Today and in upcoming posts, we’re going to be talking about practical steps we can take to edit our nonfiction picture book manuscripts.
We’ll be using my Nonfiction Picture Book Self-Editing Checklist. You can find it on the site of my writing buddies, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Just scroll down until you find the link to click on, then download the free pdf file to print out and use.
Let’s start at the top by talking about CONTENT.
Does your beginning introduce your main character?
The first page of most published picture books has three key ingredients. It introduces the main character, establishes the setting, and establishes or hints at the main story problem. As you’re working on the first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph, or the first couple of paragraphs in your manuscript that start your picture book’s beginning, you want to include these three key ingredients as well. However, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to incorporate all three ingredients into your text. The cover, the title, and the art will all be there to work together with your text in the final, published book.
With this in mind, let’s focus on introducing your main character on the first page of your picture book. We’ll start with your character’s name. Unless you are writing a story where it is important that your main character remains nameless, you want to introduce your main character by name to your readers right at the start. Introduce your MC’s name either in the title or in the opening text of your manuscript, or both.
Perhaps you’re working on a picture book that focuses on an event rather than a character. In stories such as these, you might want to introduce your main character later in the text. For most picture books, however, especially with biographical nonfiction, it strengthens your story if you introduce your main character to your reader at the very beginning.
If your picture book doesn’t have a main character but is about a topic such as dump trucks, be sure you introduce your topic right at the beginning of your manuscript. Again, this can either be in the title or the first page or both.
Most main characters in a picture book, even in nonfiction, have strong, unique character traits. Try to introduce at least one of these key traits right at the start. If it doesn’t work in the text, be sure it’s included in your working title or in potential art.
If in the art, write art suggestions in [brackets] such as [Art suggestion: Main character is wearing a pirate’s eye patch.] If it’s in the working title, however, just remember a word of caution. Working titles are often changed by the publisher, so be aware of this through the publication process. If somewhere your original title gets dumped, you’ll need to be careful that the essential ingredients your working title contained make it onto your published first page.