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Sunday, June 10, 2012

How to come up with an Initial Idea for a Children's Picture Book

I can't believe it was a year ago that I posted my first assignments from the children's book illustration course I was doing. I did intend to post them regularly, but that never exactly happened!

Anyway, I said that I would take you on my journey through my illustration 'career', so here we begin... Oh, I should mention that everything I blog about with regard to getting a children's picture book published, will be something I've learnt from my course, something I've discovered through experimentation and success or failure, or just things I pick up on through this process. I am, at the time of writing, unpublished and make no claims to be an expert! I'm just kind of taking you on my journey. I have no idea where we'll end up, but that's all part of the fun eh?

This is the list of posts I'll be writing. I'll link back to here every time I post:

1) Thinking of an idea
2) Writing the text
3) Character development
4) Storyboard
5) Dummy books
6) Final sketches
7) Finished illustrations
8) Making a full size dummy
9) Submitting your book to a publisher

Right then, the first step in creating a children's book is the initial idea or concept. Kind of obvious really, but I thought I'd share with you different ways you can come up with an idea and the sorts of stories that children are interested in.

If you spend time in the children's section of a bookshop, you'll notice that a lot of books nowadays are about real life. That is, stories are often about really quite ordinary, everyday, events. It almost seems old-fashioned to write about monsters or fairies and other worlds. Although, I have to say, I love stories about other worlds. I vividly remember as a kid, climbing into my wardrobe and pushing the back, just wishing, hoping, that I would fall out of the other side into a snow-covered forest. It never happened of course, but that's not to say that 25 years later I don't still secretly wish it could!

I'm not saying that these sorts of stories won't get published (I have quite a few stored up in my mind and on scraps of paper, notebooks... wherever), just that ordinary events seem to be quite popular at the moment. This could be because it's so hard to come up with another Narnia or Alice in Wonderland, the Magic Faraway Tree - something so original it will stand the test of time for many generations of children, or maybe it's because children nowadays just prefer something they can relate to a bit more. I hope it's not because kids just think these kinds of stories are silly.

So... you need a story that children can relate to first of all. I don't mean that unrealistic things can't happen in the story, just that 'it' can happen to a boy or a girl on their way to school or something. Think of Flat Stanley or Spaghetti Eddie.

One of the most important things to remember is that the child (or child animal) has to be the hero of the story. You can never have an adult save the day, that just won't do! Humour is also important. And something for the grown-ups too - a little something to make Mum or Dad smile, after reading the same book every night for a week (or a month). Do remember though, for a picture book, keep it simple.

Where do you get the ideas from then? Well, I guess you need to look at the world through a child's eyes. What is important to them? What do they care about? If you have children of your own, watch them play, talk with their friends or siblings, what do they love/hate? Sometimes just a word they utter or a question they ask can be enough to generate a whole story. And if you're a teacher - hey, you've got 30 kids coming up with some gems every single day! One of my favourites, which I think I've mentioned before, is "Miss, when did we get colour?" I thought he meant colour TV, but no, he actually thought the world used to be in black and white.

The book I'm working on at the moment is something I know Little W (my son) would love to happen to him. Although it's impossible, it's not beyond the realms of comprehension.

When I think up ideas, I do a brainstorm on paper. I always do these for anything I'm trying to come up with ideas for. They're so useful for generating further possibilities. 

So, now you have your idea, you need to get writing. Hope it's  been useful for you. Check back soon for the next post on how to write the text for your picture book.


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