Last night I was sat poring over another draft of a picture book text I have been working on for over a year now. Yep, you heard right. A picture book text of less than 800 words and here I am a year later, still working on it. It’s one of my favourite story ideas but something has been sticking, niggling away at the back of my mind, keeping me awake at 4am as I try to work out what it is. Then last night, I got it.
We were listening to the music of a friend of ours. His new album arrived on Spotify yesterday (you can listen here) and after dinner, kids in bed, tea poured, we sat down to listen. My first thought was this: I don’t listen to enough classical music. It was truly beautiful and wonderfully calming.
A memory of secondary school music lessons popped into my head (quite impressive as my memory is genuinely pretty awful) – when we would sit listening to music and the teacher would ask us to think about the pace of the music and the impact it had on us as it changed.
As the music I was listening to continued, I tried to apply this technique. How did I feel? Which images did it conjure? How did the pace of the music change those images?
And then my picture book suddenly made sense. I’d been re-writing the words, sometimes in rhyme, sometimes in prose, for a year now. New words, different words, the same words in different orders. But the one thing I had been ignoring was the pace of the story.
It seems so obvious now, re-reading the most recent draft. It’s a good story but the pace doesn’t match the action. It’s a fast paced story, with non-stop action but the language was too flowery, too detailed, too slow. I had to ramp up the pace, create more tension, keep the flow of the story going – and then bring the pace back in as the story concluded.
I needed to write the story like a piece of music – preferably like the Benny Hill theme song, that level of bounce and bumble.
When I asked my husband to re-read the story (draft 1 million and 4…) his first comment afterwards was that I’d cut down the word count. I hadn’t. The word count was exactly the same as the previous version he’d read but he’d read this version with increased energy and speed thanks to the change in pace.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the words we put down – the notes of the story – but I am so grateful for the reminder to write with pace in mind and to craft a story like a piece of music, taking the reader on a journey as you write.