

  1. Don’t think your way into your story–feel your way in. Instead of seeing your characters as separate, become your character. For example, if you’re writing about a budgie who has escaped out an open window, imagine what it’s like to be outside for the first time and feeling the wind rustle your feathers, or hearing the sound of cars zooming by.
  2. Remember it’s a picture book and pictures tell much of the story. Don’t waste words telling us something already described in the illustrations.
  3. Sweet spot s between 300-700 words. We get into trouble by going too wide. The secret is to focus on one main idea/feeling/theme/goal. Focus on your character’s goals. Does our budgie dream of being free and wild? If so, focus on this, and how what happens perhaps changes his goal.
  4. Picture books are audio books with illustrations! They are supposed to be read aloud so be aware how your words sound, the rhythm and cadence of your sentences. Use repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia to plop us into your  world!
  5. Any good picture book captures a familiar feeling in a new and unfamiliar way. Twist, turn, and loop the world to find the unexpected and surprising. A talking crayon, a farting dog, a pigeon not allowed to drive the bus, or a budgie who wants to fly south with the geese… You get the idea!
  6. Avoid teaching a lesson. No preaching, no morals. Of course, your picture can and should have a theme but it should be an organic part of your characters and their choices.
  7. It’s all about the page turn. What will make your reader eager to turn the page to see what’s going to happen next? Some writers use the rule of threes or fives to build the page turn. Or you can ask a question, use ellipsis, or make us care so much about the character that we just have to find out what your character decides to do. Finally, creating a picture book dummy  is an excellent way to test your page turn-ability.  See Tara Lazar’s post on creating a dummy here.
  8. What to write about?  Character-driven picture books are wonderful, but don’t forget concept books. They are timeless and funny and mindful and beautiful and sometimes very funny. Some have characters but they don’t have a traditional story arc. Here are just a few:

KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. She lived in Sweden, Lebanon, South Africa and the UK but now lives in the US in a small Connecticut town which boasts the largest tree in the state. She’s an admitted tree hugger, who has on occasion, even been spotted kissing a tree or two.  Her debut picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing picture books, she’s time traveling to the 6th century in her middle-grade novel. You can find her on Twitter.

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Unlocking Our Creativity

As writers, we spend so much time developing our craft, but at the end of the day we still need something we can’t seem to control—our creativity.

Or maybe we can. At least a little.

Author Jarrett J. Krosoczka said in his keynote speech at the recent NESCBWI conference that you need to be bored to spark creativity. He’s right, but maybe it’s more than that. So much of our time is spent worrying about stuff that has happened in the past or stuff that’s about to happen in the future. These thoughts jam our creativity. When we connect to the present, we clear these thoughts and free our minds to channel new ideas.

But how do we get our busy monkey minds to stop jumping from the past to the future and just chill out in the here and now? I think we can do it by connecting to our senses. That’s one reason everyone gets many great ideas in the shower. It’s such a sensory experience, and the warm water feels so good that it anchors us in the present, and our thoughts melt away, leaving us in that space where ideas seem to come out of nowhere. It worked for Archimedes in the bathtub…

There are many ways to connect to our senses and free our minds, including walking, running, cooking, and gardening. One way I do it is through yoga. In yoga class, we stretch, twist, invert, and balance our bodies into lots of yoga poses from downward dog to eagle pose. The yoga teacher reminds us to breathe through each pose and to notice the sensation of the breath going in and out. The noise in my head quiets. And suddenly I realize something about my main character that I can’t believe I didn’t see before, or a new twist in my plot.

As the mom of four, I don’t always have time to go to yoga class so I do one or two poses next to my desk. I find balancing poses especially calming. I might do tree pose or Warrior poses. Maybe we should call it Writing Warrior Pose as we have to overcome so many obstacles in order to write from time, self-doubt, and the publishing process. If I’m feeling really distracted, bouncing around social media instead of #amrevising, I might even try alternate nostril breathing. It works, I swear! Check it out here and see for yourself.

Walking also helps me get into a creative state of mind. I let my busy thoughts cycle through, until my surroundings poke me out of my thoughts. The wind flicks my hair, I notice how the light through the gray clouds makes the trees look florescent green, and I start to let go of my stuff. I feel connected. And then suddenly I come up with a new idea for a picture book.

It’s odd that our senses, which are so grounding, are the key to our expansive creativity. But when we feel, taste, hear, see, and smell the world, we unlock our creativity. When we connect to our senses we connect to the universe, and it rewards us with a feeling of peace—and creativity.

So whether you practice yoga, or walk, or meditate, or garden, or take baths, or sip mint tea while gazing out the window, I hope you feel your moments and find your gateway to limitless creativity!

Namaste!

In addition to being a writer, KARIN LEFRANC is a certified children’s yoga teacher. Born in Sweden, she went to five schools in Lebanon, South Africa and England before coming to the US to attend college. She now lives in Connecticut with her French husband and four kids. She self published her first picture book A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS. Her first traditionally published picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. She’s currently stomping through the dark ages in a middle-grade novel about trolls and giants. You can find her on Twitter.

Insider Tips To Get the Most Out of Your Next Conference

woman with suitcaseYou’ve signed up for the conference. You’ve chosen your workshops. You may even have signed up for a critique.

Now what?

You tweak and revise your MS yet again. What else? I asked the Pennies to share their insider tips on how to get the most out of your conference. So without further ado, here are their wise, funny, practical and inspirational tips!

Julie Artz: I make a list of professionals who will be there (authors, agents, editors) who are of interest and jot notes about them. Very important tip–don’t let them see this list on accident, especially if you’ve written SQUEE, or fangirl, or dream agent by their name! Also, business cards!!!

Jennifer Brister Park: Agree on the business cards! Everyone at my table had them but me at SCBWI, and it never occurred to me to bring them! Also extra paper for notes. Some of the presenters didn’t pass out copies of power points and I was writing on the back of others. If you are meeting with an agent/editor, I would have a list of questions to ask if you have extra time to kill once critique is over.

Kate Manning: To bring: A copy of the sub you’re getting critiqued, granola bar, Advil, water, gum, tissues, cough drops, your phone! (I forgot mine once), a good notebook, and pens. For prep: have a one-line description of your work at the ready, as well as a slightly longer version; I agree re info on the professionals you want to meet – even a picture so you realize if you’re standing next to them in line for coffee; map out the route ahead of time and give yourself time to get lost; I give myself a few goals for the day (e.g., introduce myself to three people) to keep myself focused on the things that really matter – building connections, honing my craft, having fun!

Kristi Wientge: A cardigan and breath mints… Oh yeah, and all that other stuff everyone else mentioned.

Rebecca Smith-Allen: What was I planning to bring to my first New England SCBWI conference? A friend (and it was Karin)! I’d recently moved back to Connecticut and was quaking at the thought of walking into my first writers’ conference, so went to my first meeting with the local critique group hoping desperately that someone planned to attend. Going to the conference with a friend is great because you have support, reports from the workshops you couldn’t fit into your schedule, and someone to sit with when you need a break from all the new faces. Just don’t use this friend as an excuse to avoid meeting new people!

Jessica Vitalis: I like to bring water and paper and dress warmly (because the conference facilities are usually freezing). As to preparation, I try to read the most prolific and/or most recent book(s) by the speakers I’m the most interested in. I also do a little research on those speakers (read a couple of their online interviews, check out their websites, etc.) so that if I have the occasion to speak with them, I can engage in topics of mutual interest. I also agree whole heartedly with Kate‘s advice––I always make sure I have prepared a short description of my work. Most of all, I remind myself that while I’m an introvert at heart, I’m bound to have a great time because I’ll be surrounded by my people––readers and writers of children’s literature.

Laurel Decher: I agree with all of the above things. Like Kate Manning I have a “goal” for every conference: to find some way to “take a risk” and stretch my writer self. Sometimes it’s pitching or signing up for a critique or something that takes me by surprise once I get there. I always tell myself that I’ll be proud to tell my family how brave I was when I get home. I like to bring something to show and tell about my work. Some conferences like “one sheets” and some like business cards or pitches.

Michelle Leonard: I usually prepare like crazy, rehearsing a pitch in the mirror and everything. Then if I see an agent, I avoid getting on an elevator with them or go find someone to talk with that I know. This year, I’ve told myself I’m going to plop down beside an agent at lunch. I’ll probably be too nervous to eat/or speak so I’m taking extra granola bars!

Karin Lefranc:  1. Volunteer if you can, as it’s an excellent way, especially if you’re shy, to connect with other writers and presenters, including agents and editors. 2. Find out what the conference hashtag is and start making connections before the conference even starts! 3. Instead of asking agents and editors the same old questions about books and publishing, ask them something completely different. If you know an editor loves knitting, ask them what they like to knit. If you read they like to travel, ask them where the strangest/most exciting/oddest place they’ve been. This way you’re really connecting as it’s not about you asking them for something. Speaking from experience, this has a much higher success rate of them asking you what you’re working on. And, if they don’t, you’ve made a real connection that you can build on whether it’s on social media or the next conference!

Good luck! Hope that these tips will make your next conference a big success!

pic of me2KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. Born in Sweden, she moved at the ripe old age of three to Lebanon. After then it was onto South Africa and then England before coming to the US to attend college. She now lives in Connecticut with her French husband and four kids. She self published her first picture book A QUEST FOR GOOD MANNERS. Her first traditionally published picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS came out in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. She’s currently stopping through the dark ages in a middle-grade novel about trolls and giants. You can find her on Twitter