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How does a writer leave room for the illustrator to do his or her work?

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Dionna

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This question is for you illustrators out there.

I've been told by two agents regarding a ms that, while they like the story and the writing, I leave no room for the illustrator. They both basically said that the text is clear on its own.

So...from an illustrator's POV, what does that mean and can a ms with this handicap be "fixed" by the writer in a revision?  ???

Can't wait to figure this one out!! I've heard the advice, but don't really understand it.

Thanks for your help!

Dionna

 
#1 - April 11, 2012, 04:05 PM

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Dionna,

I am not an illustrator, but as a PB writer who has been working on the craft for a few years, I'd say the best way to learn how to do it is to read, read, read tons of CURRENT (past five years) picture books. Really study them, and see how they leave room for the text. Look at what they don't say. I think the agent Linda Pratt once said that the text of the picture book is like the straight man, and the pictures are like the punchline. The pictures don't merely illustrate, they can develop the story, make visual jokes, and add entirely new plotlines. One book I remember someone highlighting for great picture/text interaction was s Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. The text makes no sense without the pictures, and the pictures make no sense without the text.

Good luck! :goodluck
#2 - April 11, 2012, 05:35 PM
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Great advice by eecoburn!

Another thing to keep in mind is to not describe physical objects since the illustrations will show this. It's easy for a writer to forget this, since they see it in their heads and might want to include that detail in the text. But why include unnecessary words?

Instead of saying,... "The frog hopped onto a big brown log," you can just write, "The frog hopped onto his favorite spot"... and let the illustrator figure out what that favorite spot might be.

Study all of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's books! She is a master with using incredibly sparse words but having a big impact. She definitely allows the illustrator to breathe life into her words. PLANT A KISS is genius. How would an artist illustrate a kiss that is planted in the ground? What would it look like if it grew? Peter Reynolds finds a way!
#3 - April 11, 2012, 06:14 PM

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Adding to what SYoon said, remember that illustrations can only show how things look. In the text, try to play a bit with taste, feel, smell, and sound.

Also, scan your text for adjectives and ask yourself if each one is necessary. Many adjectives aren't needed because the text can show how big things are, what color they are etc.   
#4 - April 11, 2012, 07:14 PM

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There's a very fine line in picture book texts and often it's difficult to see just where that line goes. Think for a moment about a scene where your main character is at the beach. In novels, you would need to describe the scene fully, to put your characters in that place. In a picture book, you just say, "Milda went to the beach."

It's up to the illustrator to decide if she went there by car, bus, motocycle, skateboard, bike or on foot. The illustrator will decide what she is wearing, how her hair looks and if she brought something (like a lunch, sand toys, etc.) with her or not. The illustrator will decde what the weather is like, how the beach looks, how big the waves are, etc.

If something is VITAL to the story (like Little Red Ridinghood's Red Cloak) then you should put that description in your text. But ONLY do this if the story can't be understood at all if the description is left out.

I hope this helps to clarify for you what an illustrator's part is in creating picture books.
#5 - April 12, 2012, 10:24 AM
« Last Edit: April 12, 2012, 10:26 AM by Verla Kay »
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I think the agent Linda Pratt once said that the text of the picture book is like the straight man, and the pictures are like the punchline. The pictures don't merely illustrate, they can develop the story, make visual jokes, and add entirely new plotlines.

Ha!  Linda is my agent and she has taught me so much about writing picture book text. She works with a lot of excellent illustrators and has a very keen eye.

Yes, everything the people above said. 
#6 - April 12, 2012, 10:38 AM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
SUNNY'S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY (Abrams)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
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A couple of examples from my books:

In Mostly Monsterly, I have the line "She caused mayhem of all kinds."

This allowed Scott Magoon to come up with a scene that ended up being one of my favorites in the book. In Scott's illustration, he showed Bernadette and her monster friends dressed in band uniforms and playing band instruments. Bernadette is marching everyone past the library where there is a "quiet please" sign posted.

In Bawk & Roll, there are a few scenes in which Marge and Lola get terrible reviews in the newspaper.

Dan Santat used this newspaper as an opportunity to add some additional funny headlines.
#7 - April 12, 2012, 10:50 AM
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Great examples, Tammi!

Another good example book is: I'M NOT, by Pam Smallcomb and Robert Weinstock.

Here are some lines that has to be visualized by the illustrator to give it life/interest:

- "She's not one single bit ordinary."  (Dinosaur hangs from a tree upside down, saying "Look, I'm an apple!")
- "And she's a little mysterious." (Still hiding in tree and says, "a POISON apple!")
- "Evelyn is up on all the latest fashion trends." (you can imagine how creative an illustrator can be for this one. He's got the dino wearing lamp shades, pink band aids all over, and sweatbands and legwarmers.)

#8 - April 12, 2012, 10:57 AM

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In Mostly Monsterly, I have the line "She caused mayhem of all kinds."

ASIDE:  I think "mayhem" is my new favorite word.
#9 - April 12, 2012, 11:16 AM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
SUNNY'S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY (Abrams)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

Dionna...For what it's worth, I'm going to give you some left-field advice, since I was in your shoes exactly 5 years ago. I kept getting positive feedback from publishers on a handful of picture book manuscripts, but that same "you leave no room for illustrations" thing.

Know what one editor called and suggested to me? Write a novel.

That night, I began Sway.

It was such freedom to let the words do their own space-hogging thing!
#10 - April 12, 2012, 11:29 AM
SWAY, 2012 from Disney-Hyperion
CIRCA NOW, 2014 from Disney-Hyperion
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https://www.facebook.com/SwayByAmberMcReeTurner

You've already gotten a lot of great advice, but I'd like to mention one other thing you might want to try. I type out the texts of picture books that I like. It really doesn't take that long, and I learn so much from doing it. If you study the text alone in a Word doc, you begin to see how the words and the art work together. You can see what the author chooses to leave in and what they choose to leave out.

Salina, I adore PLANT A KISS. It's such a satisfying story in fewer than 100 words!

That's a great story, Amber. I think I'm on the opposite end of that spectrum though. I tend to write so "spare" that I don't think I have enough words inside me for a novel!
#11 - April 12, 2012, 11:50 AM
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I tend to write so "spare" that I don't think I have enough words inside me for a novel!

You are so full of c***, Duffield.
#12 - April 12, 2012, 12:16 PM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
SUNNY'S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY (Abrams)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

Hahahaha! Well, AM, I could probably write an 8000 to 10,000 word novel--if I really stretched it!  :grin
#13 - April 12, 2012, 03:28 PM
ALIENS GET THE SNIFFLES TOO! Candlewick, 2017
LOUD LULA, Two Lions 2015
CALIFORNIA HISTORY FOR KIDS, CRP
FARMER MCPEEPERS Rising Moon

Dionna

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Thanks so much everyone. I now totally get what they mean! I really didn't have a clue (though I've read literally hundreds upon hundreds of pbs over the years). I guess I never paid attention to how the two entities worked separately, only appreciated the whole.

SYOON, your example really helped me see how I put in way too many details of what I see in the scene.

And Verla, you explained it in terms I can really wrap my wee-brain around. Thanks for the mentoring.

KatyD, I am definitely going to apply your suggestion and try typing out the text. Great advice.

AnneMarie, Why did you use a poopy word, *** or not? But thanks for the input.

I do have a question for you gals: Do you find it unnerving to let go of the control over how you envision the scene? If I say in my ms "Lorny's dust-kissed face", for instance. I would love it if the illustrator would simple paint a wonderful picture of what I wrote, how I see Lorny. Why is that asking too much?  ::)

Also wanted to mention...  that to my GREAT surprise you gals mentioned one of the agents of whom I spoke! (WILD!) Further, Amber, just yesterday, I had another agent (saying exactly the same thing about yet another ms, that I did not allow enough room for the illustrator, calling it "stationary") request that I keep her in mind if I write a middle-grade in the future. No phone call, but a real incentive to keep going since I just finished chapter 1 of a new one! (So excited!) Maybe I'll have the same ultimate outcome as you!!!

Thanks oodles again!
#14 - April 13, 2012, 02:02 PM
« Last Edit: April 16, 2012, 06:00 AM by Dionna »

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Great question and thread! I'm scribbling notes and inspiration. . .
#15 - April 13, 2012, 02:29 PM
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Nope. I don't find it unnerving. I LOVE to see what the illustrator brings to the text.

I always try to remember to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.

P.S.  Anne Marie--mayhem mayhem mayhem.
#16 - April 13, 2012, 02:53 PM
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I do have a question for you gals: Do you find it unnerving to let go of the control over how you envision the scene? If I say in my ms "Lorny's dust-kissed faced", for instance. I would love it if the illustrator would simple paint a wonderful picture of what I wrote, how I see Lorny. Why is that asking too much?  ::)


No, I find it exciting, not unnerving. 

And I used a poopy word because KatyD needs occasional kicks in the heinie.
#17 - April 13, 2012, 03:08 PM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
SUNNY'S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY (Abrams)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

Hahaha, again! Yes, Katy needs occasional kicks in the heinie.

And I agree with Anne Marie and Tammi--it's SO fun to see what an illustrator adds to the story. The combination of text plus art equals picture book magic. Illustrators are so awesome; we need to trust their vision and what they can add to our stories.
#18 - April 13, 2012, 04:37 PM
ALIENS GET THE SNIFFLES TOO! Candlewick, 2017
LOUD LULA, Two Lions 2015
CALIFORNIA HISTORY FOR KIDS, CRP
FARMER MCPEEPERS Rising Moon

Great, Dionna. Sounds promising!
#19 - April 13, 2012, 04:41 PM
SWAY, 2012 from Disney-Hyperion
CIRCA NOW, 2014 from Disney-Hyperion
http://www.ambermcreeturner.com
https://www.facebook.com/SwayByAmberMcReeTurner

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Hahaha, again! Yes, Katy needs occasional kicks in the heinie.

And I agree with Anne Marie and Tammi--it's SO fun to see what an illustrator adds to the story. The combination of text plus art equals picture book magic. Illustrators are so awesome; we need to trust their vision and what they can add to our stories.

YES,... surrender your ms to the illustrator!  :whiteflag: :whiteflag: :whiteflag: It will be in good hands. :artist1:
#20 - April 13, 2012, 04:43 PM


I always try to remember to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.



 :) I'm taping this above my computer!
#21 - April 13, 2012, 08:37 PM

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I just read The Quiet Book by by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska, and thought this is a great example of what is being discussed in this thread. Stuff is going on in the pictures that is not mentioned in the text, and the text has a complete yet sparse story that is enhanced by the illustrations. Worth a look, IMHO.
#22 - April 14, 2012, 12:39 AM
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What a great thread! I'd also like to add, that though I'm not a professional illustrator, I am very visual.  I'm always picturing the the characters and action as I write.  This helps me keep from describing too much as I write because I say to myself -"The illustration will show that.

Laura
#23 - April 15, 2012, 12:18 PM
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Quote
the text of the picture book is like the straight man, and the pictures are like the punchline.

I LOVE that line! So, I'm "Lewis" to my Authors "Martin":-)

Quote
I would love it if the illustrator would simple paint a wonderful picture of what I wrote, how I see Lorny. Why is that asking too much?
 

I'm not sure if you mean this question literally Dionna? Keep in mind, the illustrations are for the reader, not the Author and, of course, need to be lively/fun. (unless the story is of a more serious, or realistic nature)
I often think it must be a huge leap of faith for an Author to let go of their creation and put it's ultimate future into the hands of someone else. A bit like walking a daughter down the aisle. Will this person really CARE about this story the way "I" do? How could they?
Most times, thankfully, the Illustrator falls in love with the story as much as does the Author.
I remember (not all but bits of) a story of an Author who, while working on her PB, was imagining her characters to be human children. When the manuscript was handed to the Illustrator, she drew all the characters as "Mice". After the Author got over the shock, she fell in love with her story all over again.
#24 - April 16, 2012, 03:35 AM
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Dionna

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Excellent thoughts all!

And yes, ChrisTripp, I really meant it like I said it. (Hiding behind glasses.)  8)

Thanks to all of your motivating thoughts, I'm gonna dive into the deep end of my next pb, though I'm a little nervous, and write like a big-girl author! (I can do this, right?) One. (deep breath) Two. (bigger breath) Three. (lungs full)

GULP!
#25 - April 16, 2012, 05:54 AM

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So glad this question was posed. Though I don't have a problem understanding how NOT to do the illustrator's job in my writing I do have a problem understanding how some books I've read were ever "understood" enough for the illustrator to even grasp what the story was. Don't really want to give examples, but wondering if I'm the only one that scratches head sometimes and, also wondering how those types are submitted with such sparse writing.
Okay, I'll mention one, Yo! Yes?; this is safe to mention because C. R. also illustrated it. It's his story all around, but I've seen others that are not illustrated by the writer and I'm dumbfounded. How is something like that even submitted?
Just wondering,
Carole :shrug:
#26 - April 16, 2012, 01:23 PM

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So glad this question was posed. Though I don't have a problem understanding how NOT to do the illustrator's job in my writing I do have a problem understanding how some books I've read were ever "understood" enough for the illustrator to even grasp what the story was. Don't really want to give examples, but wondering if I'm the only one that scratches head sometimes and, also wondering how those types are submitted with such sparse writing.
Okay, I'll mention one, Yo! Yes?; this is safe to mention because C. R. also illustrated it. It's his story all around, but I've seen others that are not illustrated by the writer and I'm dumbfounded. How is something like that even submitted?
Just wondering,
Carole :shrug:

Illustration notes (written by author), or editorial discussions (between editor or art director and illustrator to discuss concept/direction in greater depth). Lots of development takes place before the book is in print, so it's not as simple as author submitting ms and the illustrator illustrating it. Lots of back and forth, push and pull, wipe on, wipe off.
#27 - April 16, 2012, 01:31 PM

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Illustration notes (written by author), or editorial discussions (between editor or art director and illustrator to discuss concept/direction in greater depth). Lots of development takes place before the book is in print, so it's not as simple as author submitting ms and the illustrator illustrating it. Lots of back and forth, push and pull, wipe on, wipe off.

Thanks for the reply, Salina. You know that doesn't surprise me on one hand, but on the other it goes against everything I've heard. I've heard authors don't even get to talk to the illustrators. Guess nothing is absolute.
And I can certainly see how a sparsely written pb would need a lot of collaboration once it's accepted, but I still don't understand how it gets accepted in the first place, unless one uses lots illustration notes (which I've heard one should not use or at least very sparingly).  For instance, let's pretend that CR did not illustrate Yo! Yes? and let's say he wanted to sub it. How the heck would he do that...lots of illustrative notes? And would it even be seriously read/considered with THAT many notes? Just wondering.

Carole
#28 - April 16, 2012, 04:42 PM

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...but I still don't understand how it gets accepted in the first place, unless one uses lots illustration notes (which I've heard one should not use or at least very sparingly).  For instance, let's pretend that CR did not illustrate Yo! Yes? and let's say he wanted to sub it. How the heck would he do that...lots of illustrative notes? And would it even be seriously read/considered with THAT many notes? Just wondering.
I asked that very question in a writing course I did once, Carole. The response I got was that, generally, only an established writer could get away with submitting a very sparse PB MS with any hope of getting it accepted. The rest of us have to submit something a little more...um...can I say substantial? to show that our writing is worth taking a chance on. I don't mean to underplay how wonderful sparse writing is. It is terrific. I am just relaying the response I got - that a publisher tends to trust sparse writing from writers with successful track records; not relative newbies.
#29 - April 16, 2012, 05:00 PM
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I will add I have not published a picture book yet, but that I have been shopping around a manuscript that requires LOTS of illustration notes, and it has gotten very far in the acquisitions process twice at major houses and neither editor has had a problem with the notes. That said, the notes are there to explain a visual joke (the punchline to my text). I am describing what a character is doing, not what he is wearing or what the setting looks like, etc. So while I think the general rule about avoiding notes is true, there are, as always, exceptions.
#30 - April 16, 2012, 05:12 PM
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