Smith, Julia Faye. The Lovely Alligator. Feedback on Picture Book in Progress

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Word Count: 1113

Suitable for ages: 5-10

I love the concept of this story. It has great potential. It could be quite sweet and humorous.

LENGTH

The major problem is the unnecessary wordiness. Most publishers prefer picture books to be under 1000 words. After reading this story, I think it would truly sparkle at 500 to 600 words. Here is a super quick first edit eliminating unnecessary words and phrases.

Eight-year-old cousins Jamie and Emily were excited. They were spending a few days with their Grandpa. The old man was fun to be with and always took them on an adventure. They giggled together far into the night their first evening with him as they tried to guess this year’s adventure. What could it be? They could not imagine.

Although he was their grandfather, they did not call him Grandpa or even Poppy. Just like everyone else in the family, they called him “the old man.” He liked that. It was what he wanted them to call him. So they did. It was always said with love.

The first morning at breakfast, the old man said loudly, “Everyone who visits me must see a real live lovely alligator”. With raised eyebrows, Emily and Jamie looked at each other expectantly.

“Have you two ever seen a real live, lovely alligator?” he asked.

“We’ve been here many times, but we’ve never seen an alligator,” said one of the young cousins while the other nodded in agreement.

“THAT CANNOT BE!
THAT CANNOT BE!
THE LOVELY ALLIGATOR YOU MUST SEE!”

“Come with me and we will find one for you,” the old man roared as he took their hands, ran down the front steps of his home, and headed for the seashore.

Oh, the beach! I love the beach,” cried Jamie. “I’ve been here many times, but I’ve never seen an alligator here.” (If they’ve been there many times and the old man says everyone who visits me must see a real live alligator, that seems a contradiction.)

“Me, either,” said Emily.

“Sit quietly and watch,” directed (use a simpler word) the old man stretching and looking first up the beach and then down the beach. So the young girls and the old man made themselves comfortable and began their vigil. (Use a simpler word)

With a cursory edit this section went from 278 words to 158. That is 57%.If you did that for the whole book, the word count would drop to 635.

Next, I would recommend editing it for pace. Avoid long phrases like “said one of the young cousins while the other nodded in agreement.” These do not belong in a picture book.

PASSIVITY

The sun was warm, and the breeze was pleasant.

This is an example of telling instead of showing. Children’s books must appeal to the five senses. How did they know the sun was warm? What was the effect of the sun on their bodies or surroundings? Why was the breeze pleasant? What did it do? How did it feel on the skin or hair?

Eight-year-old cousins Jamie and Emily were excited. They were spending a few days with their Grandpa. The old man was fun to be with and always took them on an adventure. They giggled together far into the night their first evening with him as they tried to guess this year’s adventure.

You need to make your verb tenses more immediate. Avoid phrases like “were excited” and “were spending”.

Never tell a reader your protagonist was excited. Show them the excitement through the child’s behavior and sensations. Make it so vivid they feel the excitement themselves.

Go to the library and peruse excellent children’s books in the age range you are writing for. Read the first paragraph of dozens of books to see how they pull the reader in and make them share in the excitement of the story.

REPETITION

They saw sandpipers and sea gulls, but no alligator.
They saw sand crabs and starfish, but no alligator.
They saw seashells washed ashore by the tides, and far off on the horizon they saw fishing boats heading out to sea, but no alligator.
Later in the day they saw those same fishing boats going the other direction as they headed back to the shore, but still no alligator.

This is an example of one of three scenes of “but no alligator.” This is perfect for children’s book. Make sure they are very consistent. Don’t forget to add sensory details.

Most children will not know what a sandpiper looks like. Some might not know crabs or starfish or even fishing boats. Whatever is not going to be detailed in the illustration needs some written sensory detail.

They saw tall buildings and traffic, but no alligator.
They saw pretty lampposts, potted palms and pretty petunias in planters, but no alligator.
They saw office buildings filling the sky, but no alligator.
They saw people hurrying by and people slowly window-shopping, but no alligator.
They saw people enjoying lunch in the sun at outdoor cafes, movie theaters, and even one store selling plastic alligators, but no real live alligator.

People gives me no image at all. Avoid words like pretty. They convey nothing to the reader. Are the lampposts black with square lights? Are they purple with long curly arms? What color are the petunias? Although much of the visual aspect can be shown in the illustration, you can still add sounds, smells, texture, and more vivid verbs.

OTHER THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

Gently waking the old man they saw that they were all pink from the sun.

Watch for these awkward sentences.

“IT CANNOT BE!
IT CANNOT BE!
THE LOVELY ALLIGATOR YOU HAVE FAILED TO SEE.”

These don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the narrative. As well, the last line stumbles.

Tired but happy, one of the girls said, (Say who it was). “Do not worry old man. We have seen pictures of alligators, and we know what they look like. We do not need to see a real one.”

Use contractions so the children’s speech sounds more realistic.

What is the point of his loudness? What is the point of calling him the old man? How do these things play into this plot? What do they do for his character? It seems as though the story is trying to show him as a man who wants to teach the children, without being preachy, to truly observe the world around them. How do loudness and his odd name choice come to bear on this theme?

I thought Jamie was a boy. That will have to be made very clear in the pictures right from the start unless you change the name to a non-unisex one.

What is your theme? Are you trying to say something about alligators? About grandparents? About awareness? Make sure everything relates to it. Don’t try to do everything. Stick to your point.

This is a great beginning of what could become a lovely children’s picture book. Good luck.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

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2 thoughts on “Smith, Julia Faye. The Lovely Alligator. Feedback on Picture Book in Progress

  1. Bonnie,
    Thank you so much for your efforts on behalf of my in-progress picture book.Yes, I know I am wordy. In fact, I had cut the book, I thought, to the bone. Thank you for showing me how it can be further cut and thus improved. I will take your advice and really work on that.
    In fact, I will continue working on the book with all of your advice in mind. I love the story, so hope to see it come to fruition.
    Thank you for all the kind words. Music to my ears.
    Sincerely,
    Julia Faye Smith

    Like

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