Friday, February 27, 2009

Perking Up a Picture Book

While digging through old versions of Hop! Plop! for an upcoming school visit, I came across my very first draft. Gosh, is it pathetic!

I am calling this to your attention, not to disparage myself (I do plenty of that in other posts), but to remind you that the goal of a first draft is just to GET SOMETHING DOWN. It doesn't matter how crappy it is. You just need something to work with.

Once you have a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, you can work on style, or as my friend Kristy says, "funning up" the language.

There are lots of ways to do this. Here are just a few.

1) Rhyme
2) Alliteration
3) Onomatopoeia
4) Made up words
5) Repetition

In Hop! Plop! I decided to mainly go with #1 and #3. In the opening scene Mouse and Elephant find a playground and decide to go on the seesaw.

Here were the original words I put down: So, Mouse hopped onto one end of the seesaw, and Elephant plopped onto the other. But Elephant hit the ground with a thud, and Mouse was flung far into the air.

You can clearly see what I was envisioning, but this did not achieve the effect I was going for. After a few other unsuccessful attempts, I hit on a solution:

Mouse landed with a whop! (this last line later changed)

A lot punchier, huh? In a picture book, less is often more. And now, I had a pattern that I could repeat throughout the book.


Suzanne Casamento said...

Yes! Much better! I love the hop, plop, boom, bop!

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I love revising more than the first draft. With the first draft, I'm really uncertain about direction, trying to find my way. Once I get it down, I get it critiqued, see its problems and I'm better able to focus on a solution. Once the bones are there, it's a delight to tighten up the prose and make it shine.

It's amazing to see your first draft vs. the finished product. Everybody who doesn't write for kids thinks it's a snap. But it takes a lot of revision and perseverence to do it well, like you.

RJ Clarken said...

I have to agree with Tara. Critiquing and revision, particular with the assistance of a supportive group of other writers with similar goals can make such a huge difference. Seeing the beginning and the end-product of your writing work always astonishes, doesn't it?

It's absolutely not a snap to write for kids - because 1.) kids are not a dumbed down version of adults and 2.) they are totally without guile, totally honest - and can tell if you are not giving them the same honesty,

You did a brilliant job, both with the story and it's polishing.

Tyler said...

Aren't first drafts fun to look back at? I recently looked at my first draft and was so embarrassed that I let people read it!

Personally, though, I love doing the first draft. Because it just doesn't matter. You can write all the silly prose and cliches you want, because all you're doing is getting that story down. Then when IT'S done, you have to actually start writing, for real.

And I agree, children's writing isn't some slam bang job that you throw together in an afternoon while getting a perm. :)

Unknown said...

You're so right--the important thing is to get it down on paper. I try to keep telling myself that as I start a new WIP...just get it down, revise later!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I always look at my first drafts as the skeletons -- I get it all down so I can see what I have, then I start working with it.

The second draft is the draft where I take any tangent that looks interesting, and the third draft involves a lot of cutting.

Some people can work slowly on every word in the initial draft, but that doesn't work for me.