Breaking the Rules of Picture Book Writing

When I first started writing picture books, I did not realize that there were so many rules. Then the critiques started. Your story should be in three acts, said some. The main character should always solve his or her own problem, said others. Don’t write stories with “talking heads”, said more. My head was spinning!

Fast forward two years later, now I am a little bit wiser with a few courses under my belt. (Oops, I should have avoided that cliche. <Sigh> Another rule broken.)

What is one to do if you are a children’s book writer? After all, there are only so many times you can pull your hair out and rend your garments before you become a cliche yourself.

More than one author has given me some good advice. Know the rules! Then you can break them judiciously. Ah ha! So we can break the rules after all.

And rule breaking is happening all the time. When we read “Sophie’s Squash” by Pat Zietlow Miller in the Debut PB study group on Facebook, we discovered that here was an author whose first book had broken the 500 words or less rule. It’s 694 words. And the book is simply charming.

In the last book we studied, “Prudence wants a Pet” by debut picture book author Cathleen Daly, many rules were broken including the main character not solving her own problem. <Gasp!> But this 709 word book works.

Some people are turning to self publishing in order to break the rules. Zetta Elliot is one good example of this. Her books don’t fit the norm at all. Her award winning picture book, “Bird”, was traditionally published and is a rule breaker. Since then she has opened her own press in order to publish her other rule breaking books. Zetta finds it odd that although there is a big push for books with diverse characters, there is no push for books with diverse structures. Her books are groundbreaking.

Never fear dear picture book author. You need not become a cliche. There are many rules that are being broken.

Are there any specific rules you would like me to discuss in more detail? Leave a comment for me.

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