Hello, my name is Pam Smallcomb, and I have been hitting my head against the writing wall for twenty years (even more, but that would make me feel really old to admit). I have the dents in my forehead to prove it. I work really hard at coming up with ideas that don’t make me cringe. Maybe some of you have that problem, too, or your students do. So, in the spirit of piggybacking on to Joan Waites’ great post about Story Starters, I thought I would share part of a presentation I did for an SCBWI workshop.
My inspiration for the workshop came when it occurred to me that writing a humorous picture book has some parallels to advertising. The original brain jiggling thought I had was this: advertisers cram a lot of story into a short amount of time and space.
Advertisers are highly creative and innovative. They get a message across in a fresh way. Advertisers love humor and are very good at it.
So how do they go about making their advertising magic?
First, they decide on their target market. They define who their product is for.
As a picture book writer, our target is a young child. But we have another target, too, because it is an adult that buys the book. Having something in your humorous picture book for a parent or an adult to chuckle over is a big bonus.
Think about Knufflebunny by Mo Willems. Both target markets are touched with this story. If you are a little kid and you lose your lovey, it’s like the world has ended. If you are a parent, and your kid loses his lovey, you know you are in for a rough ride.
Advertisers also focus on the message they want to get across.
As writers, we should think about our ‘message’ or theme, too.
Here are some things to ask yourself when developing the theme of your humorous picture book:
Is my story of value to a young child (will it resonate)?
What are the worries of young kids?
What are some things that parents have to help their kids with (sleeping through the night, etc.)
Is the humor something a child will ‘get’?
Did you leave a little nugget for that parent/adult who is reading the book to the child?
Another thing that advertisers do when they get a new project is to brainstorm ideas. We can brainstorm to generate ideas for humorous picture books as well. There are lots of ways to brainstorm. One way is to blend two unlike things.
Think of the Geico Caveman ad: cavemen and insurance. Not at all alike, which is why it is funny. Make two lists of items (just let your imagination run wild!). Then draw lines between unlike things. Connecting unlike things can help you find a jumping off point for a funny story. There is humor in incongruity. Take two things that are incompatible and build a relationship between them.
Here are some picture books that blend unlike things:
Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick Buffalo
This is a fun book about the first day of kindergarten with one's own buffalo.
and kindergarten – couldn’t be more different! Buffalo
Todd’s TV by James Proimos
An affable TV takes over the parental duties of busy parents with hilarious results.
Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton
An humorous imaginary battle between a shark and a train. Two unlike things pitted against each other, and two things that boys will especially love.
So the next time you get stuck trying to come up with an idea for a funny picture book, break out a pencil, make two lists, draw lines between unlike things and see what happens! All our brains need a good jiggle now and then.
P.S. Don’t forget! To enter our book giveaway, just leave a comment here. A winner will be picked on September 30th!