From here on out, almost everything is about taking that draft and making it better. (Or at some point, perhaps it will be about throwing that approach out and doing a new first draft with a whole new structure, angle, etc. But don’t worry about that right now.)
One thing to ask when looking at your draft is: where is my arc?
Sometimes nonfiction has a narrative arc, if you are writing a biography or other chronologically told story. And in that case, you will use a narrative arc of increasing tension to a great climax/resolution, just as in fiction writing.
But many nonfiction picture books don’t have a narrative arc. However, your BOOK must still have an arc, even if it is non-narrative nonfiction. It took me a while to learn this. That even if your book is not a story, you have to find a way to guide your reader through the journey of the information you’re sharing with them. That arc will evoke certain emotions in your readers. And it should leave them with a clear sense of being in the hands of a trusted guide who knows what he or she is doing. A guide who has a plan. A guide who is not just tossing information at them with no overall organization.
When they hear the first lines of your book, your readers should have some sense of beginning a journey. When they hear the final lines, they should feel satisfied and know the journey is coming to an end.
A lot of this, I learned from editors. Here are some examples of the arcs in my picture books.
|Title||What (Topic)||So What (Angle)||Arc|
|Meet My Family!||Animal (and human) families||There are many kinds and structures of families, and they can all work!||The arc is subtle in this one, but I was thoughtful in not wanting too many slightly sad comments about families (the raccoon who’s never met his dad, for instance) to be in a row. I wanted a bouncy pace full of contrasts (between animals on the same spread and also from one spread to the next), and I didn’t want to forecast the ending—which features human families.|
|If You Were the Moon||The moon||The different things the moon does, shown through comparisons to child behaviors||I wrote the opening scene between the girl and the moon at editor Carol Hinz’ suggestion. I also broadly grouped the moon’s actions into:
· Interactions at a planetary level
· Affecting Earth’s plants/animals
· Impacting/interacting with humans
Ended with the lullaby line and the girl from the opening scene falling asleep, giving it a bit of a bedtime story arc, too.
|A Leaf Can Be…||Leaves||Leaves do a lot of different things you might not have thought of before||It begins in spring and travels throughout the year to winter.|
|BookSpeak!||Books||What would books and parts of books say if they could speak?||I wrote the opening poem, “Calling All Readers,” at editor Daniel Nayeri’s request, so that the book would have an introduction of sorts. And the book ends with “The End.” So the journey through the book very subtly echoes the act of reading a book.|
|Stampede!||Kids at school||How do kids at school behave like different animals?||This collection was a random assortment of school day poems, until editor Jennifer Wingertzahn suggested a chronological arc. So the first poem starts in the school yard before the bell rings, and the final poem is the stampede of kids leaving school at the end of the day.|
DO THIS NOW:
1) Read your draft. Mark where you see moments of tension. Mark where those moments of tension are resolved.
2) Or identify what is the thread through your manuscript that a reader can follow. How does each piece of information logically follow the piece before? Is it chronological (by year, season, day, hour)? Is it in cause and effect, each step coming as a direct result of the step before? Are the facts grouped logically somehow so that, once you identify what the thread is, you can follow it through the whole manuscript, using it to hint at what will be next?
3) If you can’t find tension or a thread, then arc is something you need to think deeply about and figure out how to imbue your manuscript with it.
4) Try on different arcs, writing new drafts for each one.
Up Next: Finding Your Voice