Saturday, August 10, 2019

Ann Whitford Paul: Picture Book Openings That Grab...

... With fewer than 50 words

Writing Picture Books
by Ann Whitford Paul
Ann Whitford Paul is the author of the seminal picture book craft text, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Publication to Creation. She's also written more than 20 books of her own, including If Animals Kissed Goodnight.

Her session was standing room only. A mosh pit. A festival. A mud-free Woodstock—or wordstock, depending on your tolerance for puns. We ran out of handouts: That's how eager people were to learn at the feet of Ann, who is an absolute legend as a teacher, and a master at the craft as a writer.

Picture book openings should make readers feel as if anything is possible. Readers need to smell possibility.

"Editors and agents can tell from the opening whether they want to read on."

The length of picture books is something authors need to pay close attention to, as well as the age of the reader. For very young readers, 300 words is a threshold. Older PB readers can handle 500 words.

Here's what the structure looks like:
Ann Whitford Paul

  • The opening of a PB is the first act of a three-act structure. 
  • The bulk of the work is the second act in the middle. 
  • You reach a climax at about two-thirds through—a terrible point where the character fears they won't solve their problem.
  • You quickly get out in the third act. 
Plunge in. Your opening shouldn't be more than 1/5th of your word count. 

Writers can do an opening in 50 words, but if the book is short, the opening needs to be even tighter. 

She talked about the many things the opening of a book has to address: 

  • Who
  • What 
  • When
  • Where
  • What tone
  • Wow
Here are a few examples she used to show us how it works in real books.

"Farmer Brown has a problem." 

This is the opening line of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.

In five words, Cronin gives who it's about, where it's set, and what is amiss (also what the character wants). 
"I'm so excited I run all the way home from school."
 This is the opening line of Big Red Lollipop by Rukshana Khan.

We want to see why this character is excited. 

"Will you miss me?" Abe asked. 
This is from I'll See You When the Moon Is Full by Susi Gregg Fowler. It's a powerful six words.

The opening functions just like an invitation to an event. It has specifics. It's enticing, she said: "You are inviting someone to come along this journey in your book."

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