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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > February 2017 > Every word counts

Every word counts

Make each word work in your picture book text by following this advice from author Amy Sparkes

Picture books are great fun to write. A brilliant picture book needs original characters, a page-turning plot and excellent writing. To help improve your picture book writing skills, try these exercises.

Word count

Picture books are usually under 1,000 words. Most traditional picture books are about 600- 800 words long, sometimes shorter. Publishers sometimes specify wordcount on their submission guidelines. If your story is becoming too wordy, look for ways to cut the length.

Cut chunks

Ask yourself if you really need that rhyming couplet? Or that page? Does it reveal more about your characters? Or keep the plot moving? Is it an exceptional piece of writing (eg a particularly funny moment or engaging text)? If the answer’s no, it can probably go. If it’s a bit you particularly like, cut it out but keep it in a file of ‘lovely bits of writing’ and maybe use it another time.

Use one excellent word instead of three good ones.

Can you swap words or phrases? As well as reducing your word count, it will also improve your writing. For example, ‘The cat walked quietly across the garden fence’ could be reworded: ‘Tip-toe went the cat’. As well as being more concise, the writing is rhythmically more satisfying. You can also use onomatopoeic words (like ‘splash’, or ‘pop’) to convey what is happening without going into detail.

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