Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 5, 2017

ASK DIANNE JULY 2017: Top Ten Tips for PB Newbies


Q: I’d like to start writing for children, starting with some picture books for kids. What advice what advice would you give a beginner like me?

A: Because picture books are deceptively short and simple when well-done, it’s a very common place for beginning children’s writers to start. My best advice for anyone tackling a picture book manuscript is summed-up best here:

Top 10 writing tips for PB newbies:

1. Write big or go home! Let your first draft be as large as it needs to be to gather up all the ingredients for your story-to-be: setting and characterization details, plot twists, wordplay, dramatic dialogue, and so on. Writing ‘big’ gives you a lot to choose from as you go through the revision process, which is basically paring down your manuscript to the low word count required for picture books while utilizing the very best of the plot, setting, language and characterization choices you created in that first, big, fat draft.

2. Write with rich language: strong, vivid verbs; specific nouns; imaginative adverbs and adjectives. Utilize the five senses whenever possible, in your descriptions and actions. Cast sentences in an active, not passive, manner.

3. Write from a young child’s point of view, not an adult’s perspective…easier said than done!

4. Make every word count. Arrange word order in your sentences to maximize read-aloud-ability. Yes, you should read your manuscript aloud as you are writing and revising. Better yet, ask someone else to do this so you can listen actively for any potential tongue-twisters or awkward rhythms.

5. While picture books are simple stories, they should be complete stories. In becoming short, it’s easy to short change a narrative element or two. Make certain setting, characterization, rising action, climax and plot resolution are part of the mix. A few key questions for starters: does your main character have a problem to solve? Does he or she solve it with minimal assistance from a grown-up? Does he or she grow from beginning to end? Is there a clearly-defined beginning, middle and end?

6. Plug in picture potential. Remember that it’s a book that an illustrator will be asked to make pictures for, so give him or her plenty to work with: change of scenes, action, and characters whose images will arise from unique, compelling inner qualities, rather than superficial details about what they’re wearing. Give just enough visual clues to allow the artist’s imagination enough room to ignite, and illuminate your words in his or her own style.

7. Pick up the pace. Picture book readers don’t have long attention spans. Keep things happening at a good clip. When you slow the plot, make sure it’s for a good reason.

8. Drop a hook in your book. Your story first must appeal to your target reader, of course. But when it comes time to market your manuscript, you will have the advantage if you’ve found a way to tailor your story to include a tie-in to a curriculum topic (example: math); a theme that will appeal to a type of consumer (example: dog owner); a holiday (example: Valentine’s Day); etc. Besides the fabulous writing and picture potential, give the editor as many other reasons to say ‘yes’ to your project.

9. Show, don’t tell. I know, I know…a cliché’, but one that is especially true for picture books.

10. You gotta have heart! Young children need to relate to the heroine or hero of your story cognitively and emotionally. Let your main character resonate with them so much that they are truly invested in the story. Let them laugh, worry, cheer on, get angry and rejoice in the main character’s eventual triumph. Sweet or silly, soothing or scary, make your story emotionally satisfying—and the picture book crowd will want to read it again and again.


Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young. Her books have appeared on numerous recommended reading lists, classroom desks and library shelves.  Her bedtime book, LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, was a selected for the Dollywood Foundation’s childhood literacy initiative, Imagination Library in 2007. Her picture book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! THE LEGEND OF MOLLY WILLIAMS AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE FIREFIGHTER, received the Florida Book Awards (FBA) Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012 and was chosen for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature for girls. Her picture book, IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT, won the FBA Silver Medal in 2013. Her 2015 title, IT’S A SEASHELL DAY, was given the FBA Gold Medal/Gwen Reichert Award as well as the Gold Medal for Florida picture book from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. For more information about Dianne’s books, go to

Dianne, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Another great answer.

REMEMBER: To send in your questions for Dianne. Use Kathy(dot)Temean(at) Please put ASK DIANNE in the subject box.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. These are great tips, even for veteran PB writers! 😀 Thanks, Dianne (and Kathy) 😀


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