I'm naturally wordy, in my head at least. In person I hardly say much, but my internal dialogue is everlasting. Whenever I write an email, blog post or story, it's often overwritten and sometimes meandering. I need to get every thought and synonym possibility on the page in order to get to the core of the piece. Over the years, I've been fortunate to be a part of excellent critique groups whose members have helped me keep my word counts in check.
Picture book writers hear it time and time again that sell-able stories should be 500 words or less - a challenging task. I once revised my 1600 word manuscript (a ridiculous length considering today's standards) to 700 words. After wiping the sweat off my brow, it was hard for me to fathom that I needed to cut more. Today it rests at 635 words. And I've let it rest for the moment.
I use to think of the revision process as sacrificial and near painful at times. However, I've realized that my quest for lower word counts can be a freeing and dare I say a fun challenge that allows me to play with language even more. I've come to a place where I've found liberation through constraint. I've realized that I actually didn't need three strings of onomatopoeia and I didn't need to invite all of the animals to the birthday party.
I fell in love with writing picture books many years ago. I still love the genre because it can conjure such depth of emotion so simply. Here are two examples.
These are some tips that I've learned along the way to keep word counts down:
1. Stay with the main character's story line
2. Show don’t tell - telling usually requires more words
3. Use adjectives and modifiers sparingly
4. Choose terrific tell-all verbs
5. Pacing is key - don't linger unnecessarily in the beginning, middle or end
6. Pass it on - have someone you trust critique it
7. Sleep on it - or hibernate on it - nothing beats a fresh set of eyes even if they're your own
I’d love to hear your tips!
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
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