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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!

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

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

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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