How Writing a Picture Book Can Help with Writing a Novel

by Orly Konig-Lopez

Last month Sharla Rae wrote about switching genres. She’s a historical romance writer and has decided to take the leap into a futuristic. The common thread between the two genres that gave her the courage to try: research.

That post has been on my mind. I’ve had a particularly bad case of ‘Fussy Brain’ lately and have been jumping around between various projects trying to “find” a creative spark.

Rewind to December.

I started a new women’s fiction project. And man, did it start out strong. Oh yeah! The pieces of the WIP puzzle were fitting into place, the words were flowing, the characters were singing, happy times. Then life happened. The creative flow came to a screeching halt. Every time I sat down to write, I’d end up with a to-do list or fuffing about on social media and internet sites or spraying my orchids, again.

Fast forward to last week.

After spending two hours staring at a blinking cursor under the sad words “Chapter 3,” I gave up and started cleaning my office (orchids had already been sprayed). In my “current project” drawer is a notebook from the November PiBoIdMo – that’s Picture Book Idea Month for those who may not be familiar. Out came the notebook.

Stick with me a few more minutes.

We’ve all heard the advice to go for a walk in nature or manhandle exercise equipment or clean toilets or use all the hot water in the shower or whatever gives you that change of scenery and mental break when you’re struggling with a scene. Picture books work much the same way for me. Here’s why:

photoWhen I write women’s fiction, I have to be on a computer. I’ve tried longhand, nothing happens. The first draft has to be typed out. Editing is longhand, but that first messy draft is a collaboration between my brain, fingers and MacBook Pro.

Picture books, on the other hand, flow from brain, to colored pen, to legal pad. Those I edit on the computer but first messy draft must be longhand. Go figure!

That switch in format and genre, releases the bunched up undies on my creative braincells.

There are also a lot of similarities –

Characters – Regardless of the story you’re writing, you need strong characters … main characters, secondary characters, a good guy, a not-so-good guy, a mom, a dad, a friend, an I-thought-you-were-my-friend friend, a dog. Characters must have unique traits that help to both increase the conflict and create the solution. Every character must come to life for the reader but you should adjust your character brainstorming for the appropriate audience. After all, a booger-picking-and-flicking six year old will probably have more appeal to one audience over another.

Conflict – Who wants to read a story where every character is perfectly happy and nothing ever goes wrong? Conflict! We want conflict. Internal, external, high drama, humorous, angst filled, tricky, straightforward, doesn’t matter, it just needs to be there.

Story Structure – Every story has a beginning and the central problem or conflict, then the middle as the problem increases, and finally the end and resolution of the problem. Easy peasy. 325 pages or 32 pages, the structure is the same.

Tight writing – Show of hands … who’s heard the phrase “write tight” from a crit partner? My first drafts ramble. I leave editing for the second and third and sixth pass. Each time, I tighten a bit more. In a novel you have 75,000-100,000 (or more) words to make all the great things mentioned above happen. In a picture book you have under 1,000, preferably closer to 400-500 words. Talk about an excellent exercise in making every word count.

This week, I’m back to my women’s fiction WIP and excited about the ideas flowing.

Your turn … how do you untangle your creative braincells?

Congratulations to Alissa Callen, the winner of a Margie Lawson online class! Thanks for reading and commenting on Margie’s Body Language blog, Alissa.

Orly Konig-LopezAbout Orly

After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.  When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

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22 Responses to How Writing a Picture Book Can Help with Writing a Novel

  1. Hi Orly, wonderful post. I’m afraid I’m having trouble even finding any creative brain cells since my husband retired. Funny how one other breathing body in the house affects my writing. But only my fiction writing–not the nonfiction.. Weird, huh? I have friends who write entire novels in longhand. Maybe I need to forget about finger cramps and give it a try.🙂 Thanks for the good tips. And good luck with your WIP. Hope the words keep flowing!

    • I have a very hard time writing when others are home (well, except the cats). Ditto on that being a problem only with fiction. I can work on client projects almost anywhere.
      I’d love to hear if you try longhand.🙂

  2. olderwriter says:

    Great inspiration, Orly. Also love your unusual name. Sounds French.

  3. I’m still searching for answers to that one! Perhaps talking to another writer friend helps my creative energy the most. As for switching genres, I once wrote a middle grade book from a cat’s point of view and it’s the most FUN I’ve ever had writing. Along the way, I learned about deep POV and writing more about sensation i.e. the cat learned more from his sense of smell instead of visual clues – – the opposite of humans!

    Best of luck on the picture book and your WF. If I had ANY drawing ability I might try a picture book.🙂

  4. Great idea! Perhaps even a good idea to get away from a novel, if a section or a character is becoming frustrating. Thanks for the post.

    • Even if you don’t necessarily write in another genre or want to try a new one out, you could take a particularly stubborn character and write a short story with him/her. Put him/her in an entirely different setting/period/whatever feels like fun and shake things up. Even our characters need attitude adjustments once in a while.🙂

  5. lorispielman says:

    Great post, Orly! I love the idea of dabbling in another genre. Very impressive that you write WF and picture books. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. I am slogging my way through a draft, somewhere between rough and finished. I have lost count! When i get stuck on a scene, especially one that needs major reworking, I take the dogs out for a walk often with camera in hand. Right now, with about a foot of snow on the ground, those walks drain me physically, but awaken me mentally so that I am ready for another hour or two of work.

  7. littlemissw says:

    I write picture books and YA. I find the picture book writing really makes me tighten things up, just as you said. I also find embracing ideas for other stories is the best thing for me, if I have an idea and try to ignore it because I’m already working on something then that’s when the writers block sets in. Weird but true.

    • Orly Konig Lopez says:

      That’s interesting although probably not as weird as you think.🙂
      I find myself spinning over ideas that are stuck in my head but not relevant to what I’m working on. Need to get better about writing them down in the “idea” notebook instead.

  8. Really enjoyed this parallel! I too always start picture books off the computer. There’s something raw and simple and fundamental about them that goes better with writing by hand.🙂 And I second going for a walk as a way to mentally untangle.

    • Orly Konig Lopez says:

      Sorry for delay in responding (life and winter took me on a schedule detour).

      LOVE that you do the same with picture books. I don’t censor my thoughts the same when I write long hand. Seems more appropriate for a kids book.🙂

  9. writersideup says:

    I think it holds true for anyone—you need some sort of shift in what you’re doing to unstick you when you’re stuck, regardless of what that is. Whether it’s going from computer to longhand, from novel to picture book, from sedentary to active—whatever. It helps change the mode, much like throwing sand on the ice to give your tires traction to get moving again.

    • Orly Konig Lopez says:

      Ouu I love that … “It helps change the mode, much like throwing sand on the ice to give your tires traction to get moving again.” Perfect!

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