How to Write a Children’s Picture Book: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan | Resources | Essential Guides | Links for Writers
Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

Some people think that writing for children is easier than for adults. They are wrong! Children’s books, from picture books to young adult novels, need all the same storytelling elements that adult fiction does and usually with a lot fewer words. For the next few weeks, I’m going to be looking at the different types of writing for children and how to go about it. Sort of a beginner’s guide. This week, we’ll focus on writing a picture book.


Well-drawn characters and an intriguing plot are needed just as much in a picture book as in a novel. While a picture book is intended for children, it is the adult who will decide whether or not to buy it or read it aloud. Successful books don’t connect with readers because they present an idea that’s never been explored before; they succeed because they convey topics in new and interesting ways. Identifying the intended reading age defines how you tell your story including how many words it should be. Reedsy points out how important your narrative voice is. Most picture books are read aloud so whether to use rhyme, accessible vocabulary, and repetition are all important considerations. Point of view, and developing engaging characters are also discussed in this article as is going down the line of self-illustrating, and self-publishing your picture book.


This children’s book editor shares 12 steps to writing a children’s book. Developing your main character so they feel real yet unique. Are they quirky in some way?  Do they have a funny habit? It’s helpful to do a character questionnaire to get to know your character. Starting the story quickly is a must for any children’s book. You have to grab the child’s attention; you have such a short space to tell your story that you can’t waste any time. Make sure your main character has obstacles to hurdle before they can solve their problem. Ending your story quickly is also essential to provide a satisfying conclusion and wrap up all the storylines. When it comes to editing your story, this book editor explains a technique called ‘Walk the Plank.’ If you highlight a word and hover over the delete button (this is the walk the plank moment) and ask yourself: if I delete this, will the story no longer make sense? If the story will still make sense, then push that word/ phrase /sentence off the plank. and delete it.


Author of Daddy, I can’t sleep, Alan Durant gives his top tips on creating picture books that kids will want to read again and again. Taking note of what young children are interested in and the things they say and do can be helpful when coming up with ideas. Decide what kind of character to use. Animals are often used anthropomorphically and they have more universality. Characters are the most important element of any story so it’s vital to get them right. Alan also recommends keeping things simple: sentences should be short and easy to follow. A picture book is written to be read aloud so make the language sing. He says rhyme isn’t always needed but rhythm and repetition are important. Lastly, Alan reminds you to think of the pictures as you write. Is there enough in your words for an illustrator to picture?


Writer and illustrator, David O ‘Connell shares some tips to get going with writing your children’s picture book. Picture books are some of the hardest things to write, and are carefully crafted. Every word is meticulously selected and scrutinised. Most importantly, David says to finish the story; so many writers don’t. Don’t worry about the grammar, the crafting comes next. You must make your readers care about your character. You want them to root for the character so make sure they are endearing but believable. Another important tip is to remember when you are writing not to fence in the illustrator with too much detail and description. Give them the freedom to be creative. Consider crafting your story to set up page turns for maximum impact- each one is a potential cliff- hanger. David also advises you to add a bit of spice; add in text that has sound texture or effects.


This article from The Write Life shares the elements to include when you write a picture book. Plot type, genre, setting, theme, the main character, point of view and tense, word choice, love and friendship, re-readability, and satisfying ending are all discussed with great examples.


Self-publishing shares a quick-start guide to writing a children’s picture book. It advises you to keep both shopper and reader in mind as you plan your children’s picture book. Parents and teachers want a story that is fun to read aloud, so as you write the book, practice reading each line aloud, making sure the words flow. This article suggests some ideas for topics, including a childhood experience, a topic you have researched, an activity you have participated in, and an event you witnessed. Plan each scene, bearing in mind that the average length for a children’s picture book is 32 pages. It also explains how to create a mock-up of your children’s book and discusses traditional and self-publishing routes in getting your book out there in the world.



There are 201 episodes from the podcast Picture Booking that help the listener learn about children’s books from the people who make them with in-depth interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators for people who believe that art and literature can have a profoundly positive impact on a kid’s life.


This episode from the Writing for Children podcast asks how structured is your picture book. One of the major problems editors encounter when reading picture book submissions is the lack of plot or even purposeful organization. Today’s podcast is inspired by something Jan Fields did for us: a primer on picture book structure and how choosing a structure can help you make plot decisions.

There is a lot information to take into consideration in these articles and podcasts, and one thing is for sure, writing a children’s picture book is not an easy option! I hope you have found this week’s column helpful. As always, if they are any topics you would like me to cover, please get in touch.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books