Revision can be tough at the best of times. But when you just know that something isn’t working, but you can’t quite pinpoint what it is, revision can feel downright impossible. I have found myself at the ‘revision roadblock’ more times that I care to count.
Take for example my newest picture book, How to Return a Monster. When I first sat down to write this story, I wrote it with a classic story structure – 3 acts, traditional narrative arc, rising tension, etc. At its core, the story was about an older sibling feeling replaced by an intruder, otherwise known as their new baby sibling.
The first draft featured a beloved toy train feeling replaced by a shiny new train. I knew the core idea of the story was a good one, relatable and marketable, but I also knew the story wasn’t working.
Since I had no idea how to fix it, I kept trying to revise that same story with the same characters, plot, and story structure… and kept right on torturing my critique partners with it. I would work on it, stick it in a drawer, change something minor, send it to them again and again. Luckily for me, I have some very patient CPs. Eventually though, I was willing to admit to myself that I had hit the dreaded ‘road block’. If I wanted this story to ever see the light of day outside of my computer, I need to make some more serious changes.
So what can you do when you hit a revision roadblock? Below are a few things that I like to play with when I have a core story concept that I can’t seem to let go of, but just isn’t quite hitting the mark in its current form. Revision, just like everything else in the publishing industry, is subjective. What works for one person won’t work for everyone. I am sharing some tips that work for me, but please use what works for you and forget the rest.
- Setting – Is your book set at the beach? Would it work under water? How about in the rain forest? In outer space? In a different time period? Changing up the setting is a great way to get your brain unstuck and thinking outside the box.
- Characters – Is your story feeling didactic? Could your characters be the problem? I like to tell my stories through a child’s eyes in order to be most relatable, but is your character the right age? Would the story work better from an animal or even an inanimate objects perspective? Changing up the main character and re-visioning them with a different personality is a great way to shake things up.
- POV – Does changing the point of view up the stakes? Could your story be told in the first person? Third? Does it need a new narrator? Play with who is telling your story and in which voice in order to get the most distinct/engaging read possible and keep your readers turning the pages.
- Structure – There are many different kinds of picture book structure: 3-act structure with classic narrative arc, concept book (ABC, counting, seasons etc.), how-to, circular, etc. Would a different story structure make your manuscript stronger?
You might be sitting there thinking these revision suggestions are quite drastic. Yes, they are! These strategies are the ones I turn to when I am really stuck, and enough time has passed that I am willing to ‘kill some darlings’ and start over.
Is it a lot of work? Yes.
Has it worked for me? Yes.
I took a long hard look at How to Return a Monster and decided that my story felt sad, and was missing the fun it needed to address a relatively serious emotion. I looked around at the picture books that I felt hit it out the park in the fun category. My search lead me to books like How to Babysit a Grandpa, Teach your Giraffe to Ski and When Grandma Gives you a Lemon Tree. These books are all hilarious and tons of fun to read, so I decided to follow suit. I traded my train characters in for human ones, decided to try out a first person narrator, and switched up my narrative arc for a how-to story structure.
I opened a blank document, wrote the heart of the story at the top of the document and started from scratch. It worked! How to Return a Monster is illustrated by Rea Zhai and published from Beaming Books on September 7th 2021. Here’s the pitch:
If your grown-ups bring home a small monster, er, baby, don’t panic. Just send it back! In this hilarious and heartfelt book about sibling relationships, a girl can’t believe it when her parents bring home a fussy, stinky, attention-stealing monster. She hatches a plan to send it back to where it came from, with hilarious results . . . and along the way, she learns that maybe monsters–and baby siblings–aren’t so bad after all.
If you are feeling stuck, but know you have a good idea, don’t give up! Try out one of my suggestions above and let me know if works for you. I will be here rooting for you. Happy creating!
Charlotte Offsay was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again.
Charlotte is the author of The Big Beach Cleanup, illustrated by Kate Rewse (Albert Whitman, 2021), How to Return a Monster, illustrated by Rea Zhai (Beaming Books, September 2021), and A Grandma’s Magic, illustrated by Asa Gilland (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, March 2022). Charlotte is represented by Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary.
Hi, reader! If you enjoy this blog, let’s connect so you can be the first to get the scoop about upcoming posts! Follow me, Laura Lavoie, on Twitter and Instagram: @llavoieauthor