Saturday Six: Steps in Starting a Picture Book & New Thoughts on PiBoIdMo

I had a lovely (really!) Friday Five post about how time shifts in the summer, but I think WordPress was having problems for a few days, and that post went…POOF! and vanished. Since I don’t feel like rewriting it, I’ll change gears and tell you about the steps I took this week to get started on a new picture book.

  1. Opened up my PiBoIdMo file of prioritized ideas and started scanning it. No, it wasn’t the ideas that I had previously labeled Top 10 that caught my interest, which just shows…something. Instead, a few ideas scattered randomly through the list got my imagination going.
  2. Started new files for a few of those ideas and brain-dumped ideas into the files. Closed one and opened another, because I’d get a few thoughts dropped in and then the interest in that particular idea would fade. Until…
  3. I saw a character. The basic idea, in terms of what I’d written during PiBoIdMo, was not so great–kind of flat and with a bit too much of that, “Oh, I’ve heard this before” feeling. But I started typing in random thoughts, and suddenly he was there. In my brain. I can see the guy. II know what he looks like, I know his problem, I know the basic sadness he’s feeling, and I have snapshots images of him in contrast with the other characters, in ways that look pretty funny. It’s amazing, really, how the more “good” stuff you dump, the more your brain keeps filling up. Kind of like that tale of the magic porridge pot I loved as a kid.
  4. I opened up a Draft 1 file and wrote half a page. I ran out of steam and I didn’t like what I had. It felt, kind of like that original idea, flat and uninteresting. Also, a little off-balance–like all the weight was in the words, which were okay, but the story itself had no steam. Along with that feeling, though, was the sense that what I’d written wasn’t good enough for my new character, that I wasn’t getting anywhere close to how cool and sweet he is. Which just confirmed, for me, that this was a story worth pursuing. Because there’s something there.
  5. I pulled out my writing books and started reading. As usual, I knew what I needed…it was back to structure. I needed to get that balance right, needed to think about the KINDS OF STORY PIECES that belong in the beginning, middle, and end. Then I’d be able to start thinking about my specific story pieces. Or, rather, this character’s specific story pieces. And I found my pattern, in How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, Volume 1: Structure, by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock. According to Bine-Stock, it’s everybody’s structure, but as I studied her example, my guy started waving at me and telling me what things to shuffle around and where to put problems and actions and resolutions. His problems and actions and resolutions.
  6. I opened Word and wrestled with the Table feature to get that basic structure into a file. I tell you, don’t ask me to work with pen or paper anymore, especially with a plotting template. Bine-Stock uses a basic timeline setup to show what happens in each story, and when. Sure, I could draw that out and fill in my stuff, but then I start scribbling and then I want to erase, and it doesn’t erase completely, and the paper smears and tears, and I’ve got nothing. So I set up my own table template that may not look as pretty, but works with my brain. And I dropped in a few things I already do know about my guy–his problem, the general sort of thematic description of what has to happen in the different acts, and possible ideas for plot twists and what Bine-Stock calls “pinches”—moments of foreshadowing that move the story forward and add a bit of underlying tension. And I saved that file.

That’s where I’m at. The next step? To actually read through the books Bine-Stock uses as examples and get more comfortable with what her structure pieces actually mean, what actions and events other authors have put into those plot points. And keep thinking about my guy. Because he’s the thing that is going to make this story happen.


A little side-note thought about PiBoIdMo. Honestly, as I started going through my list from last November, I was feeling a little discouraged. So many of those ideaswere flat, blah, and so few of them sparked any interest in me at the thought of taking them further. Now, granted, last November was not the easiest month for me, I got bronchitis, my husband and son both got pneumonia, my son ended up in the hospital for two nights with it, and we were all so sick we missed seeing The Muppets in-theater. So…I can see reasons that I wasn’t at my most brilliant, and I still pat myself on the back for getting that idea-per-day accomplished. Still, I’d been thinking that I’d get several pb ideas out of the heap, even if it mean really working to push myself past the flat feeling and dig deeper for interest.

Now I’m starting to think that may not be the way PiBoIdMo works for me, or even for everybody. Maybe it’s more like the rest of life, where the % of positive response you get from a lot of effort is pretty small. You know, send out 100 marketing brochures and get one or two calls. Submit 30 queries and hope for one “Please send the manuscript.” Send out X number of resumes and get a call-back or two for an interview. And, you know, if this is how it all works, I’m cool with it. That pile of “meh” ideas I came up with has suddenly become worthwhile, because out of it, this character showed up for me to think and write about.

I wasn’t sure, the last few months, about whether I’d do PiBoIdMo again next year. Right now, I’m feeling the exact opposite. I’ll be there, and I’ll have my notebook, and I’ll be dropping ideas in. Just so I might get one more like this.

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