Picture Book Author Ann Whitford Paul has a great newsletter, where she writes from the point of view of her cat, Mr. Darcy, on issues of craft. In the most recent, Mr. Darcy chases after the all-too-common practice of alliterative names in picture book manuscripts. With Ann's kind permission, here's that essay:
Why do so many picture book manuscripts use alliterative names? Sitting on my writer’s lap, we read them together and whenever she comes across Danny the Donkey, Tony the Tractor, or Zelda the Zebra, she groans so loud I leap away. Imagine an editor’s reaction! Worse than a groan, they will toss the manuscript into the rejection pile.
Too many people think of children as cute and therefore their characters should be cute. I think children are cute until they tie a bonnet on my head or, even worse, pull my tail. OUCH!
Being young may look fantastic to adults. What’s not to love having your food prepared for you, playing all day, and never having to hold down a job! That doesn’t mean childhood is all ice cream cones, giggles and kisses. There are falls and tears and temper tantrums. Recognize this when considering an alliterative name.
It’s okay to call Donkey, Donkey and Lion, Lion. It’s also okay to name animals. Writers have been doing it forever. Think of Babar, Ferdinand, and Curious George.
Remember in picture books, every word counts. If you name a character Annie Ant, that’s one extra word; two extra words, if you call her Annie the Ant. Those extra words repeated through the manuscript could go to much better use forwarding the action, expressing emotion, and writing lyrically. We lucky authors of picture books have illustrators to let the reader know what creatures our characters are.
I shiver at the thought my writer might have named me Curt the Cat, instead of Mr. Darcy, but she knew better. When you’re naming your charters, I hope you’ll know better, too.
For more of Ann's wisdom on crafting picture books, you might check out her website's resources for writers page and her book, WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication.
Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,