Shrunken Picture Book

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How I Shrunk my Picture Book Manuscript – and Why I’ll Do It Again!

by Lee Wind

At a schmooze of the SCBWI Tri-Regions of Southern California, discussion ranged far and wide, pulling info and tips from many sources. Lee Wind showed a shrunken manuscript of a picture book, complete with glitter, colors and stickers. The report says, “It helped him look at pacing, consistency, internal and external arcs…”

I originally developed the Shrunken Manuscript Technique to help writers see the overall structure of a novel. Here, it shrinks a picture book to a couple pages. I wondered how this is different from using a thumbnail layout, so I asked Lee to explain.

Shrink a 530 word picture book manuscript? But it’s already so short!

I wondered if I would actually learn anything at all from the exercise.

I decided to try it anyway, so I could discuss it at the schmooze on revision that I was co-coordinating, having read about the idea, among other places, here at Darcy’s amazing blog!

I made the font size 6pt, changed the margins so all the text would be in a two inch wide column down the left side, and sat down with the printout like an enthusiastic kindergartner with stickers,
highlighters, and glitter dots.

It came out to three pages long. I taped them together, took a ruler and drew a black line where I imagined page breaks.

Shrunken Picture Books, Photo by Rita Crayon Huang

Shrunken Picture Books, Photo by Rita Crayon Huang

And then I got out the pink highlighter. I drew a square around the
scenes I thought were really GREAT. As you can see, I had three in the beginning, and six at the end, and NOTHING but NOTHING in the middle. (the very bottom was a “key” for myself to explain what all my symbols meant.)

Then I got out these cool pink glitter dots. I put those on scenes
where I got “goosebumps” – scenes that really packed an emotional punch. I had two in the beginning. A big stretch of NOTHING in the middle. And then three scattered at the end.

I was starting to see a pattern.

Then I took out my “tiger” stickers (you know those return address
labels you get for free with nonprofit mailings – the ones with the
photos of wildlife by your name? They’re the perfect size to cut out
and use for this!)

And I put tiger stickers on every scene my antagonist (bad guys)
showed up. There they were, in the beginning and in the end.

I did more stickers, and quickly discovered that the part of my story
that was “working” was actually NOT the part of the story I wanted to emphasize. My “real” main character, in my mind, didn’t even show up in dialog until, um… page 4. See in the photo, that scene that starts off the middle, with absolutely NO pink box, or glitter dot, or tiger sticker? That’s where my “real” main character took center
stage.

Yikes! I was telling the WRONG character’s story.

I also put in stuff about locations, to make sure there were varied
enough possibilities for the illustrator, but really, once I figured out that I needed to re-do the story so it really was the story of my
younger character, I was itching to do a complete re-write.

I think if I had just done a list of my scenes (like an outline) and
worked from that, without shrinking the actual manuscript, I could
have missed this entirely, because my main character – in my mind- was present in the first three scenes, but as an observer. Having the actual manuscript with dialog and everything right there made me
realize she wasn’t really the focus of the beginning of the book, and
that’s a problem I might not have seen so clearly without shrinking
the manuscript.

So, was it useful? Absolutely.

Would I do it again? I’m getting my highlighter and stickers out
right now. Time to shrink the next draft!

Thanks for coming along with me on this virtual shrunken manuscript
journey. And Darcy, thank you for the opportunity to share my
experience with your readers!

Namaste,
Lee

ps- Appreciation to Rita Crayon Huang for the awesome photo of me
holding up my shrunken picture book manuscript at our schmooze on
revision!

Lee Wind is a writer who blogs about Gay Teen Books, Culture and
Politics at “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?

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1 Comment
  • Lisa Chaikin-Johnston
    September 7, 2011

    What a fantastic visual tool for writers/illustrators! It is easy to become lost in a plot, blinded to the holes and voids in our work from enthusiasm writing it. This is a wonderful method for clearing out, and identifying dead-zones. Thanks for posting it. I’ll be sure to incorporate the “Shrunken Picture Book” method for checking on strengths and weaknesses.