Thursday, August 28, 2014

How Writing a Picture Book Can Be Like Shopping for Jeans

I've been working on a new manuscript for the past couple of weeks: a picture book based a nursery rhyme.

Rhyme. It seems the logical approach for this story. You know, since it is based on a nursery rhyme and all. And since I tend to slip into rhyme by accident every time I start writing a new picture book anyway.

But with this project, I haven't settled into any format yet. Nothing fits well enough to make me say, "Sold!"

It's like shopping for jeans, bringing them one at a time into the fitting room until I find just the right pair.

The first format was a fairly simple narrative prose. I often begin this way when I have a concept for a story, but haven't figured out all the details. It's like brainstorming as I write. Or like trying on the simplest, most basic style of jeans a store has to offer. Sometimes they fit; more often they do not. But trying them on gives me an idea of what might work better. The prose, to me, was like a pair of jeans that were too big in all the wrong places.

So I switched to a basic rhyme pattern that has worked well for me in the past. But something wasn't quite right. It was like putting on a pair of bootcut jeans that looked great, but just weren't quite what I was looking for. I needed something fresher. Younger. Maybe with a little bling on the pockets.

Back to prose I went. This time I aimed for something a little snappy, a little irreverent, a little fun. It was cute at first. It seemed to be working! But...I paused. It was like trying on a pair of jeans that looked like everything I ever wanted, but I just couldn't get used to ultra low rise. It wasn't me. The story didn't feel authentic.

So yes. Back to rhyme. This time I was confident. I had thought of an adorable beginning stanza that matched almost perfectly the pattern of the original rhyme--an AAB CCB pattern. But after the first several stanzas, I started to feel like it was too restricting. Like a pair of jeans that looked perfect, and showed off all the right curves, but were too tight. If I bought them, everyone would know that I had to force my way into them.

And forcing it is never the way to go when writing a picture book, especially a picture book in rhyme.

So back to browsing I go. Unlike when I'm shopping for jeans, I'm confident that I will find something that fits me and this story perfectly.


  1. LOVE this analogy!Praying you find just the right pair of jeans :)

  2. Your process is fascinating to me & the jeans story makes it so understandable...Thank you!

  3. Joanne--Thanks! This particular project is proving to be more challenging than most, but I'll get there!

    Wandering--I was afraid this analogy might be a little goofy, but it really does fit!


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