It’s the age-old nemesis of picture book writers everywhere. Its maniacal clutches lead to long elaborate sentences that, though spell binding, slow the pace of the story. Those wonderful word detract from the illustrious illustrations. (See what I did there?)
After writing from the trenches for almost three years, I’ve seen the same thread again and again.
Does word count really matter?
Truth be told-
Yes AND no.
Tell your story. Take the space you need. BUT if you are going to write picture books you have to keep something in mind.
This is a duet. A partnership. A three-legged race.
You have to let the illustrations do their part.
Everyone’s method for trimming words is different. (And some of us will always struggle more than others. Yes, my beautiful Critique Sisters, I can see y’all nodding vigorously.)
I am so WORDY. But I have learned some things along the way.
- Try to get rid of any form of be in your manuscript. (is, are, was, were, etc. OR starting to, began to, going to)
Instead: Cal wished on stars.
Example: Cal is a nice boy. (So are most of the boys in the world. You’re telling me. Show me.)
Instead: Cal scrambled to hold the door open for Mrs. Jenkins.
2. Cut down on adjectives or things that could be seen in illustrations.
Example: The flower’s yellow petals danced and dipped in the refreshing breeze.
Instead: The petals danced and dipped in the breeze.
Your reader will be able to see the flower and the “yellow” of the petals. And what does refreshing mean to your reader? It doesn’t really appeal to any of the senses and it is not vital to the sentence.
3. Say buh-bye to most of the similes in picture books. (One or two are fine. But with only 32 pages to get the story told, these words gotta go!)
Example: Selene was tall like a mountain.
Instead: Selene towered over her classmates.
(In one sentence, I accomplished several things. I established a conflict, gave character description, and started to reveal a setting.)
4. Nix the adverbs. Let your reader do some inferring. It's good for them.
Example: Cammie said dreamily.
Instead: Cammie sighed.
5. Read Your story aloud.
Have a kid read it aloud.
Have another adult read it aloud.
Record yourself reading it aloud.
Listen to Your story. Then read it again.
After reading my first book, Flamingo Hugs Aren’t for Everyone, aloud to dozen of classes, I really wanted to snip, snip, snip.
What seemed so necessary when I wrote those initial drafts, left me exhausted after author visits. Do yourself a favor, let those darlings go free.
6. Read a section to yourself. Does it create a new picture in your head from the last spread? If not, hasta luego, so long, farewell!
Example: Cal hurled the stone. The stone skidded across the rippling surface. Plunk! It dropped rapidly like an anchor below the surface.
Instead: Cal hurled the stone. P-P-Plunk! The rock sank.
(The reader would see the stone’s journey in the illustration.)
Remember that your story is yours! Everyone will have an opinion about what to keep and cut. But if you are worried about your word count. Try out these tips next time you revise. 😊
Do you have a favorite trick to trim those words?