Love that scene? Cut it anyway.
Did you know that most picture books are the same length? If you’ve got one or two handy, give them a quick skim. See?
Picture books follow a set format with only a couple of variations, meaning that authors and illustrators (or in our case, photographers) get about 32 pages to tell their story.
Your story needs 33 pages? Something’s getting cut.
The stringent length constraint may be unique to picture books, but the need to trim the creative fat is not. The best stories are the ones that have been subjected to a careful, often painful editing process.
You may have a paragraph, a scene, or even an entire chapter that you’re proud of, or that’s of special importance to you for personal reasons. Often, those are exactly the bits that need to be cut to keep the story focused and clear.
In our new picture book What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure (Little, Brown Young Readers, 2015), a gang of plastic dinosaurs comes to life and makes trouble for a young kid and his family. (The story is based both on personal experience and Welcome to Dinovember, which was originally posted here on Medium).
Susan and I had this idea that, before the dinosaurs are fully revealed, we would give readers a peek of them escaping the toy box, with only their tails trailing in the frame. The scene would also serve the purpose of setting up the stressed-out toy robots that would be sprinkled throughout the book like Easter eggs.
I love this photo. It was one of the first we shot for the book, and it’s full of fun little details. We were happy with how it turned out, and that gave us an important confidence boost early in the process.
Unfortunately, the story really didn’t need it.
The decision to cut was a tough one, but when I open a copy of A Very Messy Adventure today, it seems so obvious. The book is tighter, clearer, and more fun without this scene — even though we loved it.
So, don’t be afraid of the cut. Take out the scalpel, pull out the shears. Your work will be better for it.
What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure is now available anywhere books are sold.
For more behind-the-scenes photos and other fun stuff, follow Dinovember on Facebook.