Mayra Calvani's picture book workshop 'Walking on a Rainbow' was fantastic! You'd be amazed at the rate one's skill level can advance in such a short amount of time, especially under the guidance of a skilled teacher. If picture books are your thing I'd highly recommend her course.
Now it might seem perfectly obvious that picture book stories need to be tightly focused.
Indeed it is. But knowing and achieving this are two quite different things.
Mayra provided us with a challenge - to answer 4 simple questions in no more than a sentence:
1. In 1 word, what is your character's flaw?
2. What is your main character's goal?
3. What is standing in the way of your main character achieving their goal?
4. Does your character have an internal conflict? (one that parallels the external conflict)
These questions have been perhaps the single most useful idea for a starting point that I've managed to identify yet. While my head is filled with a gazillion picture book ideas, each brainstorm I do always starts off with answering these questions.
And, while the idea was introduced in the context of picture book writing, I'm certain it's just as applicable in other contexts too. I'll let you know once I get underway with my next project - a middle grade mystery!
I've also found that revisiting these questions as I re-read and edit my work has helped me to narrow down my focus to the bear essentials. It's amazing how many 'bonus features' you end up adding that just aren't necessary.
After writing a story, the next challenge is having someone critique your work. This can be a scary thought - although as a teacher I'm rather accustomed to being observed and critiqued - but it's important to remember that a good critic will offer you encouragement, a rundown of what works and what doesn't, and most importantly offer suggestions for change.
Finding people to critique your work is fairly simple. A quick web search is all it takes. Two very useful pieces of advice I've received are:
1. Join a group that specifically deals with the genre you're writing in - very important since each has its own set of rules.
2. Join a group that has both experienced and novice writers - experienced writers have the know-how when it comes to the nuts and bolts, but beginners can have something to offer too.
Next time: A progress report on my branching out into the unknown that is middle grade novels.