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Flavor Text

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 Flavor text is a board game term referring to any writing in the design element that does not impact any strategy or outcome. The most common use is in games that use cards to take actions and often have a witty quote beneath the artwork. Many gamers will ignore this, but some will read the cards in their hand, especially if other players are taking long turns.

 
Many picture books have text with in the illustrations and unless there is a term for it, I would call that flavor text as well. Examples would be a book titles on a shelf or company names on trucks, and puns are often used to play off the story or reference pop culture in some way (in Shark vs. Train there is a moving van that reads A. Fonzarelli Moving Co., being jumped by the shark on the motorcycle, which references the ratings-desperate Happy Days episode when the Fonz jumped a shark tank on a motorcycle, giving rise to the phrase "jumped the shark"). Most people won't take note of this "flavor text", but it might amuse some its intended audience, the adult reader. (also in Shark vs. Train there are many little word bubbles that I imagine would be written by the writer since they are a greater part of the story, so I'm not speaking of those as much)

 
I'm wondering how that flavor text happens. Does the writer include notes as an appendix to the manuscript? Does the editor ask the writer to add some of these jewels? Does the illustrator do that completely on their own? Do illustrators feel they need permission from the "wordsmiths" to add any words to their art?
#1 - December 20, 2013, 07:07 AM

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Hi Mike. I think it can work both ways. Writers may have ideas for inserting extra humor as well as the illustrator. The Christmas cards I illustrated/designed say Bark! The Harold Angels Sing! I knew I didn't spell "Herald" correctly. Each dog has a name tag with the name Harold on it, with the exception of one named Hairold. Another one of my illustrations implies a couple of dogs are traveling to Hollywood in a very large old convertable. The license plate says LANDYOT and the dog on the hood is riding Titanic style off the bow railing, paws outstretched with a scarf trailing in the wind.
 
I really enjoy books  where the illustrations relay much of the humor, some subtle things and some are more blatant. How to Train a Train is one of my new favorites. One book that comes to mind with most of the underlying humor aimed at adults is The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln. I'm pretty sure that one can be classified as a Picture Book for adults as children would not understand most of the humor. Picture books with levels of humor that reach children and sprinkle in items that tickle the inner child of the reading mentor are my favorites.
#2 - December 20, 2013, 10:54 AM
« Last Edit: December 20, 2013, 10:59 AM by Cynthia Kremsner »
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I have flavor text in several of my books. In some cases, I made the suggestions--in others, the illustrator thought of something clever to add.


Either way, I work closely with the illustrator to make sure her/his vision gets included. If s/hereally objects to something (it's happened once or twice) I change it. Pbs are a team effort and I try not to forget that.
#3 - December 20, 2013, 11:32 AM
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Oooh, I love the term "flavor text".  I recently got to see the galleys of upcoming picture book and there is indeed some "flavor text".  There are also some wonderful "flavor illustration bits", illustrative details that add humor and richness to my text, but which were completely envisioned and added by the illustrator to wonderful effect. 
#4 - December 20, 2013, 04:46 PM
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Thanks! I suppose I'll hold off on including flavor text suggestions with a manuscript, as that would probably getting ahead of the process. There is a scene where I would expect dozens of books on shelves, and it occurred to me that an editor would want me to supply titles for those books, so I'm thinking it would be best to just that ready if needed.
#5 - December 24, 2013, 08:16 AM

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