The “economy of language” is how one guest at the retreat summed up children’s picture books. Associate Editor Stacy Cantor of Walker Books for Young Readers, shown right, made us all think about just how tightly we must write for this kind of book. She suggests 300 – 1,000 words. She cited Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are at 338 words.
As someone who’s used to writing news, I’m familiar with the techniques of slashing and burning copy. Stacy’s suggestions fit with news as much as picture books, but let’s focus on the latter here.
She suggests authors introduce the characters and conflict early in the story, preferably on page one. Each sentence should progress the story, and repetition should be employed only if truly necessary. Lastly, keep in mind the mentality of the child and the creative license of the illustrator, who will tell half the story visually.
Stacy showed an original manuscript of a picture book and the subsequent markings and revisions made before publication. That little gem was wonderfully illustrative; less is more.