The Difference Between The Short Story and The Picture Book
I’ve viewed short stories and picture books similarly for a long time. When I wrote Seraphine’s Escape, which was intended to be an online picture story for The Sims website, I wrote it in the simplest way possible. There were very few descriptions and of those descriptions, they pertained to things that stood out and grabbed the main character’s attention, such as environments and surroundings. There were no descriptions that showed the reader how Seraphine—the main character, and other characters, looked like. And of those environmental descriptions, they were not extensive—there was still room for the reader to decide how the environment appeared to them in their mind if no pictures were present. All of this was not important to me as a writer because those descriptions would be seen—would speak for themselves through the pictures.
However, going back to the differences I see between short stories and picture books, some major difference are:
Descriptions versus No Description
In a picture book, there is no need for descriptions because those descriptions are being illustrated—the reader can see how the character, including their personalities and the environments in which they live in, look like. Sometimes with picture books, there may be some physical descriptions but they are likely to be few. Such descriptions usually come up when a reaction is being explained, such as the little girl was frightened when she saw the large monstrous dog with its piercing red eyes and shaggy orange fur. Or Martha was disappointed when she saw that the children had trashed the whole living room, leaving popcorn all over the floor, sofa, and tables and cola pop soaked heavily in her new embroidered area rug.
In a short story book, physical descriptions are just as important as they would be in a longer novel length book. Unlike a picture book, the writer cannot skimp on descriptions because there is no other support for those descriptions. A typical short story will not have pictures, although some child and young adult short stories have included drawings, like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz shown above.
Plot versus Message
Every story will have some sort of plot–some mission or problem that will have an end. In a picture book, the focus can be on the message because the plot may be incorporated in the illustration. A good example is the Berenstain Bears picture book series, such as The Truth About Strangers (or Count Their Blessings, shown above). The illustrations do a great job showing how the cubs interact with other bears daily, and gradually illustrating their realization about the dangers their interactions can cause. If one wanted to they could look at the illustrations alone and understand what is going on in the story. The written words add to the illustrations in conveying what the cubs learn about their behavior with others day to day and how to appropriately behave with strangers in the outside world. Without the written words–the plot, the story can still be understood but the words help summarize the message of the story.
In a short story book the plot is very important, sometimes more than the message because the plot adds to the interest and entertainment of the story. It is the plot where the characters are developed and introduced, and also where the problems are presented. Attention needs to be given to the plot to give the story meaning. Sometimes the message can be lost in a poorly developed plot. A strong plot is needed to bring the message into the light.
Building Connections versus Connected
This might be a questionable point, but I will plead my case. Having a reader connect with characters, or the main character, can be an important part of having the reader understand the message of the story. Pictures, even a cover picture, can effectively depict a character’s emotion, personality, actions, and more—things that help the reader relate and connect to them. Picture books have many opportunities to do that and more effectively, because the character is being seen through many difference situations and circumstances, showing their behavior and reactions to such things.
With short stories, the character and the connections take more time to build. In fact, more has to be done, in terms of writing, to accomplish that.
In sum, these differences are not to say that picture books are better or more successful than short story books. Picture books generally are written for children, with the exception of some comic or comic like books, which can be written for any age group. With this in mind, the overall goal of the picture book is to have illustrations that will speak for themselves and grab the reader’s attention, while short story books are written for older children and adults who although may not mind illustrations in their stories, will be able to grasp and find interest in more complex and descriptive writing, creating in their minds a world, or a similar world, the writer had in mind.