Squeezing a Great Big Story into a Teensy Weensy Space

There are only so many hours in the day, right? So, unfortunately, my blog takes a back seat lately.

The truth is, after whacking myself in the head like a V-8 commercial, I hunched down to start the difficult task of rewriting two manuscripts from scratch.

The past five years have been spent in exhaustive research for two separate nonfiction book projects that I am passionate about. Project #2 speaks to my soul. Project #1 is a mission to rescue a piece of history from obscurity. They both are stories I feel meant to tell.

The problem is that I’ve been wishy-washy about format and intended audience. They both started out as 16,000 word chapter books. My lengthy bibliographies are testament to my commitment to finding truth. I studied the amazing chaptered works of Jim Murphy, Russell Freedman, Marc Aronson, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and other great nonfiction authors. What amazing works they have penned.

Ultimately, it took the encouragement of an archivist, a request from an agent, and some amazing nonfiction picture books to convert me. I’m now reformatting each story. Switching gears from a middle grade chapter book to a picture book takes some serious mental reprogramming. It’s a tough transition to sqeeze a giant story into a tiny space. So I went back to studying nonfiction picture books. Tons and tons of them. I made note of how each story opened. How the stories kept focus. The varying word counts (from 1200-4000.) Language and voice. Depth of context. Back story and author’s notes.

With limited word count on top of the potential illustrator or photo input, some areas of each story need to be generalized more than detailed. That’s painful for someone with such intimate knowledge of a subject. But not impossible.

I always tell myself to pour the entire story onto paper and worry about cleaning it up later. Easier said than done as my gagged and handcuffed inner-editor can tell you. But I charged through on project #2 to start. I now have 4200 words to whittle down. It’s time to put it away for a week. I know the hours and days will allow my subconscious to cull through the story to decide what can be moved to an author’s note and what could be eliminated completely.

In the meantime, I’m feeling hopeful and productive. On to project #1 while #2 simmers.

Quote for the Day: “What lasts in the readers mind is not the phrase but the effect the phrase created: laughter, tears, pain, joy. If the phrase is not affecting the reader, what’s it doing there? Make it do its job or cut it without mercy or remorse.” —Isaac Asimov