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Writing for the illustrator?

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pemcleod

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I've written a nice little book for young children.  But I am a very descriptive writer so I expect much of the descriptions would/should be removed and replaced with the images from the illustrator.

So how do I show this in the writing?

I've added notes for my image of what is happening in the scene with the expectations it would help the illustrator see my image for the book.
Is this the right thing to do or do I just hand over my work and hope that everyone sees what I see in the words?

Here is an example of what I mean from my story

--
As turtle laid on his back struggling to right himself he saw a human carrying a large stick walking up to him.
[upside view of boots, legs wearing shorts, socks, stick.  nothing above knee seen]
--

Thanks for your thoughts.
Patrick
#1 - January 08, 2010, 09:51 PM

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Hello Patrick.

Writing PBs is tricky. The words should be economical. Illustration notations should only be used when they are essential to the story. An example would be if the narration is saying one thing but the illustrations depict something totally opposite for  humor's sake.

 The illustrator will have their own vision and determine which perspective is best for each scene.

Sometimes, the illustrator may even add more to your story with visual humor or something going on in the background that gives more meaning to the text.

Picture books are a duet of text and illustratiions. They both do their part taking the lead and singing harmony. Try to keep the words to a minimum withouth sounding "matter of fact." Let them sing. When the illustrations need to do their part, they will deliver the rest of the message.

And you are correct. Once the illustrator begins his/her work, the text may be in need of revision.

#2 - January 08, 2010, 11:02 PM
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Funny Stuff is exactly right.  :yup  You must write in such a way that your words put the pictures (and perspective if that's important) in the mind of the artist.

Something like this:

"Turtle saw a three-legged creature coming towards him. It had two boots and one peg leg."

Of course, when he flips over he will figure out that the boots are on the end of legs, the legs attached to a child and the peg-leg is a walking stick.

Writing picture books is very difficult, but loads of fun.

Good luck!  :star2

eab

 
#3 - January 09, 2010, 09:28 AM

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Think of writing a picture book as being part of a team. The illustrator is in charge of the visuals. The writer, on the other hand is in charge of the hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling part of the story experience.

An illustrator will read your text and come up with his/her own visuals, and may or may not be influenced by the editor and art directors' visions as well.

Concentrate on making your words full of action and pulling in the other senses besides vision. Let your team members bring their own talents to the story which in the end will make your picture book deeper and fuller than anything you can do on your own.

Take a look at some other books to see where the text and the illustrations overlap, and also see where the illustrations tell a story all on their own. (Choose books published in the last 3-4 years, things have changed a lot in picture books since we were children.)
#4 - January 09, 2010, 09:40 AM
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Couldn't have said it better, Funny Stuff.
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#5 - January 09, 2010, 11:59 AM
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An editor once said to me, "Would you want an illustrator to tell you what to write?"
That stuck with me because the answer would be "No".  So I think it is best to let every word you write tell your story and if you've done it well, the illustrator will see it too.
#6 - January 09, 2010, 12:37 PM

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An editor once said to me, "Would you want an illustrator to tell you what to write?"
That stuck with me because the answer would be "No". 

This misses the point. Art notes aren't meant for the illustrator. We are not submitting manuscripts to illustrators, but to editors. When text alone cannot convey the full idea the author has in mind, an art note can help the editor appreciate the author's vision. If the manuscript is acquired, the illustrator is free to ignore the note.

Would I want an illustrator to tell me what to write? No, but I'd certainly be open to any and all suggestions for improving the text, whether they come from the editor or the illustrator.
#7 - January 20, 2010, 09:52 AM
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I agree with those of you who have said the only time illustration notes are needed (for the editor or the illustrator, in my opinion) would be when what is to be conveyed in the picture is not hinted at by the story, and when it is necessary to the telling of the story.  The example given above about what the turtle is seeing is merely a descriptive image of what was written.  An illustrator might not think of the exact image the author thought of, but I suspect that would not hinder the story.

I suggest you write the story, focusing on action, character development, thoughts and sense descriptions other than sight.   Yes, the action scenes will be duplicated in the drawings to some extent, but they are needed in the writing to propel the story forward.  Other visual details other than the most simple ones can be filled in by the art, and here you must try to trust the illustrator to handle your story with care and love.  So you can say "turtle saw a child with a walking stick" instead of "turtle saw a child with brown hair and green eyes, dressed in a yellow t-shirt an jeans, carrying a knobby walking stick"  So, the artist might draw the child with black hair, but as long as it doesn't impact the story the wrong way, that's the kind of detail you leave to the illustrator.  It can be hard for authors to give up their own visual ideas about their story, but a good illustrator can think of ways to expand your story that will delight you, and ultimately make the story much better.

Diane
#8 - January 20, 2010, 11:26 AM

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Diane,
I agree completely.  Focus not on sight, but on the other senses that will make your story come alive. 

God bless,
Susan
#9 - January 20, 2010, 12:08 PM
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I beg to differ on the use of *any* illustration notes for the editor's sake. Ya gotta trust that editors know what they're doing. So, focus on the story and writing and win the heart, mind and imagination of the editor. If you succeed, then he/she will find an illustrator who will take your story to a whole new level.
#10 - January 20, 2010, 12:24 PM
« Last Edit: January 20, 2010, 12:27 PM by ecm »
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It's not  a matter of trusting or not trusting an editor. A picture book is a totality of text and images. Sometimes it's necessary to supplement the text with an art note in order to convey the concept of the story. Would you say that when a playwrite includes stage directions that this indicates a lack of trust in the actors or director?

I do, however, believe that art notes should only be used as a last resort, when the idea cannot be conveyed by text alone. Pemcleod's example does not warrant a note.
#11 - January 20, 2010, 02:57 PM
« Last Edit: January 21, 2010, 05:35 PM by Snoofle »
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RJBrodeur

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Assuming a sketch note is required, is there an expected or standard format for entering illustration notations? Example: (Sketch Note: Frank does a double take.) Or is it simply a matter of whatever gets the job done?
#12 - February 03, 2010, 06:55 AM

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I label it as an Art Note and put it in brackets. Some writers use italics. Centering the note on the page can also help differentiate it from text.
#13 - February 03, 2010, 09:41 AM
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INCOGNOLIO (Janx Press, 2017)
CRASHING EDEN  (Solstice, 2012)
OTTO GROWS DOWN (Sterling, 2009)

RJBrodeur

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OK. I see. So no real convention... Just whatever works and sets it apart from the body text... Thanks much...
#14 - February 03, 2010, 10:23 AM

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This was addressed by Verla some time ago too . . . might take a look: http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=27125.0
#15 - February 26, 2010, 03:49 PM
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Verla makes some excellent points, but she is assuming the art notes are directed toward an illustrator. I am suggesting that, in those rare cases where they may be necessary, art notes are not meant for the illustrator, but for the editor reading your manuscript.

Michael
#16 - February 26, 2010, 05:49 PM
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This is true. The link covers the general question about illustrators and illutration notes. If the notes are essential to the story, or the concept is to have the illustrations and text oppose one another, then it's okay to put a few in . . . in limited quantity. One of my examples of this is a story I wrote in the first person narrative of a young girl. What she says is happening alludes that she is innocent of any mischievous behavior, however the illustrations portray the truth.

This question has been brought up at many conferences, and most editors advise against using illustration notes, stating that there are exceptions .  .  . but very few.
#17 - February 26, 2010, 06:22 PM
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A page or sequence of pages in which the story is told in pictures, without text.

A visual gag that the text does not disclose.
#18 - February 27, 2010, 02:52 PM
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v26essa

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Is a picture book just words on a sheet of paper with no pictures?  If I am a PB writer shouldn't I have say over the illustrations?  In a perfect world I truly would hope the Illustrator and I would work together as a team.  I do not know how a person can blindly hand over their work to someone else for them to go off and create their own images and ideas from what is already started?  I ask this sincerely.  I keep reading that publishers prefer to not have illustrations submitted and I know that financially this is best for them.  But I am not sure as to the benefit to me.  I love my ideas and want to see them the way I see them and of course with added color and flair that only an artist can give.  I don't know if I will want to see someone else’s adaptation of my work with zero influence.  Am I the only one who feels this way? 
#19 - March 23, 2010, 11:52 AM
« Last Edit: March 23, 2010, 11:59 AM by v26essa »

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Is a picture book just words on a sheet of paper with no pictures?  If I am a PB writer shouldn't I have say over the illustrations?  In a perfect world I truly would hope the Illustrator and I would work together as a team.  I do not know how a person can blindly hand over their work to someone else for them to go off and create their own images and ideas from what is already started?  I ask this sincerely.  I keep reading that publishers prefer to not have illustrations submitted and I know that financially this is best for them.  But I am not sure as to the benefit to me.  I love my ideas and want to see them the way I see them and of course with added color and flair that only an artist can give.  I don't know if I will want to see someone else’s adaptation of my work with zero influence.  Am I the only one who feels this way?  

When I first started pursuing the goal of creating Picture Books, I wanted to both write and illustrate. Thinking I had it all figured out, I went to the Los Angeles Conference and put my artwork out for the portfolio display . . . Before most of the other artists put their work out . . . When I went back to take a look, I realized that I wasn't ready to illustrate at all. :faint So, I focused on writing. Because I do artwork, I had a visual in mind when I wrote my stories. But, I also know the amount of time and work that goes into illustrating . . . Usually far greater than the amount of time put into writing Picture Books. So, I did let go and sent my manuscripts in.

Publishers will team a new author with an established illustrator and the same holds true for a new illustrator, they will team them up with an established writer. This gives the book a foundation for sales. What better way to promote a new author or illustrator?

I have focused on illustrating a bit more the past few years and have been moving forward. But, I understand if one of my works were to be accepted, I may have to let one or the other go until I'm established.

There is so much an illustrator can do for a story.  Just recently, I participated in a project with a few illustrators. We worked on rendering scenes from a work that is in public domain. The interpretations varied widely. An Editor or Art Director will see the style of your writing and team you with an illustrator he/she feels will meet your writing with their interpretation and possibly take it to another level.
#20 - March 23, 2010, 03:15 PM
« Last Edit: March 23, 2010, 03:25 PM by funny stuff »
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Patrick

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I do not know how a person can blindly hand over their work to someone else for them to go off and create their own images and ideas from what is already started? ... But I am not sure as to the benefit to me.  I love my ideas and want to see them the way I see them and of course with added color and flair that only an artist can give.  I don't know if I will want to see someone else’s adaptation of my work with zero influence.  Am I the only one who feels this way? 

Like funny stuff, I once dreamed of illustrating my own work. Then I realized my illustration style doesn't mesh well with most of the stories I come up with. That was freeing--once I recovered from the initial disappointment.

My take on it now is that when you seek publication, you're inviting multitudes of people (hopefully) to "create their own images and ideas" of your PB. I don't mean this mean, but that's the whole purpose of seeking publication. The goal is to take characters (or a world) that only you have access to--because they exist in your mind--and let go of them so that other people can have the benefit of a unique and personal experience with them. So I think you may be missing the point of publication if you're concerned about what the benefit will be to you.

One last thought: All the best stuff in the world happens when people collaborate. If you focus all your creative energy on the writing of the story, then when an illustrator comes along, they can use all their creativity to bring your story to life. That's a lot of creativity. But if one person does both, there's only one person's stock of creativity going into the PB. 

So that's how I justified the process to myself!
#21 - March 23, 2010, 07:31 PM

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In a perfect world I truly would hope the Illustrator and I would work together as a team.   

I agree. And in some cases it actually works out that way. I was lucky enough to have Scott Magoon illustrate my PB, "Otto Grows Down." Besides being a brilliant artist, he was quite open to my input. That made a huge difference to me--if I'd been paired with an illustrator who wasn't open to feedback, I would've felt very frustrated.

The fact remains, however, that many editors don't permit contact between author & illustrator. If you are lucky enough to find a publisher for your work, perhaps this is something to inquire about. Either way, if you want to have work published, I think you'll need to accept the reality that once you sign a contract you are largely giving up control and must have faith in your editor.

Michael
#22 - March 23, 2010, 09:03 PM
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At the risk of flogging ye old pony...

Unpublished as I am, I have to think that Snoofle makes a solid point: I'm writing for an agent/editor. Do they encounter a sketch note and chuck the piece aside? Scary thought...

I'm working on a series of ERs, and there are just places where art notes make sense to me:

1. A note re: a stagecoach thundering into town rather than saying "A stage coach thundered into town" - Why duplicate the action with text? It's a matter of economy and focus. (Example: It was a boring place. But all that was about to change. (art note re: stage coach) "I'm here!" said the character.)

2. Visual placement of an object that will come into play later on in the story...

3. Slug lines for changes of setting so it doesn't have to be "And Joe went back to the jailhouse" - For sake of economy and so the editor/agent isn't lost in setting...

4. Using visual elements to avoid sections of description - ERs run on action and dialogue with minimal description.


And these are just a few examples from one story.

Thoughts?


Best,

Bobby
#23 - March 26, 2010, 07:59 AM

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Is a picture book just words on a sheet of paper with no pictures?  If I am a PB writer shouldn't I have say over the illustrations? 

This is the Art Director's job. The illustrator answers to the AD, not to the author. Illustrators do not have complete control either, and they may be asked by the AD to revise sketches before going ahead with final artwork. Being the author, you may or may not have input. Usually not, especially if you are previously unpublished.

I keep reading that publishers prefer to not have illustrations submitted and I know that financially this is best for them.  But I am not sure as to the benefit to me. 

This is not for the financial benefit of the publisher. They don't have a staff artist churning out illustrations in the basement for minimum wage, lol, at least not that I've heard. :eh2  Publishers like to choose their own illustrators as they are experienced at pairing the right art style with writing style, and as funny stuff mentioned, an experienced artist with a new writer or vice versa. A lot of new writers make the mistake of thinking that if they write a picture book that they cannot submit without illustrations, and will ask anyone they think can draw better than a stick figure to illustrate their book. Publishers like to discourage this. Unless you are an illustrator yourself and are confident that your work is of professional quality, don't send illustrations with a ms.

The benefit to you is that as a new and unheard of author, a person might just buy your book because they know and like the illustrator's work.

I don't know if I will want to see someone else’s adaptation of my work with zero influence.  Am I the only one who feels this way? 

To be honest, this is the way the industry works. A published book is a collaboration (and there are many other people besides the author and illustrator who work hard and contribute their creativity who do not get their name on the front cover). Only you can decide if you are comfortable with this process after your words have been written.

At the risk of flogging ye old pony...

Unpublished as I am, I have to think that Snoofle makes a solid point: I'm writing for an agent/editor. Do they encounter a sketch note and chuck the piece aside? Scary thought...

I'm working on a series of ERs, and there are just places where art notes make sense to me:

1. A note re: a stagecoach thundering into town rather than saying "A stage coach thundered into town" - Why duplicate the action with text? It's a matter of economy and focus. (Example: It was a boring place. But all that was about to change. (art note re: stage coach) "I'm here!" said the character.)

2. Visual placement of an object that will come into play later on in the story...

3. Slug lines for changes of setting so it doesn't have to be "And Joe went back to the jailhouse" - For sake of economy and so the editor/agent isn't lost in setting...

4. Using visual elements to avoid sections of description - ERs run on action and dialogue with minimal description.


I've heard it said that after the illustrations have been proposed, sometimes unnecessary/redundant text may be edited out, but I'm not sure you should self-edit this way. The illustrator may have a completely different vision and not illustrate the scene in the way you think would be most obvious.


I do think a few art notes are okay as long as they are necessary to understanding the ms.
#24 - March 26, 2010, 05:17 PM
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pemcleod

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The trouble I’m having is that my story really needs an illustrator that understands the natural world and is able to illustrate to the location and season of the story.
I’ve added art notes so there is no misunderstanding on what types of plants we should be seeing in case the illustrator missing these things.
If I send my work to an editor and they just pick someone out of the illustrator pool who hasn’t taken a course in Biology since high school I fear the high points of my story will be lost.

How can I be sure this isn’t missed?

-Patrick
#25 - July 09, 2010, 06:46 AM

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I think if you get interest from a publisher, you can let them know how important this type of accuracy is in the illustrations. But I think you probably don't need to worry too much. Illustrators are professionals. Just like when I write something, when I'm planning illustrations, I do a lot of research. And art directors do not just choose illustrators randomly from a pool, they strive to choose the perfect illustrator. They will sometimes even wait 2 or 3 years for just the right illustrator as some are in high demand and have a wait list of projects.

#26 - July 09, 2010, 10:11 AM
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What Artemesia said. The thing is, illustrators don't just decorate the text. They are pros, can bring much more to a story than the writer alone can think of, and they do extensive research when necessary. Editors and art directors are pros and know (often better than the author does) what kind of illustrator is needed and even exactly who they want. They don't just "pick someone out of the illustrator pool." They will sometimes put a project on hold until the illustrator they want can fit it into their schedule, which is why PBs can take a REALLY long time to come out, and I know of at least one case where a ms. was not acquired b/c the publisher simply couldn't get the illustrator they thought would be top-drawer for the project. Most of the time, PB authors have to accept that illustrations are out of their hands, and it can be one of the most surprising/disconcerting things new PB writers learn. And yes, once in a while PB authors hate the art. But more often, they find that it enriches the story far more than they dreamed.
#27 - July 09, 2010, 11:16 AM
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I agree. And in some cases it actually works out that way. I was lucky enough to have Scott Magoon illustrate my PB, "Otto Grows Down." Besides being a brilliant artist, he was quite open to my input. That made a huge difference to me--if I'd been paired with an illustrator who wasn't open to feedback, I would've felt very frustrated.

The fact remains, however, that many editors don't permit contact between author & illustrator. If you are lucky enough to find a publisher for your work, perhaps this is something to inquire about. Either way, if you want to have work published, I think you'll need to accept the reality that once you sign a contract you are largely giving up control and must have faith in your editor.

Michael

Very true Michael. I have had some experiences on the opposite side. Where the writer has had a very specific image and scene concocted in their head that is not realistically possible for an illustrator to ever duplicate. Which leads to umpteen revisions and changes with both writer and illustrator being extremely frustrated and irritated by the process. In many instances I hope that the writer will like what I do, but at the end of the day the one I want to leave satisfied is the art director since they are the one that hired me and wanted my interpretation of that story. They are also the one that will hire me for a future project should I be so lucky!

The only way I can make it make sense to friends is to say that a PB is just like making a movie. Once a film company buys the rights to your script. They get to choose what that vision will be. They choose a director(art director) to helm the project and pick actors/cast/crew(Illustrator/designer) to bring his/her vision of the script to life.

After selling the script the writer in most if not all instances has given up their rights to have executive control or input into how the script is visualized. All of that is in the hands of the film company and director. There are many writers who have sold rights to their characters or scripts and then asked for their names to be removed form the final product because they feel it is a dreadful representation of their work! Which is sad, honestly.

So I feel for the writers, but I also understand that writers aren't necessarily art directors. A writer may not know how to direct and a director may not know how to write. Both are hired for the specific skills they bring to the table. So if you want to be a writer/art director you either need to pursue both careers or be  prepared to finance and publish your own materials. Which many writers do.
#28 - July 12, 2010, 10:16 PM

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