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An exciting week of cutting words

It's been an exciting week in the kidlit world: PBParty and the 50 Precious Words contest both within a few days of each other. They're both reminders of the need to make every word count. Which, as picture book writers know, is super important. Picture books usually have about 500 words or less, so every single one needs to have purpose. There's no room for "extras" (unlike this blog post, lol)! For PBParty, the goal is to hook the reader in the 60-70 word opening sample of a picture book text. For 50 Precious Words, an entire story needs to fit within those fifty words.

I planned ahead for 50 Precious Words and was going to go with the entry I'm pasting below, based on a metaphor that I loved but recently cut from my PBParty manuscript. (Which is perhaps a little ironic, because the most recent critique I received on an earlier version noted that they really liked this part.) Yes, I loved it, but I decided to cut it in order to get more directly at the action and the story. Anyway, here is my almost-entry:

First Day Words

Alana DeVito

[50 words]

New place, faces, sounds,

w o r d s

swirl and circle, like birds

trying to land in my brain,

but they fly away before I can tell what they are,

leaving noise and a whirl of feathers…

til one lands.


Then more:

“Want to play?”

I nod, smile, join,


une amie

©Alana DeVito 2023

But then, thinking about what makes an actual "story" aka plot... action... tension... all those things that don't come super easy for me, I realized it was lacking. Plus, my main character had no agency. As in, she wasn't doing anything to help her situation, except to respond to an invitation extended by someone else. Which, in the picture book world, is kind of a big deal. So, I changed my entry.

I went with another story close to my heart, of which different versions have been kind of rattling around my heart, brain, and computer for a while now. If you're a younger sibling, I bet you can relate.

Time Machine

Alana DeVito

[50 words]

My brother left.

We visit on Saturday.

His eyes look different. But why?

I remember the Before. We’d build, create, imagine, play… Before he was always gone, grumpy, gray.

On Sunday, I raid the recycling, bring secret supplies.

“Let’s build.”

His eyes smile…

Our cardboard and plastic time machine


©Alana DeVito 2023

Honestly, I don't know which one I should have gone with. The first definitely feels lighter. For me, they both hold a lot of emotion. But the second one had the main character doing something to help change a situation. I'd love to hear what you think in the comments. Which is a better story?

Finally, a big (tougher than I had planned for) family hike this weekend caused some haikus to bubble up in my brain while making my way through the woods, which I'll share below. Of course, the syllable pattern of 5-7-5 necessitates cutting words, or changing things around until they fit. The words were equally inspired by nature and my not-to-be-mentioned-by-name certain child's negativity, complaining, and straight-up resistance to the whole idea of the hike. As we found our first waterfall, this started forming in my head, then in my notes app:

the complaints subside

as we climb, explore, further

from the Everyday

©Alana DeVito 2023

But then, later, somehow, the negativity returned. The trails were too snowy, too slippery, too steep. He'd rather be home. It was taking too long. WHEN would we be done? And this one started forming...

Parenting toolbox:

Ignore negativity;

Hope, pray, listen, love.

(Oh, and wine. Don't forget the wine.)

©Alana DeVito 2023

I know that last line doesn't fit the haiku format, but sometimes you gotta keep it real, even if it doesn't fit the structure. Although, I should add, I gave up alcohol for Lent this year! So, that last line is me really playing the long game. LOL.

Anyway, thanks for reading my thoughts about the fun challenges of cutting and playing with words. As I said above, I'd love to hear your thoughts... Did I make the right selection?

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