Picture book author Jenny Gahan give her top 5 tips for writing a great picture book

July 12th, 2021

By Jenny Gahan

Picture books for children generally have fewer than 500 words.  You might think that because they’re short, they are easy to write - but you’d be wrong!  Writing a picture book isn’t easy, but it is very satisfying.  

These 5 Top Tips have been valuable in my picture book writing journey.

Top Tip 1:  Every word must count!  

As picture books are designed to be read aloud, rhythm (how the story sounds) is important.  Keep your sentences short and simple, and choose your words wisely - children love alliteration, repetition and rhyme. There’s nothing wrong with including some unfamiliar words in your story, but do it sparingly or children will lose interest. 

Top Tip 2:  Use a linear story line.  

Picture books need a clear beginning, middle and end, with events presented in chronological order.  Repetition of words, phrases or ideas in the story facilitates children’s engagement and enables them to make predictions about what will happen next.   Although similar themes occur over and over in picture books, find a way to make the story uniquely yours.  

Top Tip 3:  Create lovable, but imperfect, characters.

Children must identify with and care about your main character.  Introduce your character at the beginning of the story and give them a BIG problem to solve.  It won’t be easy, and they’ll make mistakes and have fears along the way, but eventually your character will succeed.     

Top Tip 4:  Think visually

Picture books are typically 32 pages. Visualise the layout of text and illustrations as you write, ensuring a balance on each spread. Remember that in a picture book the illustrations are as important as the text in the telling of the story, so leave room for the illustrator.  This could mean not including descriptive details in the text that can be shown through the pictures. 

Top Tip 5:  Write to entertain

Picture books are written to entertain the readers.  Keep in mind that you are writing not only for children, but also for adults who may purchase your book.  Picture books frequently contain underlying messages, but it’s important to develop these subtly through the actions of the characters.  Avoid “preaching”.  

And most importantly of all – Enjoy the journey!
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