by Moni Ritchie Hadley
You have an idea for a story. It’s based on your family experience. It’s awesome … until it’s critiqued, and you realize it’s not so awesome yet.
How do you develop that seed of a story into a picture book?
Take control—control over the characters, the plot, and the setting.
Recalling events from the past or drawing on family experiences are common ways authors begin stories, which is a good start. Some might become nonfiction, some a close retelling, but many will fall into the genre of fiction. When that is the case, remember--
YOU have the power in the story.
Recounting an event from your childhood is not enough to create a picture book. Don’t let yourself get stuck in the mindset --but this is what happened! Challenge yourself to move beyond the kernel of truth or fact, and create an exciting story.
If you find yourself stuck to the facts, here is an example of how I broke out of my original concept for THE STAR FESTIVAL. It began sparsely in text, under two hundred words. While cute in its telling, paralleling the lives of my daughter and her grandma, from a mom’s perspective (me), it lacked excitement. A lost Grandma in a doctor’s office building didn’t wow anyone.
In the fall of 2019, while taking the class, The Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books at The Children’s Book Academy, I discovered the answer to my question. I stopped resisting and changed the setting to a festival! Good! Now I had a multigenerational story with a colorful setting. But that wasn’t enough. Which festival? I tried to sort my memories.
Research provided the details necessary to complete the bigger picture.
The Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival) was chosen because of the lively colors and festivities. But something unexpected happened. The origins of the festival intrigued me and sent me down the path of adding another layer. By including the telling of the myth, the fabric of my story began to fill in. Consequently, the new setting created bigger challenges for the character, which helped define her.
Here are the parallels my brain was trying to piece together once I had compiled my research. (This is way more organized than in actuality!)
When I pushed myself away from the original concept, the story finally blossomed.
Here’s how you take control of your story.
Ask yourself these questions and see where you are willing to change.
For other great writing lessons and strategies, sign up for the next course offered by The Children’s Book Academy here. Apply for a scholarship here.
Moni Ritchie Hadley, a half-Japanese, military brat bounced back and forth from the USA to Japan as a child. Daydreaming was a favorite pastime. She received a BA in Psychology at UCLA and later became a home/hospital teacher for the LAUSD, where she taught students with medical needs. Today she lives in Los Angeles, where she turns her sky-gazing daydreams into stories for children. Published in Highlights Magazine, THE STAR FESTIVAL is her picture book debut.
Connect with Moni
Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20502723.Moni_Ritchie_Hadley
Purchase THE STAR FESTIVAL:
5/4/2021 02:23:16 pm
I haven't read your book yet but I'm sure it's a wonderful book for everyone. I'm a bilingual from the Philippines and it's my dream to write at least one picture book one day based on my own culture. I wish you more success!
5/4/2021 04:13:08 pm
Thank you, Alicia. Success to you too! I hope to read your story some day! :)
6/9/2021 05:24:28 am
Great post, Moni! You know I love this book! And I really appreciate your pointers about taking control of your story! Well done!
9/22/2022 06:14:04 am
If you have an idea for a picture book, then you're in luck. The world is full of great family stories that would make excellent picture books. Whether the story has already been told, a problem the reader can relate to or uses an interesting premise, there are countless opportunities out there to create a picture book that shares your family's legacy with others.
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We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break