One of my favorite golf pros practiced simplicity in his instruction. Rather than giving me twenty-minutes of pointers to think about during my five-second swing, he’d address just a few.
One of his more memorable lessons was when he placed me in perfect body position at address, then backswing, then finish. He had me hold those positions for several seconds each, then repeat the drill over and over. His point was that if you’re in perfect position at the beginning and end of your swing, your club will arc perfectly and you’ll hit the ball cleanly. He was right. With too flat an arc, I’d slice my shots right into the parking lot and with too steep an arc I’d chop up epic chunks of turf.
I’m still a hacker, but when I practice those perfect beginnings and endings my shots improve dramatically.
The same holds true for picture books.
So often when a picture book arc feels flat, writers will try to add more action or ramp up the climax. This might work, but often this solution leaves the story feeling confused, hectic or directionless. The arc rises too sharply.
Instead you might try to explore your beginning and endings to achieve that perfect arc. Here are some questions to ask of your story:
What sets the story in motion? What’s your catalyst? Is it clear? Is it special?
What’s your main character’s story problem? Is it clear from the start? Is it weighty enough? Will kids relate to it? Does it feel like a true obstacle?
What motivates your main character? Motivation often uncovers just the right trigger to start your story.
Does your ending tie to your beginning? Does it surprise? Does it disarm? Does it evoke emotion?
Even though the ending is known after the first read, will it still satisfy with subsequent reads? Will it satisfy a kid?
Picture books have a lot to accomplish in so few words – kind of like the five-second golf swing. If you start and finish in perfect form, there’s a good chance your story arc will score well with your young readers.
Ooh, I really like the golf/picture book metaphor! I think the questions you ask would actually work well for many types of writing.
Oh Anna, I agree. My questions are truly basic. But I think I often forget to think about the basics – just like when I'm golfing.