Thursday, September 15, 2011

Short and Sweet

Today’s post will be short and sweet—as I write this, I’m gearing up to take a research trip (more on that in a future post), and I have a lot to get done.

But actually, “short and sweet” is the perfect theme for the post, itself. And that’s because I got a very needed reminder, this summer, of the downside of going on.

I’ve been working for months on a new picture book biography (hence, the research trip). A few weeks back, I finally had enough of a draft written to bring to my critique group.

My critique group is small—Nancy Coffelt, Elizabeth Rusch, Ruth Tenzer Feldman, and me—but we are mighty. Not everyone can attend every time, but even if there are only two of us sitting at the table, we seem to hone in on what needs to be said, and I leave very grateful for my little group.

At one such meeting last summer, I brought my new draft. Not even a whole draft, actually. Just the opening of the book. Boy, did it need work. It seemed to go on and on for two pages before the story started. And in a picture book, that is a huge problem.

I needed to establish just who my historical figure was before the action really started, so readers would care about the outcome, but it seemed to be taking forever. And even beyond the problems with the opening, it seemed like I was doing an awful lot of talking for one little book.

And then I got the help I needed: two gentle reminders from my critique group.

Nancy looked at the bogged-down text and asked, “Can’t some of this be shown in the art?”

Liz looked at a dense cluster of paragraphs and said, “You know, all this information could be shown in a silent spread.”

Oh yeah. I’d forgotten: a picture book is a marriage of text and illustrations, and my words only carry half the story.

In an early draft, all those words may need to be there, to help me get the story down on the page so I can see what I have. But I’m grateful to have a smart critique group to remind me that revising can fix almost any problem--and that, for picture books at least, short is sweet.

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