Hello, to lovely May flowers and to you, creators of children’s books! Our theme this month is Keeping it Real – Crafting Authentic Characters and Believable Voice. I have been exploring those ideas as they relate to my genre of choice, the picture book.
Our friend Tara Lazar, who writes quirky, humorous picture books and created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) had this to say about voice in her wonderful blog Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) on Feb. 2, 2016:
“Voice is the unique way an author combines words and strings together sentences. It is your story’s personality, its manner of expression.”
Tara gave this advice in her January 26, 2016 post:
“If you’re writing picture books, have some fun with the text, with the words you choose. Let them tumble over the tongue. Use alliteration, internal rhyme and challenging vocabulary. Yes, you can insert difficult words. Here is a list of surprising words that have appeared in my books and manuscripts:
• schmutz (yes, schmutz!)
Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in more difficult words. There’s context to help the child (and parent/caregiver) figure it out, in the form of words and pictures.
But please note I said SPRINKLE–like salt and pepper, use them sparingly. Let them enhance, not overpower.”
Another blog I follow is Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes. Besides being a blogger, Darcy is a well-known author of children’s literature, a writing teacher who travels across the country presenting her Novel Revision Retreat, and an independent publisher. Darcy Pattison also writes books about writing for kids. Here is what she had to say about voice on January 8, 2013:
“Voice is the way you write something, how it comes out when you allow your personality to populate the characters on the page.
There are two main ideas when you discuss voice. First, is that you have a distinctive way of writing and second, that each story requires a different voice.”
In her post of August 3, 2008, Darcy discussed how thinking visually can help with your word choice:
“Picture books have an illustration on each page: you must think visually when writing for this genre.
Thinking visually doesn’t mean adjectives; illustrators can fill in colors, background, clothing, and other details. Instead, concentrate on verbs; telling your story with pictures requires action. Unless a description is crucial to the story, cut it. Include actions that move the story along. Thoughts and dialogue may advance the plot, but they can’t be illustrated; talking heads make for boring illustrations.
Picture book stories find ways to make thoughts concrete. You get the auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory.
Think of it this way: the illustrators get the visual details. But you get everything else, hearing, feeling, moving in space, taste and smell. Only include the visual details if it really makes a difference to the story; otherwise, leave it to the illustrator.”
Darcy has some wisdom to impart regarding characters, in this case animal characters, posted April 21, 2010:
“I’m currently revising a picture book and finding it to be a bit tricky because I created animal characters. Of course, in a fiction picture book, animal characters are often just stand-ins for kids.”
“Why Use an Animal Character in a Fictional Picture Book?
1. Get Rid of Adults
2. Express Potentially Difficult Emotions
Difficulties of Using an Animal Character in a Fictional Picture Book:
You walk a fine line between kid and animal characteristics. When we read a book with an animal character, we understand that the animals are stand-ins for kids. Or do we? We still want the animal to act, well, true to its nature. Skunks stink; horses run fast; sharks bite.
In my case, someone called me on the activities the characters are doing and said it wasn’t true to the animal in question. Yes, I answered, but it’s just a stand in for a kid. Um, sorry. Choose a different animal or make the actions appropriate for this animal.”
Darcy Pattison realized that in order to create a believable character, she had to revise.
If you find these excerpts helpful and intriguing, click on the links to read the rest of these posts. Both Tara Lazar and Darcy Pattison have a lot more to say!