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Those Pearls Look Nice, But Take Them Off!

You may be wondering what pearls have to do with writing children’s books, so bear with me while I explain.

Take Something Off!

Does the name Coco Chanel ring a bell? For those of you who may be too young to remember, Coco Chanel was one of the most popular fashion designers in the 1950s and 1960s, and is well known for creating “the little black dress.” One of the keys to her success was her understanding of the concept that less is more, preferring a simple dress or necklace to layers of lace and baubles.

Take at Least One Thing Off!

It has been reported that before Coco Chanel's models hit the runway, they were asked to remove one piece of jewelry. And this was how she approached fashion in general. My favorite quote of hers is: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.”

Transferring Coco Chanel’s concept into the world of children’s literature is simple: When you think your manuscript is finished, go back and remove every excess word.

How to Remove Excess Words From a Story

The first step is to read each of your sentences and ask yourself two questions: Does this line contribute anything to the story? Will the story still make sense without these words? If the words add nothing but chatter, removing them will enhance your story.

By the Way…

Then, delete any words that may be interfering with the plot that, especially if your target audience consists of beginning readers who can only follow one plot. If you go astray with what I call “by the way” comments, you risk losing the attention of your readers.

An example of using “by the way” comment

s is: In a story about a boy named Billy who is learning to ride a bike, you decide to add a paragraph about an experience Billy’s dad had when he was learning to ride a bike. Most of the time, this will not add anything meaningful to the story, and it will add a lot of excess words.

Remove Dead Words

Say goodbye to “dead words” that may be getting in the way. Words like really and very are often overused to the point that they become meaningless, and it helps if you consider them to be dead and gone. ( They are really, very overused.)

If you remove what I call the 50-cent words and replace them with 5-dollar words, your story will be tighter. For example, instead of using very pretty, you can use gorgeous; instead of really good time, saying fabulous time is more concise.

Be Careful With Descriptive Words

Descriptive words are nice, but it’s best to avoid using too many of them. Again, choose one 5-dollar adjective in place of a string of the 50-cent variety. A sweet little fuzzy, cuddly, bunny can become simply a fuzzy little bunny.

Let the Illustrations do Their Job

The success of a children’s book, especially a picture book, often relies largely on the illustrations. By offering a visual narrative that enables young readers to fully understand the story, illustrations play an important role. So let the illustrations do their job of telling their part of the story. You can eliminate a lot of words if you avoid describing everything the reader can already see in the pictures.

When to Sweep the Excess Words From your Story

The best time to do the cleaning up of your story is just before sending it to your editor. If you avoid this essential step, your editor will most likely be to one to recommend removing some of your words. This brings me to one of my own rallying cries—

Don’t Fall in Love With Your Words!

Almost every manuscript can benefit from either losing or replacing a few words, so it’s wise to keep an open mind. If a professional editor recommends that you remove some of your words, my advice is to let the words go. If the recommendation is that you choose a different word in place of one of yours, be flexible. Remember that there are still hundreds of thousands of perfectly good words left to choose from. If there is a word t

hat your editor feels works better in a particular area, be openminded; think of it as an enhancement, rather than a criticism.

Be Succinct

You will find a number of other ways to shorten your story in my new book, How to Master the Art of Writing Children’s Books. You will also find one of the shortest stories ever written—Ernest Hemingways famous 6-word story!

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