Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to Write for Children and Executives

     I sometimes quip about my corporate upbringing, complaining about being forced to boil down extremely complex projects into 1-page recommendations under the glare of fluorescent lights.   Every word was hand-picked.   Every point was succinct.  Every sentence had a vital role.  Some great thoughts were deleted; their lives cut short.

     A picture book usually provides 32 pages for me to fill up.  I have the freedom to be creative and the space to use adjectives.  Wonderful, delightful, awe-inspiring adjectives!    To rewire creativity into my brain, I had to use the thesaurus to find words other than "impact" and "profit."  I aim for about 600 of these delicious words for a picture book draft. 

     As research I looked at a few of my old business recommendations:  1 page, single-spaced, 1 inch margins, about 600 words.  600 words?  What the coincidence?!  Little did I know I was training to write children's books during those years of solitary confinement in my cubicle.  

     (Sidenote:  It is difficult to avoid the obvious conclusion that executives are like children who can only sit through one book before growing bored.  In their defense executives are very busy people who only have a few minutes to review your reco before they go finish their pillow forts. Though I do wonder how many more approvals I may have received if I had included more pretty little pictures.)

George Orwell's writing rules     Picture books challenge authors to bring a character to life, create an emotional bond with readers, and complete an adventure all within a few words.  Writing efficiently is also a survival skill in business.  Corporate training frequently uses George Orwell's writing rules, though of course boiled down to something like:
1. Use simple words.  Never use a long word where a short one will do.
2. Avoid worn out phrases - use fresh figures of speech to invoke strong imagery.
3. Use active voice instead of passive voice.
4. Do not use two words when one will do. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.

     Efficiency in writing does not mean stripping out all the creativity.  Implementing these rules will only remove the redundancy and inactive words to create more space for Harriet the Hazardous Hen and Reginald the Rambunctious Rooster to run free.  Just remember to finish the fence first; I am still cleaning up the chaos those two caused last time they went free range.  

Don't believe me that picture books are hard to write?  Check out this great NPR story


  1. Great post Lauri! Love the comparison of PB to corporate writing. I can see why you won the Liebster blog. Congratulations.

    I agree, picture books are difficult to write. I thought it was easy so I challenged myself to write one, two and many more unpublished ms. There is so much to learn about picture book writing. Now publishers are asking us to write a story with great characters, a thought-out plot in less than 500 words!

  2. I believe they're hard to write, and bow before the creative genius of those who do it! :)

    Thanks so much for following my blog!

  3. I love the quote from Pascal! I think this is a great reminder to be efficient with my word selection, no matter what I'm writing. I struggle with this. I like to use 5 words where 1 will do! But I'm learning!

  4. Great post! I'm envious of your ability to impart so much information so succiently. I see that you have already been nominated for the Liebster Blog Award. Please allow me to add my vote as well.

  5. I admire anybody who strives to make a picture book. Like Paul, I'm nominating you as well:

  6. Thank you Jennifer and Paul! I am excited to get to know all your nominees sites too!


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