I’ve been revising the same 25 words for 3 weeks. As a picture book writer, I’m forced to care, forced to be precise. Every word counts. With only 500 words to tell an entire story, every word must develop the character, define the plot, and move the story forward. If it doesn’t, it’s out.
While it may be easy to tell a child a story that they like to hear, it is quite another to write a manuscript that an editor wants to publish. Picture book publishing is trending toward spare language. Most are now fewer than 700 words and the greatest percentage of those are under 500. A walk through a bookstore will reveal this reality. Wordy picture books are out. That is a little disheartening for those of us who have a passion for words.
At the same time, using fewer words creates a fantastic challenge. It’s a game. In the same vein as Name That Tune, I can write that story in 300 words or 200 or 100. Can you?
Many of us write a free flowing style of draft and then chop words off to get to the desired (or tolerated) length. Try this: Write your story from the least amount of words and add a few as you need them. For example – Harry. Beach. Scared. Sharks. Jellyfish. Crabs. Teddy bear drowning. Harry saves him. Harry loves water.
OK. It’s not a good story, but an illustration of how few words you need to convey a story. I bet your mind even filled in the description of the scene and the characters. If each of you used this template for a story, we would end up with dozens of different stories. And if each of those stories were given to different illustrators, the variations would become even greater.
Go ahead. Take the challenge. Then let me know how you do.