Where’s the Heart?
There are many different things that are necessary to craft a good picture book – theme, action, tension, to name a few. Arguably, the most important component in a successful picture book is heart. A manuscript without heart is like a slice of cheese pizza – fairly common to come across, but utterly uninspiring when you do. Sure, it serves some basic purpose, but it’s never anyone’s first choice. And when your picture book manuscript is not the first choice, editors have a huge pile of other potential pizzas to choose from.
What is heart? It is a bit hard to define, in that heart combines several other ingredients. A good theme contributes to the heart of a picture book, as does a strong main character. Humor or emotional depth also play a part. But overall, if I had to give you the 30-second elevator pitch of what heart means, I’d say that heart gives the reader a reason to care about the character and the story.
At the very beginning of the picture book, when the main character begins his or her journey toward the eventual goal, you have to make sure that there is something more than a whim that is driving the journey. Furthermore, there has to be a reason that the character is beginning that particular journey at that particular time – there has to be something real and big at stake. Your character can’t just be sleepy, he must require sleep on that particular night because tomorrow is his big day (perhaps his wedding day). He can’t just be hungry, he must be super-hungry because he has just woken up from hibernation and hasn’t eaten in months. He can’t just be lonely, he must be devastated by the knowledge that everyone around him is finding romance while he is left all alone.
Throughout the story, the heart shines through in various ways – the main character’s resolve and pluckiness when faced with adversity, the way each attempt to solve the problem makes the reader root for the character even more (oh, he was so close that time! Maybe he’ll get it this time.). And when the main character finally reaches his goal, it is the heart of the story that touches the heart of the reader.
Earlier I said that the 30-second elevator pitch of the meaning of heart is the reader a reason should care about the character and the story. But creating heart is hardly a 30-second process. Even each of the general points I’ve made above are actually very nuanced and can be handled in many different ways, depending on the writer. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to Kidlit Summer School 2016 is that our bloggers are going to be teaching concrete ways for writers to add heart (and humor!) to their work. This is something I struggle with whenever I start a new manuscript, and I know that I’m going to be a better writer for going to Summer School this year! We hope to see you in class, too!
Do you want to learn a whole lot more about adding Heart to your work?
Register for Kidlit Summer School! Click here to register.