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Studying Art Notes

3 Mar

 

If you’re writing picture books, you’ve certainly heard these words more than once.

Leave Room for the Illustrator.

One of the most important aspects of  illustrations is how much information the reader gets from the artwork that is not narrated in the text of the story. Picture book readers trust that the illustrations tell the story as much as the text, and often times more than the text. Illustrations convey emotion, definition, story arc, plot twist, and surprise elements.

In studying picture books which do this well, it’s helpful to practice writing  your own art notes where you think it’s important to the story that the illustrations depict a specific element. I sometimes mark the page with a post-it note to show where I might have added a note if I were the author. Then look back over these notes and try to word them so that my meaning is clear without interfering with the illustrator’s work. Later I can rewrite these in a notebook or just stick the post-it note in my writing journal.

Shutta Crum must be an expert art note writer. Her books Mine! and Uh-Oh! are written using only one word each! If not, how were these nearly wordless picture books written since she is not also the illustrator? Although I have heard that some writers write in a side-by-side column, with the text on one side and the art note on the other, I cannot say with certainty that this is how Shutta submits her work. But it is a good exercise for us to practice.

Look at these spreads and think about what is necessary to put in an art note and what can be left to the illustrator’s imagination.

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Notice that it isn’t always important to leave a note. Do the children need to be siblings or friends? No. Is the specific collection of toys important? No. Is it important that one toy get left behind? Yes. Is it important that there is a dog in the scene? Yes. (That comes out later int he story.)

Note: There are more of these than you realize.

I wonder how many, and what kind of art notes Tammi Sauer included in her first manuscript for Your Alien. I’m thinking there weren’t as many notes as in the example above, simply because there is more text in the story. The illustrator is an adult who can visualize a scene without help.

Take a look at this scene. Was it necessary to say exactly what the alien should be eating (or even doing) on this page?FullSizeRender

I don’t think so. The alien could be eating popcorn, bananas, or pizza. He could even be zipping around the room or playing with the cat instead of eating. Either way, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the story. This is purely up to the illustrator to decide what ‘other ideas’ the alien has on this page.

Even books which are written and illustrated by the same person, must have a certain element of art notes even if they are not specifically written out since the work is submitted as a whole unit, not in pieces.

My guess is that Chris Haughton either jotted down ideas in words or sketches before he produced the final art for his story, Shh! We Have a Plan.shh2

Before he began illustrating, he knew that the littlest character was a different kind of hunter than the others. He was kind and friendly. He was always the first to spot a bird and instinctively attracted the birds to himself. He didn’t carry a net or a ladder, but used bread crumbs to charm the birds.

balance-web-design

As a writer of picture books, balance is the key. Tell your story in a way which allows your reader to be an active participant. Give enough information to feed their imagination while allowing them to make their own connections.

 

First Lines

27 Feb

I suspect the picture book market today can be likened to Grab-n-Go, a popular convenience store serving a fast paced generation.

Consumers are looking for fast service, fresh ingredients, and value pricing when choosing a foodservice solution and convenience stores are answering the call with innovative programs that meet the latest food trends.
-Marilyn Odesser-Torpey

Not in the sense of speedy delivery of sandwiches, but picture books must GRAB the reader on the first page, if not the cover, and GO on to provide high quality literature with a fresh twist at a value price.

What are your favorite children’s books? These are books you have Grabbed and Gone with over the years. These are your go-to books. These are the books we give as gifts and reread for our own pleasure.

We can recite the first lines of these books.

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Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.

– A.A. Milne (1926)

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Where’s Papa going with that ax?

-E.B. White (1952)

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The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said ‘How we wish we had something to do.

– Dr. Seuss (1957)

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The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’ so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

– Maurice Sendak (1963)

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One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry.

– Eric Carle (1969)

These books stayed with us for a reason… they hooked us into the stories we saved in our hearts. And so whenever we hear these lines we are immediately transported back to the time we sat in someone’s lap, or pushed our way to the front of the group, or felt the joy of reading and rereading our favorite books independently, or probably all three.

Now of course, a good opening is worthless without an equally great follow up. These are tied together in our memories. A few words can elicit a flood of emotions and trigger an avalanche of subsequent memories. The power of those opening lines is what keeps us opening those books over and over, rereading those pages, and reliving those adventures like it’s the first time.

Did you notice something about all the quotes above? Look at the publication dates. That’s right, for the most part they are 50+ years old. THAT is the staying power of a great hook, a powerful first line, an exceptional story. THAT is what we are striving for as writers!

But does that mean there haven’t been any brilliant first lines since 1969? Absolutely not. That’s just where my memory takes me. Where does you memory take you?

Let’s look at some of today’s first lines. The most recent books of 2016 are all of two months old. How many first lines do you already know? Which ones do you think will become classics? Will today’s children quote these books in 50 years? Let’s certainly hope so!

 The books below are listed alphabetically by title so as not to show favorites.

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Dennis was an ordinary boy…who expressed himself in EXTRAORDINARY ways.

-Salina Yoon (2016)

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Lula Mae wanted a puppy, but Mama said, “Dog’s just another mouth to feed. These are hard times, Lula Mae. You’ve got to make do.

-Susan McElroy (2016)

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When the crickets sing and the end of summer is near, Grandma and Granpa say COME.

-Marc Harshman (2016)

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Peddles was just a pig.

-Elizabeth Rose Stanton (2016)

25777449 I’m running in place, listening to my feet pound the pavement.

-Pat Zietlow Miller (2016)

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I never imagined, before you came along… that our house could get this messy and LOUD!

-Sherri Duskey Rinker (2016)

 

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Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.

-Julie Falatko (2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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