Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Details in Picture Books

I adore beautiful PBs. I enjoy reading and re-reading them with my children, my grandchildren, any children who will sit still long enough to allow me to read to them! I'm trying to master the craft of writing great PBs, also.

Let's just say I apparently have a looooooong way to go.

One of the things that has always puzzled me about the process is knowing what details to include in my text and what details to leave OUT of the text and into the hands of the illustrator. I mean, exactly how do I decide which details to include and which to exclude?

Every time I attend a conference I seek out the PB workshops in search of clues to solving this dilemma. I've read dozens of articles and book chapters on writing PBs, and none--not even one--has answered the question satisfactorily for me.


The other day I decided to finally toss out my 2009 edition of the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. But, then, I thought it best to thumb through it one more time in case I missed any useful articles. There are dozens of them in each edition of this book, BTW.

I read several articles about PBs. Then, in the article "Authors & Illustrators: Dividing Details in Picture Books" I struck gold. Here it was, in plain and simple English, just how I am to decide about details in my PB text (or not.)

So clear. So fundamental. Once again I questioned, "Why didn't I think of this?"

To quote--on page 44-45:

"Dividing the detail is pretty straightforward. If it's visual, it probably belongs to the illustrator. This means that you can describe your character's appearance, their school, or their yard in visual detail if and only if it is vital to the story.

"Illustrations are visual, so illustrators get most of the visual detail. So what! Writers get everything else. 'All sensory details except visual are my territory. I get to use sound effects, onomatopoeia, strong smells, textural details such as smooth or rough, and taste when appropriate. I especially love the kinesthetic details, how it feels to move in space, I can add by using the right verbs,' says author Darcy Pattison. Used effectively sound, smell, taste, texture and movement impact everything from character to setting."

"'The text supplies verbal and behavioral characterization. Who a character is, as seen in her words and action."

"It's up to the author to seize the opportunity to lay out habits, likes and dislikes that create depth of character."

I read this (and the other PB articles) several times. SNAP! The light came on for me. So, I get it! I leave the visual (for the most part) to the illustrator, BUT, I have the really cool chance to relay other sensory details, character, emotion and action through my text.

So, this is why every word--EVERY WORD--counts in PBs. This is why I struggle and toil over every word. This is how I sift through the details I could relay and choose only the juiciest, smoothest, coolest ones to use. Any detail that doesn't move the story forward (toward the climax, the goal) is O-U-T.

Now, off to analyze my PB mss.  I think it's time to make dummies of all of them and see which details I can boot out of my mss, and which ones are nuggets of gold.

Just how do YOU decide which details to include in your text and which to entrust to the skilled artistry of the illustrator? Please share.


Linda A. said...

Hi Jean,

Sounds like you found just what you needed! I'm so glad for you.

I am attending an SCBWI-Southern Breeze weekend workshop with Rebecca Kai Dotlich in Dahlonega, GA in June. It is a poetry retreat. This PB author also offers Highlights workshops. I hope to gain new PB skills. You might want to check it out too.

Linda A.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

Have you read Andy McGuire's picture books (he painted his own illustrations?) He is an editor who decided to do his own picture books and they are funny and fun. Published by Harvest House.

It IS such an art to do a picture book, so it does take study. Keep working at it! Glad to see you doing it.

Jean said...

Thanks, Linda. I'm slow, but I eventually learn whatever I set out to learn. Here's hoping it's before my 101st birthday!

The Southern Breeze sounds great. I WILL check it out.


Jean said...

Thank you, Crystal. I've read a few of McGuire's PBs. But I'll find them again and re-read.

Thanks for dropping in occasionally.


Carol Baldwin said...

Duh! Why didn't I think of that? My NCCAT class is over but I am still adding links to the wiki--this one just went up. That way next time I teach "writing for children" I'll have these gems ready to go. Thanks, Jean!