Hi there! Been awhile since I posted, so I’m starting with a teeny tiny lesson that was an example of what I do in my membership for writers called The Writers’ Block. (Members, aka neighbors, get a chance for a manuscript critique twice a month. Anyway, this is an example from one of my members, Hanna, who gave me permission to use it as an example.
Hanna submitted a story about a woman who finds a box on the sidewalk on a rainy day. Inside the box is a cat name Louis. (The cat with this post is one I did following a fur tutorial on #bbfurrycat by bardotbrushes.com.)The woman takes the cat home. Cat is understandably freaked out, and the woman is upset, hoping to have a sweet pet. In the end, everything is great! Perfect, in fact.
Hanna titled this story Louis and the Purrfect Beginning. The first thing I advised her to change the title from Louis and the Purrfect Beginning because “purrfect” is a cutesy pun that is overused and her story is better than that.
The next thing I advised was that the title needed to be changed because it gives the ending away. Why would you want your title to give away the ending? I realize there could have been irony intended in such a title, and if so, okay. In that case, it wouldn’t give away anything. But it wasn’t meant ironically.
The title tells us before we’ve even read anything that Louis’s beginning is going to be perfect. It gives away all the stakes. It’s like telling the reader in advance don’t worry he’s got a perfect beginning! He’s not going to stay in the rain in the box and don’t worry he’s going to have a forever family! That’s giving away everything. You need to have stakes even in a picture book for little kids. For example, in my picture book, Kindergarten Rocks! the main character, Dexter, is full of bravado. But kids who are reading it know he is actually terrified about kindergarten. So the reader worries for Dexter. And they worry what will happen to him. Will his fears be realized? Will he get lost (which is his biggest fear)? Will, in fact, kindergarten rock? All those concerns that the reader is feeling for the main character are created by stakes. Stakes don’t have to be extreme––you don’t have to have the character in a giant car chase or hanging off a cliff.
Stake compel your reader to continue reading. Stakes makes the book more interesting. So if you give away everything in your title, you remove all your stakes. You can have stakes right in the title as a set up. Say you have a kid who is always getting in trouble, like David in David Shannon’s No David!. Before you even open the book, you know there is a character who is doing something wrong…so immediately your curiosity (aka the reader’s curiosity) is being piqued. What is this David doing, anyway? Is he always getting in trouble? How will he get out of it in the end?
Trust your reader enough to not give away the entire story, or the ending, and create a good title for your picture book!