Last week, I posted about the new ebook from Lisa Bullard and me, Picture Books the Write Way. I promised to share a sample brief chapter, and the first request that came in was for this one. Lisa is a master at point of view. In our client critiques, she always zeroes in on whether the point of view is effective and also on whether it’s completely consistent. Sooooo, here are some thoughts from?Lisa on choosing your picture book pov character and what problems to watch out for.?
QUESTION 7: IS THE POINT OF VIEW INEFFECTIVE?
One key to creating a successful picture book is to find a way to put young listeners ?inside? the experience of the book. Achieving this insider effect can be as straightforward as choosing a child for the point of view (POV) character. Young listeners will easily bond with another child; this character will become their entry point into the story.
But many picture book writers find themselves relating more to an adult character in the story?and so make the mistake of telling the story from that adult’s point of view. So instead of the grandchild’s story, it becomes Grandma’s story. It’s fine to have Grandma IN your story?but don’t make the mistake of assuming a small child will find it as easy to identify with Grandma as you do. If an adult is your POV character, ask yourself: Could I somehow retell the same story through a child’s eyes?
Sometimes writers choose an adult character because they want children to learn an important message about life through the eyes of an older and wiser adult. Beware if this is your rationale; these stories often come off as heavy-handed and ?preachy.? It’s fine if a message emerges subtly through the action and consequences of the story, but your picture book should never feel moralistic.
Other times, writers choose an older character because it isn’t realistic to assume a child would have the kind of freedom the story’s plot needs (in today’s world, we’re not likely to believe that ?One day, 4-year-old Susie was wandering alone through the big woods??). In that case, a successful solution is to use an animal character (or as they’re sometimes referred to in children’s publishing, ?kids with fur?). But even these characters need to have an aspect that is recognizable to a human child. Curious George, for example, is as mischievous, curious, and naughty as any human child. Even the Little Engine that Could?a machine!?is a LITTLE engine in a world of larger engines; children connect with the story because the Little Engine, despite his small size, manages to succeed where the big engines don’t. Beating out the adults is every small child’s dream!
Another thing I’ve seen go wrong is when a writer chooses an unusual point of view character, such as an inanimate object, but then fails to build a bridge between that character and their young listener. Almost anything could be turned into a child-relatable character, but you do have to build that bridge by giving your unusual character the kind of conflicts that a small child can connect with. For example, in Chopsticks, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal manages to make a pair of chopsticks child-friendly by turning them into best friends who are faced with an unexpected hurdle to their relationship. Children root for these non-human characters because they recognize the same bonds of friendship and the anxiety of separation that they have experienced themselves. If instead, the chopsticks in the story were a husband and wife struggling with a difficult divorce, children would be much less interested (even if they have been exposed to divorce, they have experienced it as a child of divorce, not as an adult partner).
If you decide to tell the story through the eyes of a non-child character, find a way to give that character childlike qualities or the kind of emotions or problems that a small child will easily relate to. Your POV character is the easiest way to build a bridge between your young listener and your book’don’t miss this opportunity to invite a child inside your story!
–Lisa Bullard, all rights reserved (from Picture Books the Write Way)
If you’d like to read more, I share another chapter in my e-letter for writers that will go out tomorrow morning. Use the About My E-letter link in the right sidebar to sign up. Or, of course, you can buy the Kindle book (right now only $1.99) and read all 10 chapters on your computer, Kindle, phone, tablet, etc.