Today is Picture Book Wednesday and we’ve all heard that “every word counts” in a picture book; though it’s true in books of all lengths, it’s most apparent in picture books because they’re so short. Here are a few tips for choosing just the right word for your story.
- Identify your purpose. Is the line supposed to be humorous, serious, suspenseful? Make sure you are selecting words that reflect the tone of your story or that particular scene or section.
- Make your words work for you. I’m a big believer in making my words multi-task of possible. Is there a fantastic action verb that is also alliterative? What about an onomatopoetic word that doubles as a description or moves the plot forward? Look for ways you can get your words to do more than one task.
- Revisit your verbs. I have always prided myself on really finding and using strong, active verbs in my manuscripts and yet I’m still amazed when I’m doing a final polish and stumble across a boring verb that I missed. Case in point: In a new manuscript, I had written: “…give it to your monster.” “Give” is a perfectly serviceable verb, but was that the best way to say what I was trying to say? The answer was no, so I rewrote it this way: “Whatever it is, tuck it in with your monster, nice and tight.” Tucking something in creates a strong image as well as evoking an emotion and I believe it’s a much better choice.
- Search and destroy as many “to be” verbs as possible. This includes is, was, etc. I wrote a short piece that included this advice in Writer’s Digest a number of years ago. (Bonus for reading this blog: If you’d like a copy of the article, e-mail the moderator with “Nasty Nine” in the subject line. Note that I’m away from my desk for a week as I write this so it may take 7-10 days for you to receive it, but I promise you will!)
How do you choose the words you use in your story?