Revising a Nonfiction Picture Book
by Shirley Smith Duke
Books ordered? Check.
Articles from Internet? Check.
Reading done for all sources? Check.
Background of reading multiple nonfiction picture books? Check.
Now it was time to start writing.
I looked at my subject from a distance. There were fascinating pieces of information and some unsavory actions later in life. I loved so many of them. But I wanted to write a nonfiction picture book for children. Well, I could discuss my subject, warts and all, I decided. I knew the event I wanted to focus on.
Now, most picture books are short—less than 500 words. Nonfiction can be a bit longer, so I thought I’d check. I typed Tanya Lee Stone’s nf pb biography, Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?, into a document. It ran about 800 or so words. Now I had my target goal.
Then I didn’t know where to go. I worked on an interesting introduction, realizing after that I needed a story arc. A plan! Nonfiction can make use of a story arc, so I wrote mine. I filled in notes to support the plan, filling four handwritten pages with tiny scribbles.
Now I was ready to write. I found it hard. Finally, I set a goal and got busy. I filled in the story of my subject’s life, from birth to death. I was forced to leave out fascinating facts, but I kept telling myself it’s a picture book. One can’t include everything.
Wrapping up the final sentence with a flourish, I was happy. And not happy. The picture book ran 3,000 words and told the entire life story. Well, it was interesting, so I bundled it off to my critique group. A number of revisions later, I had a 2,500 streamlined version. I hastily sent it along to a paid critique through my SCBWI retreat and waited.
I wasn’t happy with the story, and I thought about what I needed to do.
Guess what? The editor made the usual, standard comments. I wasn’t surprised. I knew what she’d say already. I knew what was wrong with the story.
I needed to focus on the one event. The extra material was the encyclopedia version. I needed to write the birth to death, but that version was for me. With so many incidents and a complex character, the overwhelming information was confusing. Cynthia Leitich Smith said she tears up her first draft before writing the second. I tore mine up mentally.
Now I’m ready to do the second revision. Really revise. Revision isn’t rearranging words. It’s an overhaul. I plan to narrow my focus and return to the single event and why my character was able to carry out the contribution.
I’ll probably still have a really long author’s note!
Thank you Shirley. So pleased to have a peak at your nonfiction revision process!
Teaching STEM and Common Core, ABC-Clio, 2014
Seasons of the Biomes, (series of 8 books), Rourke,2014
"Grow with STEM", LibrarySparks, 2013-2014
To enter giveaway:
1. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post.
2. Under the prize listings, click on the “Revised PB MS Today & Commented on Today's Post” button.
3. If you have revised a PB manuscript and commented on today's post, click ENTER and you're entered! Remember you are on the honor system!
Each day you revise and comment (Jan. 12-18th) you can enter for chances to win. The winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter January 19th. There will be a final giveaway January 19th for those of you who revise 5+ days! Good luck everyone!