Thursday, September 16, 2010

Picture That! Writing a Rebus

Ever try to write a rebus for a magazine? You need to tell a story with a defined beginning and middle, plus a delightful surprise, or twist, at the end. You have roughly 100 words to do all this. It helps to include some suspense, and you must make sure every line has a few words that can be represented as pictures. Some of the pictures, often nouns, need to be repeated throughout the story, but the repetition can't make the story as dull as "See Spot run." Here is a sample rebus story by Mike Carter from Highlights.

Have I tried to crack the rebus?

You bet. I have a folder full of rejected rebus stories. The rebus has the charm of a puzzle easily solved - for the reader, that is, not the writer. My weak spot is plotting that surprise ending and writing it with punch, but I persevered because I loved these stories as a child and they're still favorites with beginning readers.

My most recent rebus tells the story of a girl putting a favorite book in a special place so she'll remember to take it on vacation and then -you guessed it- she forgets where, and searches for the book when it's time to leave.

Highlights is buying it for their rebus page! Smile.

Maybe you've never tried to write a rebus, but what do you struggle with? Plot? Dialogue? Description? Backstory?


  1. Yeah, Gale. Congrats on your rebus sale. Woot woot!

  2. How awesome, Gale! Congrats!!

    As for what I struggle, everything at some point in the process. But if I had to pick something, what frustrates me the most is setting description - how much is too much, how little is too little, what details are important, what mood am I creating? etc. It's enough to make me want to tear my hair out and yell. Simultaneously.

  3. Gale,

    I just got back a rejection on a rebus from this magazine. Congratulations to you. I may try rewriting it. You've given me hope!

    Linda A.

  4. Congratz on your rebus sale!

    Linda - Awhile back I had a poem that I 1st tried to sell to ladybug then Highlights as a rebus poem. Rejects. Than I subbed to Highlights High Five and they bought it but used it as just a poem. So just keep at it.

  5. Gale

    What great news! A sale to Highlights! I remember your rebus - very charming! The hardest all round effort for a rebus is that great and intriguing beginning, solid middle and quick and original twist ending!


  6. Congratulations, Gale! That's great news -- and well-deserved.

    My biggest writing struggle, without a doubt, is plot, or "where is this story going" syndrome.

    But my even bigger struggle is with my inner editor on that first draft. I should know by now that I can fix plot in later drafts and just not worry about those holes in the beginning stages.

    Sigh. Maybe someday.

  7. Thanks everyone for your congrats.

    Robin, yes the decision about how much description is necessary is a hard one. But it's NOT worth losing your beautiful hair! :)

    Linda A., Keep at it! I rewrote the one I sold many times and sold it on the second submission, not the first one.

    Di, Yes, the nice thing about groups of magazines, is that sometimes you can place a piece in a sister mag.

    J.A., I don't have the courage to tackle plot for a novel, plotting one page is hard enough, but I know you'll do it with style.

  8. Late to the party, but my congratulations are still heartfelt!
    Woo Hoo!!

    I have never attempted a rebus. I can't imagine telling a whole story in 100 words. I envy your precision. As for struggling, I certainly do that. Right now, it's plot - making the story believable, even though it's unbelievable.

  9. Thanks, Meg.

    Making the unbelievable believable is indeed an awesome task, but many other authors have done it and I'm sure you'll succeed. Here's hoping this rewrite will be the last one!

  10. Also late to the party, but Wow! Congratulations, Gale! A rebus is so hard to write and you pulled it off! I can't wait to see it with pictures in Highlights!

    As for your question: Areas I struggle with in my writing include:
    *keeping the rhythm consistent in my rhyming poetry
    *keeping my momentum going and getting myself to write a lot in my attempt to write a novel (instead of trying to write picture book tight)

  11. Brianna,

    Thanks for your help on this rebus story - you gave me ideas for the ending.