Author-illustrator DK Ryland is here today, dishing on how a single mental image can lead to a whole picture book and the magic of writing what you like! Read on to get inspired and then draft your own picture book manuscript today.
DK's debut picture book, GIRAFFE IS TOO TALL FOR THIS BOOK, will be out October 17 from Page Street Kids. To pre-order or learn more about DK, visit: dkryland.com.
DK is generously offering a manuscript or dummy critique for someone who completes a draft today! Details on how to enter at the end of this post.
Welcome DK! Can you tell us a little about GIRAFFE IS TOO TALL FOR THIS BOOK and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?
GIRAFFE IS TOO TALL FOR THIS BOOK is a fun and interactive picture book in which readers team up with a wild squad of six animals to explore creative solutions to a big problem.
GIRAFFE started as an image in my head of a giraffe whose very long neck went beyond the upper edge of the book. Most of my stories start as an image, then I write the manuscript, then I sketch the dummy and make changes to the manuscript as the art starts to tell more of the story.
Did you dive right in and start drafting once you thought of that image or did you let it stew for a while? Is this how you typically work?
I have a document in my google drive called “manuscripts to work on” and anytime I get an idea that I think is worth exploring I write it down. As more of the story comes to me, I add to the document until there is enough to put together a first draft. Because I illustrate as well, sometimes I don’t have the time to dedicate to a new idea because I’m still illustrating an old one. But I’ve found that once I’m ready, my subconscious has been doing a lot of work!
Do you remember what you thought of your first draft of this story when it was done? Did you think it was a winner or were you not even sure you’d keep working on it?
I thought it was a really fun concept but was worried that it was meta and I kept hearing that meta is a tough sell. I tried out a few variations, but I’m a big believer in writing the manuscript as it wants to be written and not worrying about whether it’s a tough sell. I try not to worry about hooks or trends while I’m drafting – I find that it interferes with authenticity and hooks can be worked in as the manuscript becomes more polished.
Was there any part of your original manuscript that changed significantly that you’d like to share here. How did you know this needed work and what was the process like to get it where it is today?
ELEPHANT: Woah! Where are we?
CHEETAH: There’s a reader looking at us…I think we are in a book!
ELEPHANT: Oh, my, PEANUTS! Where are we?
CHEETAH: Considering there’s a reader looking at us, I’d say we are in a book.
This manuscript didn’t change too much, but there were fun word changes that just gave the manuscript more personality. My editor at Page Street, Kayla Tostevin, was so much fun to work with. It feels like we just got to make the manuscript funnier together. This excerpt is the opening of the book and I love that Elephant says Oh, my, PEANUTS! It makes me smile every time, and I think kids will love it too.
Did you have any favorite darlings you had to cut that you’d like to share? Tell us why you loved it and why it had to go.
One of the first images that came to me, beyond Giraffe being too tall for the book, was Giraffe turning her neck into a staircase for the other animals to walk up. But then I had to figure out why. So originally they walked out of the book and into the reader’s world but that’s reeeally hard to make work. So the staircase is still there but the outcome is different. This is a good time to say that I have amazing critique partners who help me sort through my weird ideas!
What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?
The hardest part is being patient for it to come together. At the beginning, it can feel like the manuscript is never going to quite work (and some don’t!), but when it finally clicks in place it’s such an amazing feeling. I am learning to trust the process.
What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?
Read, read, read. Read all the picture books. Pay attention to the ones you would have loved, or you may have needed as a kid. Start going into the library as your kidself and picking up the ones you would have gravitated toward. I think the common phrase is “write what you know”, but once I started writing what I like, everything clicked into place.
Other than that, write it all down even if you think it doesn’t work. You can always edit later, but all your ideas are an important part of the process.
Great advice! So, who's ready to write what they like? I hope you are because it's #FirstDraftFriday!
To enter for a chance at a free picture book manuscript or dummy critique (under 1000 words) from DK, do the following by 10 pm ET today (Oct. 6, 2023):
Complete a full picture book draft
Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle or full name. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password).
You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 10 pm ET tonight.