Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Picture Book vs. Short Story

How do you know when your children's short story is more for a magazine or could it be a picture book?

Short stories, or magazine stories, tend to run much shorter (and I'm not talking teen mags) than PBs. Most magazines that feature fiction only have a small amount of space to use for it.

Word count for magazines, even nonfiction, is very strict. Don't go one single word over. I'm guessing they tend to be 800 words or less. Not really sure because I don't really write them, or read them - much. But many (in the one kid's mag I do read) are in the 200-600 word range.

You probably know what I think about picture book word count. If not, read my blog article, Picture Book Length, Differences, and Word Count. The overall consensus is that 1,000 words is the average. [2016 Update: 750 is the new "sweet spot."]

There's a lot more to it than just word count. There has to be an image count, too. Since magazines only have a limited print space, they also have to limit the illustrations for it. Picture books, on the other hand, must have pictures! And lots of them! A minimum of 14 to be exact. Since PBs are typically 32 pages long and take up 28 pages for text, that means there are 14 2-page spreads. The pictures may or may not be actual scenes. One scene could take up 3 spreads. It all depends on the story, and of course the illustrator. So if your story only has 10 images to illustrate, it's a short story, mostly. (Some PBs are printed in 24 pages, with 20 pages of text. So that would be 10 2-page spreads --IF they're really good images with a great story).

How to Analyze a Picture Book with a Story Board


So what makes a good image? ACTION! People talking a lot in one room, or even four rooms, is not enough action. Characters have to be moving and doing things. Most PBs typically don't have a lot of dialogue. Yes, there is usually some, but most don't have a lot. The dialogue has to help move the plot forward. But the actions have to get the characters moving!

Here's an exercise to try. You can add it to the list of how to analyze a picture book. Take any PB, preferably your favorites, and summarize each 2-page spread. Kind of like make a plot outline. Here's an example. I'll use I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse. It's a 24-page book. With 24 pages for text and illos. The copyright and last page of text are printed on the opposite side of the end papers. It looks like the first page, but it's actually not. The numbers listed are the 2-pg spreads.

  1. Mama and two boys getting ready to go fishing.
  2. The lake with its reeds bending low at evening time.
  3. Scooping dirt and worms.
  4. Cans full of lively worms.
  5. Rowing in the boat.
  6. Night time with moon. Who's the best rower.
  7. Who's the best fisherman.
  8. Tucking into bed.
  9. Bluest.
  10. Come closer to bottom bunk.
  11. Reddest.
  12. Cabin at night and Mama dreaming.
The more of these you do, the better your pacing and imagery will be. Have fun! I'd love to see you share one using your favorite PB. (That one was one of mine, by the way.)

How to Analyze a Picture Book with a Story Board



  1. A very informative post! I agree, short and snappy is better. I think wordiness is one of the most common mistakes that might cause a ms to be rejected.

  2. No doubt about it! I am actually going to write a post about ALL (okay as many as I can find) the reasons why mss are rejected. Not sure when though.


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