Thursday, February 3, 2011

Advice forgotten, advice remembered

As writers, we get a lot of advice. We get it from the classes we take, from the blogs we read, from the authors who have gone before us, from editors, and from our peers. In that great sea of advice, we choose the bits that stand out to us, that resonate with our mission. The rest we tend to ignore.

Today I've gone back to some advice I heard a few years ago. It was two pieces of advice, really. One was about following the structure of an existing picture book to help you develop a sense of pacing for writing one. The other was similar, to copy a picture book, word for word, to help you get a feel for the rhythm of it.

I've decided I need to take a break from the endless revision of my novel, and work on something short for a while. I've got this manuscript for a picture book that I've been fiddling with on and off for about four years, but which has been inside my head for maybe 20 years.

Today I took that advice about the structure. I was reading Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book the other day, and I had an epiphany. This story I'd been struggling with for so long has a very similar structure to something else. Not a surprise really, as it's often said there are only so many plots in the world. But nice to have finally figured out which one it goes with. I had tried to do this with the same story before, but the structure of the books I was following didn't mesh with it. I think I've got it this time.

So I've spent the morning copying the original. Just to get the structure into my head. And now I'm working my own words and characters and story into the structure. It's fun. I'm not sure how good it will be when I'm done, but either way, I think I've learned something.