For the past few weeks, I've been digging into revision. I love this part of the writing process. The work part. The roll up your sleeves part. Where tough decision are made and gold is unearthed.
The story that emerges after diligent, thoughtful revision is always, always, always worth the time and toil. Currently, I'm polishing three picture book manuscripts. Each is completely different and in need of different things. I'm 100 percent committed to making each one sing its song without hitting a sour note. You never want a flat moment to pull a reader out of your story. Everything must be pitch perfect.
My toolbox for this latest round of revisions? Fabulous advice received at the August 2018 Grow Your Picture Book Garden workshop in Des Moines, Iowa, organized by SCBWI Iowa. Ahhhh, this event was fantastic! I met so many wonderful kidlit creators, and heard excellent presentations from authors Tammi Sauer, Jill Esbaum and Charlotte Gunnufson, and editor Eliza Berkowitz.
Here's a revision checklist I created to guide my current revisions - a summary of the amazing advice shared by the Iowa workshop's most-generous faculty:
Revision Checklist: 10 Questions to Ask
1. Is my character active, relatable, and flawed? Your character needs to be moving and doing things that reveal spirit, charm and uniqueness. And, the mistakes and choices your character make need to be ones that kids will recognize... because they've wrestled with them, too!
2. Is my character fixing a problem that's perfectly suited to him/her? To elicit maximum humor and conflict, the problem faced by your character must be tailored to him/her. Does the challenge make your character super uncomfortable and present opportunities for growth and change?
3. Am I making the most of every page turn? The page turn is built-in drama in picture books (What will happen next???), so make the most of it! Pace your drama so that each flip leads to a new, unexpected discovery that moves the story forward.
4. Is every word needed? Picture books today are typically under 500 words, and many are closer to 300. That means every word must count. Cut anything that could be conveyed more powerfully in illustration, and keep sentences active and concise.
5. Is the story full of heart? When children (and adults, too!) crack open a picture book, they do so with the expectation of meeting special characters and feeling something. Be sure that your story makes an impression on the heart. Create moments that are full of emotion, whether funny or touching... or both.
6. Does the title pop? It's just true... books compete for attention. Whether at the book store or at the library, you want your title to stand out, so that more kids get to experience it! Create a title that stands out from the crowd and also conveys your concept in a clear, can't-miss-it, compelling way.
7. Can I envision the illustration for each scene? The text you write needs to lend itself to illustration. When you paginate your story (and you should!), visualize what might appear on each page. (Hint: It shouldn't be what was visualized, pictorially, on the previous page. Each spread should reveal something new.)
8. Will kids love it? They'd better! Make sure the language and plot are completely geared to kids. Put yourself in the mindset of your reader, then turn up the volume on the silliness, wordplay and drama.
9. What is the story about? When you strip all of the details of your story away, your tale is - at its core - about one thing: Fitting in, being a good friend, solving a problem, finding your true talent. This is something that you need to know and be able to express to any and everyone.
10. What universal emotion does your story deliver? Sometimes I think of emotion in terms of color. What is the primary emotional color is your story? Does it vary in hue and tone? Consistency of emotional experience - inclusive of moments that intensify, then soften - ensures a journey that feels complete, cohesive and satisfying.
Creators, I hope these questions lead to discoveries during revision that bring your manuscript to the next level, and give it the best chance of connecting with editors and getting into the hands of kids everywhere!
(And thanks again, Iowa faculty, for the awesome advice!)