Knitting a Picture Book

With our house on the market, I haven’t been knitting as much. Seriously. I’m trying not to bring anything into the house (we have so much to get RID of), and we keep stuff put away as much as possible. But my hands were itchy at night while watching TV, so I dragged out my knitting tote, pulled out the simple sleeveless mitten pattern I had completed successfully (see Photo 1) in several colors, and chose some leftover yarn.

Photo 1: Proof that I actually CAN knit a reasonable pair of fingerless gloves

Well. I knew I was no knitting expert, but look at these! Oh, lord.
4 from scrap yarn

Photo 2: And…proof that maybe I can’t!

Looking at these reminds me so much of various versions of a single picture book. All four of these came from one ball of yarn. They all contain the same elements, just like revisions of one picture book all have plot, theme, character, word choice, etc. But different elements take center stage in different revisions. These fingerless gloves are all made from the same pattern and the same ball of yarn. But they have different, um, weaknesses (let’s call them that, rather than flat-out errors). Too long. Too short. Too messy. Things unraveling a bit. One element outshining the others.

This is SO much like what revising a picture book is like!

I just pulled five (yes, five) picture book manuscripts out of submission. Several are narrative fiction, though a couple are more conceptual. I’ve received generally positive but similar feedback from smart editors, and here’s the problem. In trying to make the manuscripts short and spare, which I love, I’ve either 1) erased the deeper theme/meaning that would let them resonate OR 2) presented a great premise and characters, but not packed enough plot and transformation into my story.

So, like my fingerless gloves pictured above, these manuscripts aren’t ready for the world yet. I’ve pulled them off my “submit list,” and I’m going to analyze each one carefully this coming month. I’ll be looking at every element, studying the proportion of story to character to theme. I’ll be checking beginnings and endings–did I set something great up at the beginning and finish it at the end? I’ll be looking at word choice–can it be better? I did this on one manuscript last month–my MONSTERS manuscript–and I’m happy to report it’s back in the “submit list.” Whee!

There’s no single pattern to follow for picture books, and even if there were, I’d find ways to get it wrong (Refer to Photo 2 above). Instead, I think each idea has a pattern that works just right for that particular story. It’s a matter of drafting, revising, analyzing, getting feedback, brainstorming, and so on, over and over again, until you hit on the revision that’s snug and beautiful and fits just right.

Maybe you have a manuscript that it’s time to unravel and knit back up again?


About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Networking, Writing Advice and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Knitting a Picture Book

  1. Yes! I take another look at a manuscript every time I resubmit it. Some are rejected because of timing or subjects too close to an editor’s current projects, & some really need revision. I’m reworking an old one again right now, hoping to make the ending more universal.

    • Thanks, JoAnn. Exactly! Figuring out the reason for the rejection is key! I’m grateful to have a handful of editors who are reading and responding to my work with brief but honest and helpful remarks about why a particular piece doesn’t work for them. Makes my analysis so much easier. Good luck with your ending!

  2. Judy Cooper says:

    I cannot begin to find the right words to tell you how much I enjoy and appreciate the open honesty in all of your posts. (which is pretty bad for someone who fancies herself as being a wordsmith) By the way, I think your fingerless gloves are beautiful. I love the way they all look so different, but are from the same ball of yarn. Very artful. (If you want to get rid of them in your decluttering process, I’ll send you the postage to send them to me. lol)

    • Hehee–Thanks, Judy! I have vowed to be transparent, to let other writers see behind the curtain:>) A writing career is a journey, and we’re ALL still stumbling along it, just at slightly different places on the path. :>)

  3. I’m doing this right now with feedback for several picture books. Wondering when the porridge, chair, bed will feel “just right.” The issue of maintaining depth while keeping things spare is extraordinarily difficult, and I’ve heard from more than one person/parent who’s said that kids need a little more meat to chew on these days. That the spare text, while a quick read for adults/kids at bedtime, tends to leave kids feeling less likely to ask for a kazillion re-reads. I can see both sides, but it definitely depends on each story and its illustrations.

    • I’ve heard that, too. I really do adore the ones that manage to get that depth from spare texts, so that’s what I’m aiming for. If I were someone who actually liked longer pb texts, I’d be oh-so-frustrated with today’s publishing trends. I do think author-illustrators have it MUCH easier in terms of depth/spareness, because so much does depend on those illustrations, and they can give a pb resonance that the text itself really doesn’t contain–maybe doesn’t even hint at!

  4. tinamcho says:

    Great analogy with the mittens! Yep, I have some ms that need re-doing.

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