Writer's Studio

Last weekend I had the pleasure and honor of presenting at our 2013 Fall Letters & Lines Conference. The session I gave was called “What’s Your Picture Book About? Developing Effective Story Summaries.”

One of the most wonderful things about picture books is that there is such a variety of types; not every picture book is a traditional narrative story with a character, a conflict, and a resolution.

However, for those that follow this model, I encouraged writers to go deeper and find and exploit the emotional resonance in their stories. Using Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, I posed a series of questions to get us all looking at the story more deeply, beyond just the plot about a boy, Max, who is “naughty,” sent to bed without supper and enters the imaginary world of the wild things where he is in charge.

Here are a few questions to get your creativity flowing:

  • How do the circumstances change by the end of the story?
  • How do the new circumstances affect my character?/How does my character change by the end of the story?
  • What single image do you want the child who is reading/listening to the story to walk away with? This is not necessarily an illustration or scene you “see” from the book (though it could be), but an image that encapsulates what your book is truly about.

Answering these questions not only will help you develop an effective summary that you can use to entice an editor or agent to want more, but also assist you in making your story one that will stay in the minds and hearts of readers for years to come.