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PaulaYoo2 copyby Paula Yoo

It’s Day 28 of Tara Lazar’s annual Picture Book Idea Month (AKA PiBoIdMo)! Two more days and you’re done. Best of all, you will have 30 ideas to explore for your next picture book draft… and hopefully, one day, a published book!

For today’s blog, I will walk you through the general process of how I write my non-fiction picture book biographies. Here we go…

1. How do I come up with a non-fiction picture book idea? I do the following:

  • KEEP CURRENT: Read books. Pay attention to the news (social media, TV news, newspapers/magazines).
  • BRAINSTORM: Brainstorm about your own personal life: hobbies, favorite music/TV/books/etc. You never know what ideas might spark!
  • FRIENDS: You never know—a friend might mention something that could spark an idea. For example, I have had friends mention an article they read that would inspire me to jot down a picture book idea based on that!

2. Once I come up with my idea, then comes the research:

  • DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Read/watch books, articles, documentaries, movies, youtube clips, etc. related to your idea/non-fiction subject.
  • TAKE LOTS OF NOTES: Highlight what interests you as a good “story” or character moment.
  • INTERVIEW: If possible, interview the subject (if they are alive) or people who worked with the subject or are friends/family.

3. Then comes the first draft:

  • OPENING IMAGE: I usually start with an opening image—what opening image or action defines immediately the tone and direction of my story?
  • THREE-ACT STRUCTURE: I like to follow the classic “Three Act Structure”—Beginning, Middle, End, where there is an obstacle or conflict that must be overcome along with rising stakes in the action.
  • MAIN CONFLICT/OBSTACLE: I focus on the main conflict & struggle for my subject. What is the obstacle my main character faces? How do they overcome it?
  • EMOTIONAL JOURNEY: I also think about my main character’s emotional journey—what is their flaw? How do they grow and change by the end of the story?
  • THEME: As I write the first draft, a theme usually starts to form. I always ask myself—is the theme universal? Does it appeal to me personally? Can it appeal to everyone with a common universal element?
  • NUTS & BOLTS: As I write, I try to be mindful of using strong, active verbs, specific word choices and vivid descriptions. I make sure there are a variety of sentence lengths from short to long to keep the rhythm alive in my text.
  • STORY, STORY, STORY: Finally, I always remind myself that I’m telling a story—how do I keep my reader interested enough to keep turning the page?

4. Revisions:

  • REVISE, REVISE, REVISE! Once I finish the first draft, I start the revision process. Revisions can range from overall big picture structural notes to smaller nitpicks, fact checking and line edits.
  • READ OUT LOUD: I always read my drafts OUT LOUD to check for typos & spelling/grammar mistakes.
  • FACT CHECKING: Because this is non-fiction, I will double-check my footnotes and bibliography to make sure every single fact is accounted for by a primary or secondary source. You can even do follow-up interviews with your sources, too.

Now, some of you might cringe at the boring footnote/bibliography process. I don’t blame you. It’s a pain for me, too! But trust me, it is VITAL for non-fiction. Really back up your work properly and make sure you can tell your agent/editor/reader WHERE you got all your facts. It’s a painful process but worth it in the end.

22CentsCover

For example, with my latest picture book TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK (illustrated by Jame Akib, Lee & Low Books 2009), I interviewed three expert historians on the country of Bangladesh to make sure I had the correct historical facts.

I highly encourage everyone to try writing more non-fiction because a) it’s a great genre to write picture books for and b) non-fiction is become more popular and in-demand by schools, teachers, librarians, and students. It’s an area of picture books that will never go out of style. Plus, I love the challenge of discovering and creating a fascinating story and compelling character from a bunch of dry facts. Non-fiction picture books make history come ALIVE.

Happy Writing!


Paula Yoo is a published children’s book author and TV writer/producer. She hosts the annual NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK (AKA “NaPiBoWriWee”) every May 1-7. The next event takes place May 1-7, 2016. Go here for more details: http://paulayoo.com/category/napibo/.

Paula’s books include the Young Adult novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins 2008), which was an Honor Book of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Youth Literature, along with the IRA Notable picture book biographies SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY and TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK from Lee & Low Books. Her TV credits include NBC’s THE WEST WING, Amazon’s MOZART IN THE JUNGLE, and SyFy’s EUREKA and DEFIANCE. She currently is writing for NETFLIX. Paula is also a professional violinist who has played with everyone from IL DIVO to FUN and NO DOUBT. But most importantly, she has three cats named Oreo, Beethoven & Charlotte. Her website is: PaulaYoo.com. You can follow her on Twitter @paulayoo, Youtube, and Instagram @PaulaYoo.

PrizeDetails (2)

Paula is giving away a signed copy of TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

by Paula Yoo

Welcome to the final day of PiBoldMo! Congratulations! You made it! By now, hopefully you have come up with 29 fantastically fun and totally awesome ideas for future picture books. 🙂

So for Day 30, you need one more idea. Come on, you can do it!

But in case you are burned out, here’s one last idea sparker to help you make it through Day 30.

Have you ever heard of the “elevator pitch”? It’s a famous phrase used all the time in the writing industry, as well as in the business world. In a nutshell, the “elevator pitch” is how long it should take for you to tell someone what your book is about. By the time your elevator reaches your floor, you should have been able to “pitch” your book idea in that brief amount of time.

In other words, an elevator pitch should last about 30 seconds.

So look over your 29 ideas so far. Can you pitch each idea in 30 seconds?

Pretend you waiting for the elevator at the Society of Children Book Writers &Illustrators national conference. To your left stands a famous children’s book editor. The two of you engage in some small talk as you wait for the elevator. The editor learns you are a writer at the conference. Eager, he/she asks if you have written anything.

And then the elevator doors open.

Oh no! You probably have 30 seconds to pitch your amazing picture book to this editor before the elevator reaches his/her floor.

So how to craft your elevator pitch? Some tips to get you started:

1. Start with a cliffhanger “hook.”

This can be in the form of a question or a one-sentence “logline” that conveys your book’s main conflict. “What if a child loses her beloved stuffed toy animal at a laundromat and can’t tell her dad because she hasn’t learned to talk yet?” Or think of your hook in terms of theme or even a personal anecdote that relates to your book. For example: “I have the most stubborn cat who is convinced the full moon is a bowl of milk. She will do anything to reach that moon.” (Note:
Obviously I’m using “Knuffle Bunny” and “Kitten’s First Full Moon” as examples.)

2. Set up the main character and conflict.

Then launch into the heart of your story—who’s your main character? Why should we love him/her? What obstacle must they overcome in their quest? (“Trixie and Knuffle Bunny have never been separated… until now.”)

3. Leave ’em hanging. Don’t spoil the actual ending.

Conclude with an open ending—will Trixie learn how to speak before Knuffle Bunny is lost forever?

For Day 30, to get your brain ready for that final idea, why not take an hour or two to review your previous 29 ideas? See if you can “pitch” them to a friend. Sometimes I will take a friend out for coffee and pitch them some ideas I am working on to get their feedback on how clear and concise my ideas sound to them. I even have them “time” me with a stop watch!

When you are working on your elevator pitch, it will help you focus on what the heart of each book is truly about… you’ll learn quickly as to what the most important point of the book is.

Once you practice your elevator pitches for some of the 29 ideas you’ve already come up with, then try the same approach for your 30th idea. See if you can just brainstorm a fun 30th picture book idea in 30 seconds or under. You can even record yourself as you talk out loud. Or you can write them down. I’d say a written elevator pitch should be no more than one paragraph.

Make sure your elevator pitch is concise, uses clear language, and has a powerful visual image. Make sure there’s a clear hook that summarizes the main conflict and/or theme.

Good luck and congrats on reaching Day 30 of PiBoldMo!

P.S. And if you’re up for the challenge, please join me this May 1-7, 2011 for the 2nd annual NaPiboWriWee event sponsored by my website at http://paulayoo.com! NaPiBoWriWee is short for National Picture Book Writing Week where I challenge writers to write an entire picture book every day for a whole week—7 picture books in 7 days!

Paula Yoo is the author of the YA novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins ’08) and the children’s award-winning non-fiction picture book SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low ’09) and IRA Notable SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low ’08). She is also a TV writer, whose credits include THE WEST WING, TRU CALLING, and SIDE ORDER OF LIFE. She is currently a producer on The SyFy Channel’s series, EUREKA.

Paula Yoo photo courtesy Jennifer Oyama, Audrey Magazine

30 picture book ideas in 30 days?

Are you CRAZY?

Oh wait. You’re a writer. OF COURSE you’re nuts! 🙂

And I’m a writer, too. Which means we’re both in the same boat.

Tara asked me to give you some words of advice as you hunker down for that final idea for Day 30 of the 2009 PiBoldMo–Picture Book Idea Month!

I thought I’d talk a bit about my “other” job to give you some ideal inspiration! In addition to my YA novels and picture books, I am also a TV writer. I’ve written for NBC’s The West Wing, FOX’s Tru Calling, and currently The SyFy Channel’s Eureka.

As a working TV writer in Hollywood, I have to come up with ideas every single day. In fact, I have to come up with DOZENS of ideas every single hour of every single day when I’m working on a TV show.

Here’s how most scripted TV shows work: several writers are hired to literally sit around in a room called “The Writers’ Room” all day long and come up with ideas for episodes. Each show is run differently, but the basic day usually involves the writing staff discussing what storylines should happen in each episode, along with in-depth dialogue about character development and themes. It’s a really fun job when you think about it–you’re getting paid to make up stuff!

At the same time, it’s also a really TOUGH job. You can get burned out very easily when trying to brainstorm episode storylines and figuring out which character does what and why. It’s often like solving a puzzle–there’s a ton of logic and plausibility that you have to consider when pitching ideas.

I’ve learned a lot from having worked in TV about how to brainstorm effectively when it comes to ideas. Of course the sky’s the limit when it comes to brainstorming–anything from a pebble on the beach to a squirrel running across the street to the cranky lady standing in front of you in line at the bank can lead to an amazing story idea for your picture book.

But a cool image, compelling character, or interesting conflict isn’t enough to create a fully-fleshed out idea. You have to combine all three areas–image, character, conflict–into one idea in order to have a viable story for a potential picture book.

As a TV writer, I was constantly told that story equals intention plus obstacle. Memorize this formula!

INTENTION + OBSTACLE = STORY

In other words, your main character has an INTENTION. But there is an OBSTACLE standing in your character’s way. This creates CONFLICT… which is another way of saying STORY! Ah ha! So STORY EQUALS CONFLICT! And how that character overcomes that obstacle reveals his or her journey towards that end goal.

As long as you can make this equation work, you’ve got yourself a viable story idea! It’s actually a fun formula to apply to published books, movies, and TV shows to break down a completed project to its very essence–the idea. Sometimes working backwards and analyzing published books and figuring out their basic idea can help you as you brainstorm your own ideas.

In other words, try this formula on published books or movies etc. as a “warm up” exercise before you begin your own brainstorming. For example…

In Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny, Trixie and her dad go to the laundromat. Trixie accidentally leaves her stuffed toy, Knuffle Bunny, behind. She is unable to speak in full words yet, so complications arise when her father has no idea what she’s talking about when she tries to convince him to take her back to the laundromat to rescue Knuffle Bunny.

So Trixie’s INTENTION is that she wants to return to the laundromat to get her toy!

The OBSTACLE is her inability to speak in words yet to communicate her thoughts!

INTENTION (Trixie wants Knuffle Bunny back) + OBSTACLE (can’t speak inwords yet) = STORY (Trixie must figure out how to communicate to her father that they must return to the laundromat to rescue Knuffle Bunny!)

And how Trixie overcomes this obstacle shows her delightfully feisty personality and inventiveness.

See how that works? Try seeing if you can simplify your favorite picture book down to this formula. It’s a lot of fun and a good warm up exercise to jump start your own imagination!

Then apply this formula to your own original ideas–if you can create a compelling character who has to overcome an obstacle to reach his or her goal, then you’ve got your 30th picture book idea for this year’s PiBoIdMo!

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

And now that you have your 30 ideas, please join me this May 1-8, 2010 for the second annual NaPiboWriWee event sponsored by my website at http://paulayoo.com!

For more information on NaPiBoWriWee, check out this link:

http://paulayoo.com/content/natl-picture-book-writing-week-may-1-7-2009

NaPiBoWriWee is short for National Picture Book Writing Week where I challenge writers to write an entire picture book every day for a whole week–7 picture books in 7 days!

See, I told you we were crazy! 🙂

Best,
Paula Yoo

Paula Yoo is the author of the YA novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins ’08) and the children’s non-fiction picture books SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low ’09) and IRA Notable SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low ’08). She is also a TV writer, whose credits include THE WEST WING, TRU CALLING, and SIDE ORDER OF LIFE. She is currently a co-producer on The SyFy Channel’s series, EUREKA.

 

Tara’s Note:

Thanks, Paula! No one could have summed up PiBoIdMo better.

Everyone, stay tuned tomorrow for the PiBoIdMo pledge.

What’s the PiBoIdMo pledge? It’s your word that you have 30 ideas. I’ll ask you to leave a comment letting me know you’ve completed this month’s challenge. (Please note you do not have to submit your 30 ideas. Those are yours to keep!)

You’ll have until December 3rd to take the pledge, then on December 4th I’ll announce the randomly-selected PiBoIdMo prize winners.

Good luck!

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

YOUR FIRST DAY OF (CIRCUS) SCHOOL
illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

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