Natascha Biebow shares tips on how
to revise your picture books on a micro level.

In order to submit your best possible work, it’s important to be able to REVISE your work to fine-tune it. Yes, you know, BUT . . . does the thought of this get you reaching for a mug of coffee and a biscuit?

Or maybe even hiding under the duvet?

The key to successful revision is objectivity – basically, you need to learn to be your own CRITIC. BUT . . .

How can you be objective when you are so close to your own work?!? 
There are two stages to this process: 

1. Every word needs to be there for a reason (the micro-level stuff)
2. The overall structure of your picture book needs to be sound (the macro-level stuff)

Here are some tips for examining the SMALL stuff that makes a BIG difference. 

Revision doesn’t have to be boring! Get out some crayons, Post-its, highlighter pens or markers and pretend you’re a detective.


Look closely for clues:

Active instead of Passive verbs 
– for instance, Susan danced vs. Susan was dancing. Can you see how the first one has more action and verve? Passive verbs slow down your plot. They are boring and take readers out of the narrative. CHANGE all of these! You need action. Bonus: doing this also makes for a shorter word count.

Adjectives and Adverbs 
–circle all the adjectives in your manuscript. Ask:

- Do you need these? Could the illustrator interpret them instead?
- Can you substitute a more precise descriptor? For instance, instead of held closely, can you use ‘hugged’? ‘Ran quickly’ = rushed, raced, bolted . . .
- Look out for unnecessary repetition, e.g. if someone rushes, they are moving quickly, so it’s redundant to say they ‘rushed away as quickly as they could’ or similar.

Repetitive phrasing
– Read your book aloud and let your ear listen for unnecessary repetition. Some repetitive phrasing helps to enhance the rhythm and read-aloud quality of your story, but other times, you’ve over-used a word and perhaps didn’t realise it. Cut!

  • Check if you are overstating something several times – the picture book genre is so tight that you only need to say it once.
  • Check you haven’t gone off on a side sub-plot, adding extraneous information. Is it interesting? CUT! Is it necessary? Keep!
  • Check for repeated actions or descriptors – often, you can cut one and the emphasis will be stronger. Your story won’t get hidden behind all the words. For instance:  The witch was terrifying and spooky. She brandished her wand threateningly. Do you need all of this? Can you combine?

RULE OF THUMB: Ensure you only keep in what is essential to drive your main plot forward. Less is more!

Unfortunately, stories are like a knitting project – be prepared to roll up your sleeves and tuck in for the long haul. Stories evolve. 

Every change might unravel something, setting in motion the need for another set of stitches . . .

From No Roses For Harry by Margaret Bloy Graham and Gene Zion
When Harry unravels his jumper . . . a bird gains a beautiful nest!

. . .  but the result will probably be something that is even better.

Don’t get discouraged – keep going!

Next month: look out for top tips for MACRO revision.

Natascha Biebow is an experienced editor, mentor and coach, who loves working with authors and illustrators at all levels to help them to shape their storieswww.blueelephantstoryshaping.com
She has been awarded an MBE for her services to children's book writers and illustrators as Regional Advisor of SCBWI British Isles.


  1. Thank you for these tips, Natascha. I'm in angst right now-cut or keep. This post is going to help make that decision.

  2. I love the idea of making the revision fun with highlighters, posters etc. I also like the process of changing all the passive verbs to active and so on. Will definitely be using these tips.

  3. I love the suggestion to use crayons or highliters. You are right... color does make Editing a bit more fun... Something has to spark it up! It is just soooo tough to do. I LOVE writing my stories but the editing stumps me every time. Thank you :)

  4. "Susan was dancing" is not passive voice. It's the past progressive tense and perfectly fine to indicate that something is happening at the same time as something else. Passive voice uses an explicit or implicit"by": "The cat was chased by the dog." "The cat was chased up a tree [by a dog]."


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