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A PB with just dialogue: is it possible?

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Hi everyone,

My name is Stephanie, and I am a new member trying out the Blueboard for the first time.

I am working on a picture book where the protagonist is our stomach. In my book, we find our stomach talking to us and eventually needing our help. I am wondering, is this style of writing acceptable and appropriate (having only dialogue between an inanimate object and the reader)? I believe Mo Willems does a great job at this kind of writing, but am wondering if it is a right fit for the book I am trying to write.

Also, if it is appropriate, how does one properly format their manuscript with all the dialogue?

Thank you for your help in advance!
#1 - July 28, 2016, 09:45 AM

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PBs that are all conversation can be problematic. I'm sure there are some out there, but too often the book winds up being two talking heads (or, in this case, a stomach and a body) and not much else. Can you have the body engage in different activities that the stomach responds to? Try creating a story arc with all the usual elements for your MC and then have the stomach respond at appropriate points. If the reader likes the MC, he might listen better to the stomach's advice. This could be lots of fun. :star2
#2 - July 28, 2016, 01:11 PM

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Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I like the idea of having the stomach responding to the MC at appropriate times.

In my story the stomach has a relationship with the reader through a lot of questions. The reader provokes the stomach and we hear how it responds and reacts. I did this because I like the idea of children asking lots of questions and being curious. We don't always read what the reader is telling or asking the stomach so the only character we hear talking is the stomach. There is a complication and resolution in the story, so I have that going for me I guess.

Thank you again!
#3 - July 28, 2016, 02:03 PM

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This sounds intriguing. Just be sure there's enough for the illustrator to work with. It can't be a talking stomach on every page. :)
#4 - July 28, 2016, 04:30 PM

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Dev Petty's "I Don't Want to Be A Frog" is all dialogue between a Dad and Son Frog. The son frog wishes he were different animals, so the illustrator has that story line to work with and it's not just two talking frogs. It's quite cute!
#5 - July 28, 2016, 05:13 PM

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That is true about "I Don't Want to Be A Frog" and the dialogue. Thank you for sharing that!

When you write a book like that, how does the manuscript look? Does it look like this (just making some dialogue up here)?

I don't want to be a frog.
Why not?
I just don't!
That's too bad, you're a great frog.


I know for longer stories you write paragraphs, but with one or two simple sentences on each page, do you really need the paragraphs or do you format it like I did above?

Because I'm still learning how to format letters and manuscripts I thought I would ask and see what you all thought. This is another question I'm still trying to find an answer to.

#6 - July 28, 2016, 05:28 PM

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I would write it like :

(Speech bubble, little frog) I don't want to ba a frog!
(Speech bubble, big frog) Why not?

If it is all dialogue with no narrative blocks, after establishing it's a back and forth dialogue you could probably just keep going like :

(Little frog) I just don't.
(Big frog) That's too bad.

Etc...

Also, because it's all dialogue, you might need an art note here and there for clarification. These are not meant to dictate to the illustrator, just so whoever is reading your ms can understand the narrative.

I hope that helps!
#7 - July 28, 2016, 05:38 PM
THIS LITTLE PIGGY (AN OWNER'S MANUAL), Aladdin PIX June 2017 :pigsnort
KUNG POW CHICKEN 1-4, Scholastic 2014 :chicken

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I have been submitting one that is all dialogue as well. I was given advice, when I took a writing course several years ago, to use different font for each character. So one I use Times New Roman, Bold, for one character, and the other Arial. I've gotten personalized, positive feedback on this story and no one has complained about the way I submitted it, so I am assuming it's working OK!

Good Luck!
#8 - July 28, 2016, 05:44 PM

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Also see this thread on formatting mss. https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=79695.msg1000135#msg1000135

Dk, most editors and agents are very nice people and as long as your ms is readable they probably won't complain. But I don't recommend using two fonts in one ms. It looks less clean, is harder to read (Arial is sans serif and times is serif, and serif is much easier for humans to read) and if you choose a font someone else doesn't have it might replace it with something that really doesn't work.

#9 - July 28, 2016, 05:54 PM
THIS LITTLE PIGGY (AN OWNER'S MANUAL), Aladdin PIX June 2017 :pigsnort
KUNG POW CHICKEN 1-4, Scholastic 2014 :chicken

http://cyndimarko.com
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I love the book The Monster at the End of the Book, in which Grover addresses the reader. This is a really well told story. It is as if Grover is having a conversation with the reader, so all told in second person. Perhaps that's what you're aiming for--the stomach addressing the reader as if it's his or her stomach. I think that's a great idea!
#10 - July 28, 2016, 06:49 PM
« Last Edit: July 28, 2016, 06:55 PM by Dionna »

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In my opinion, I think it is fine to format it as plain text, with the two individuals speaking, each having their own par and within quotation mark. Editors and agents will get it.

Like in Go, Dog, Go

"Hello."
"Hello."
"Do you like my hat?"
"I do not like your hat."
#11 - July 28, 2016, 06:54 PM

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Good points Artemesia and Dionna. Thanks for your responses!
#12 - July 28, 2016, 07:01 PM

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Thank you everyone for your help! It is much appreciated. After reading The Monster at the End of the Book, I can say that is definitely what I'm aiming for. I am looking forward to having someone edit my manuscript.
#13 - July 28, 2016, 07:09 PM

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Oh I love The Monster At The End Of This Book!! And it's such a fun read aloud!!

Good luck, Stephanie!!

And we have crit boards here, both for private crits and for posting your ms if you are looking for feedback.
#14 - July 28, 2016, 07:14 PM
THIS LITTLE PIGGY (AN OWNER'S MANUAL), Aladdin PIX June 2017 :pigsnort
KUNG POW CHICKEN 1-4, Scholastic 2014 :chicken

http://cyndimarko.com
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Dionna

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Yes, best wishes! :dogwalk
#15 - July 28, 2016, 07:25 PM

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Take a look at Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood. Very sly.

I don't know how she subbed the ms. but it's typical to have proper punctuation in your text only format (with art notes if you need them). The AD will have a lot to say about how the text will finally appear, whether it's a letter or a speech bubble or just regular text.

There's also a magazine story about a Heart talking to 'Hey you' ... there are only a couple of illustrations but I can also visualize it with many illustrations, each spread devoted to one aspect of how the heart works.

Good luck with your story.
#16 - July 29, 2016, 06:16 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
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I'm so glad you've gotten suggestions of books to read that do what you are trying to do. Nothing like having a good example to learn from. I love innovating concepts and wish you all the best with your ms.  :stars3
#17 - July 29, 2016, 08:26 AM

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I am glad I decided to create a post here! It's really helpful starting out new to have people to talk to you that are genuinely trying to help and that are interested in your project. Some day I will return the favor!
#18 - July 29, 2016, 08:54 AM

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I am glad I decided to create a post here! It's really helpful starting out new to have people to talk to you that are genuinely trying to help and that are interested in your project. Some day I will return the favor!

I love this! This is what our community is built on. That's why I'm an admin now. I came here as a totally green, starry-eyed newbie. I learned so much about craft and the industry and wanted to return the favor!
#19 - July 29, 2016, 12:16 PM
THIS LITTLE PIGGY (AN OWNER'S MANUAL), Aladdin PIX June 2017 :pigsnort
KUNG POW CHICKEN 1-4, Scholastic 2014 :chicken

http://cyndimarko.com
@cynmarko

Dev Petty's "I Don't Want to Be A Frog" is all dialogue between a Dad and Son Frog. The son frog wishes he were different animals, so the illustrator has that story line to work with and it's not just two talking frogs. It's quite cute!

Generally, the idea of illustrating a conversation is to do imaginative illustrations of what they're saying, as they're saying it, and what they're talking ABOUT.
Showing "what they're thinking" is something you can't do in a TV or movie dialogue scene, but is a perfectly abstract thing to put into a PB illustration.
#20 - July 29, 2016, 02:37 PM
Know the movies.  Show the movies.  Start the revolution:
http://movieactivist.blogspot.com

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My book ROAR! was done totally in dialogue. This is how I formatted it:

Boy: Look at me, look at me! I’m a big dragon. ROAR.

Boy Dragon: No, you’re not.

Boy:  Am too. I totally tower over that guy.

Girl Dragon:  That guy? He's a cat. Everybody towers over him.

Boy: *sigh*

Boy:  Look at me, look at me! I’m a scary dragon. ROAR.

Boy Dragon:  No, you’re not.

Boy: Hmph. I am toothy and I am fierce. See?

Girl Dragon:  Actually, you are cute. Really cute.
#21 - July 29, 2016, 04:47 PM
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Quote
Generally, the idea of illustrating a conversation is to do imaginative illustrations of what they're saying, as they're saying it, and what they're talking ABOUT.
Showing "what they're thinking" is something you can't do in a TV or movie dialogue scene, but is a perfectly abstract thing to put into a PB illustration.

I am glad to hear this is acceptable in a PB. I was afraid my idea was too abstract and would just a book filled with pictures of a stomach. But now that I read my manuscript, I imagine different scenes being illustrated. For instance, I see illustrations of the person the stomach is inside of doing various activities the stomach mentions.

Thank you Tammi for sharing your formatting. It is helpful to see these examples that relate to what I'm trying to accomplish. I think the only difference between mine and everyone else's is that I do not have to label each sentence because the stomach is the only character talking. Is that correct?
#22 - July 29, 2016, 06:17 PM

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If just one character is doing all the talking and telling the entire story, then yeah, it's not really in dialog. I think you would just write it as straight text. I'm trying to think of an example...

I just read President Squid by Aaron Reynolds (Author) and Sara Varon (Illustrator); it is mostly just a story told by Squid, but there are a couple pages where a fish speaks back in an illustrated speech bubble.
#23 - July 29, 2016, 08:32 PM
BLACKOUT -- available now
DESERTED -- available now
SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now
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I've also formatted the way Tammi has. But if only one person is talking, it may really be narration in the present tense. A lot of narration sounds like dialog. I think Mo Willem's Pigeon books are all dialog, but I can't remember for sure how many speakers there are.
#24 - July 31, 2016, 09:46 PM
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It sounds like an interesting book. Is it NF?

I'd format the ms the same way Tammi did.

A while back, I started a thread here on picture books that are conversations. There were lots of suggestions. Maybe some of them could help you envision how your book could work.

https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=80012.msg1004570#msg1004570
#25 - August 07, 2016, 09:32 PM
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Sorry for the late reply. I am a teacher and I catch up on my personal life on the weekends. :)

I am not sure whether to categorize it as Non-fiction or fiction now that you mention it. It has a talking stomach but it does correctly explain how a stomach helps you digest food. What do you think you would categorize it as?

Thank you also for sharing your thread! It is very helpful.
#26 - August 14, 2016, 07:58 AM

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I am not sure whether to categorize it as Non-fiction or fiction now that you mention it. It has a talking stomach but it does correctly explain how a stomach helps you digest food. What do you think you would categorize it as?

I think this would depend on the text/story and how it's written. I haven't written any NF myself, so I'm hoping some NF writers will jump in and answer that question.

#27 - August 14, 2016, 11:33 AM
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It does depend on how it's written. A talking stomach may be fine, but if it goes out for a walk, not so much. It also depends on the age group. For the youngest readers, it is more likely to read as nonfiction, like Elmo's Visit to the Firehouse. The info is real even if Elmo isn't.
#28 - August 15, 2016, 07:05 AM
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I really don't care for them, primarily because pbs are read-alouds and I think some kids find dialogue-only, with no dialogue tags, to be confusing.  That said, I'm willing to pass this along. :)

http://picturebookbuilders.com/2016/09/hey-coach-and-the-dialogue-only-challenge-plus-giveaway/
#29 - September 06, 2016, 05:17 AM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
SUNNY'S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY (Abrams)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

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Thanks, all, for great discussion. Itoo have an all-dialogue PB and you've given me many possibilities.
#30 - October 12, 2016, 08:36 AM
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