I’d like to make a plug for revision. Not only does revision enhance the characters you create, but it fights the writer’s biggest enemy: the blank page. Staring at the blank page (or computer screen), a writer’s inner conversation goes something like, “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know how to start, whatever I write will be stupid or has been done before, in fact done much better than I could write it if I ever get started…” etc., which may morph into “I need to steam clean the living room carpet.”
But knowing you’ll be revising—rewording, adding, tweaking, reordering, and deleting—frees you to start. Remind yourself that not every word needs to be perfect. In fact, it shouldn’t be. If you spend too much time on a draft, you will develop a crush on it and be reluctant to change even one comma.
When you read over your draft (aloud!), look for ways to show characters’ personalities and emotions more clearly. Could you add or rewrite dialogue, thoughts, actions, or descriptions to make characters more vivid? Could you add another character’s reactions to make the main character’s traits stand out? See if verbs, in particular, can be more evocative (“walk” might be “strut” or “sidle”; “said” could be “roared” or “whispered”; “eat” can be “gobble” or “picked at.”). Even in the limited-word format of a picture book, carefully inserted adverbs or adjectives (not too many, though) can help convey character.
As you revise, look for spots where you can add sensual language…No, I don’t mean that kind of sensual. I mean, use your senses to help your reader see, hear, etc. what you’re describing and to make your piece more interesting to read.
Oh, and remember to prune. Cut anything that will confuse or bore your reader. If there’s a passage you know is extraneous but can’t shake your crush on, save it for some other project it might be perfect for.
Jane's latest book, DON'T CALL ME SIDNEY (Dial 2010, illustrated by Renata Gallio) is a picture book about an earnest, big-hearted pig named Sidney, who writes a birthday poem for his friend and decides he has "a way with words." His quest to be a poet is stymied when he realizes that his own name lacks a suitable rhyme. When he changes his name to the more rhymeable Joe, humorous consequences ensue, and he eventually comes up with a crowd-pleasing compromise. School Library Journal called the book an “…amusing story about a poetic pig's search for his true identity…” Booklist commented, “After reading or hearing this, young readers may enjoy trying to come up with rhymes for their own and their friends' names.”