Better Questions This Time Around

I’ve pretty much spent the last year in picture-book revision mode–before the Big Sur workshop to get ready and after the workshop to integrate the feedback I got.  I’m sending these stories through my new critique group and then using their comments for yet more revision. But, as I submit to the group and wait for our meetings, I’m finding I have time to play with new ideas and write some early drafts.

The good thing about all this is revision is that I have learned a bit. (As one does.)  No, my first drafts aren’t suddenly works of beauty. No, I don’t understand what my hero wants on the first go.

But I’m asking better questions. Questions that, on previous manuscripts, I didn’t think to ask until draft four or draft six or draft nine. Questions that I knew all about from working on novels, but that I hadn’t yet woken up to applying to picture books.

Questions like:

  • Who is this character, that they have this specific-to-them want? What does the want say about them?
  • What “universal” childhood experience/feeling does that want touch on?
  • How does the character approach their attempts to get what they want, and how do they respond to their failures?
  • How does each failure lead into the next attempt; how does the big failure shift the character into a new, different story step?
  • What powers the character out of the dark place to push, one more time, for their own success? (Thinking again about what that original want said about them.)

And then there’s the biggie that perhaps isn’t/shouldn’t be an active part of early drafts, but that is starting to claim its place in the back of my brain even as I start to put the first words on the page.

What can I do with this story to give it that something extra,
that will turn it into a book a child ask for again and again? 

I’m not sure if having a stronger toolkit of questions is going to make my writing process easier or reduce my revision time. But I feel like I’m getting to step into the water at a deeper spot, like I can take my feet off the ground to swim at least a ways out of the shallow end of the pool. I’m leaving the swim noodle behind.


  1. Great post. As an “aspiring” picture book author I really got a lot from reading about your experience!


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