OK, this one is for the picture book writers out there who draw like their hands have 5 thumbs. Yes, I include myself in this category. I’m envious of those writers who are the double threat and can do both. One, you get to make your book look exactly the way it does in your head. Two, and maybe more importantly, you don’t have to split the advance or royalties.
For the rest of us mere mortals, we have a little more heavy lifting to do when crafting our stories than those multi-talented writer/illustrators. What do I mean by that? Isn’t it the job of the writer to…well, write?
Yes. And then some. You see, when you set out to write a picture book, you have to realize that if it gets accepted (and mega kudos to you if it does – celebrate!) it’s going to be sent to an illustrator you’ve most likely never met or maybe never even heard of. Publishers have their stable of artists, both tried and true and up and coming. It’s then their job to interpret your words and translate them into images. You don’t get to meet with them and tell them what you’d like to see, just like they don’t sit over your shoulder while you write, suggesting you undangle that participle. You have to trust in their own creative process.
Knowing that, it’s vital that every page clearly conveys strong visuals, complete with motion and emotion. Every word you commit to paper in a picture book is more valuable than gold…or a a tank of gas these days. When you write, you have to use those words to paint the picture long before your illustrator puts his or her brush to canvas.
One way to make this easier to envision is to print your book with all of the page breaks. A typical picture book will need about 25-30 pages. Read those pages aloud, stopping to consider the words before moving to the next page. Did you give your illustrator enough to work with? Is there movement? How does it flow from the page before and to the next?
Remember, you need to do this with the bare minimum of words. You can’t add every detail, just the major ones. Author Darcy Pattison has a fantastic series of tips that can help you. Putting the Picture in Picture Books is a great place to start.
While you write, picture a tiny artist sitting on your shoulder. From time to time, look over and see if he’s smiling or confused. Just don’t talk to him. People will think you’re crazy.