I'm completely awestruck by author/illustrators. To be able to write amazing stories and skillfully illustrate your imaginings is truly awesome. When I write, I have vivid and clever full color illustrations in my head. When I draw them on paper they just don’t seem as…shall we say…vivid. Thank God for picture book illustrators!
Over the weekend I had the pleasure of looking through some of my kids’ writing assignments. School is just about out and they’ve been bringing home stacks of portfolios, workbooks and the contents of their desks (yikes…). I miss doing the kinds of writing assignments that kids do. There’s always space to draw pictures. In fact, no elementary school story is considered complete without pictures.
After reading through their stories and admiring their art work I’ve decided that one of the most endearing things children offer us adults is their unfiltered artistic expression of the world whether it be words or pictures. They have no self-critic and express their thoughts freely and completely.
At some point though, the picture box disappears and the self-critic may emerge. But the destined artist continues to doodle in the margins, silence the critic, and alas a picture book illustrator is born!
Over the years, I’ve learned how important it is to leave room for the illustrator. For a long time it was difficult for me to understand how someone else could interpret my story and I wrote superfluously as if I needed to guide them. After meeting some brilliant authors and illustrators the concept has finally sunk in. The written story, even if it isn’t theirs, should spark their imagination and they will add depth and beauty that wasn’t previously envisioned.
If you’re working on a story, try illustrating it. No one ever has to see the drawings, but it can provide valuable insight and perspective. Put the picture box back on the writing assignment. Dare to put on an illustrator's hat if only for a moment and see what emerges.
Picture book illustrators, what sage advice can you share about the ways authors can leave room for you?
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
#1 Reading the types of things we write, makes us better writers.
Author Denise Fleming, Agent Alexandra Penfold and Editor Orli Zaravicky each emphasized the importance of reading books in the genre that we write. For picture books, the ReFoReMo challenge is the perfect way to learn how to read and study mentor texts to make our writing better.
Conferences are great for reminding us that we are not alone. I connected with my writing tribe at the NJSCBWI conference just a few days ago, and I was reminded of these 3 essential things.
#2 Revision takes a long time.
You may think you’ve whipped out the perfect story with the first draft, but that is almost never the case. It takes years to craft a beautiful story and even picture books can take ages to perfect. Author Marcie Colleen's forthcoming book, The Adventure of the Penguinaut, wasn't ready for publication until over 2 1/2years after she wrote it.
#3 Patience and persistence are essential.
Writing is a profession that requires submissions and waiting, and rejections and submissions and waiting, and more rejections. Even people like Jane Yolen get rejections. But if we persist, eventually we get good news!!!...followed by submissions, waiting, and rejections and hopefully more good news!
In the middle of all our reading and revision and persistence we need to remember that we are not alone in our reading and revision and persistence. But, as agent and author, John Cusick said: "Don’t try to be normal, because what you’re doing is extraordinary."
Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall, came out December 2013. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer's Rumpus, and Kids are Writers. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her reading a picture book. You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com.
In the dilemma of whether or not to write with an outline, I fall firmly into the skip the outline camp. My plan forms as I write. But before I spend a lot of time on an idea that won’t pan out, I like to know if I’ve got something that will make the leap from idea to viable project. So,
even as I’m trying out a few lines of dialogue between two characters I don’t yet feel I know,
or setting the scene with a description of what’s on stage in my mind’s eye,
or posing a question which I’m answering in a quick scribble (nothing too philosophical or thematic—more the “why is this character running down the street in pajamas” kind of question than "why am I here"),
I’m watching for the indicators that this is that make-the-leap kind of idea. A good idea.
Some ideas can be real toads.
And in case you think this list applies only to novels, I’m going to find picture books to make my examples.
This is what I look for:
Ultimately, no matter the age group, the subject, the text, the story, all are less significant for meaning or “value” than for how well engaged is the reader’s curiosity or sense of humor or experience of fun.
Will he never get out?
Or it’s a wish fulfillment Cinderella story.
Or a wild Indiana Jones type journey.
There are many other possibilities, and the way the story begins suggests which structure will suit.
But it can play with the reader’s expectation of that genre.
Stellaluna makes a good example of the kind of playfulness I’m thinking about. The separation story becomes a lesson in another culture before the reunion occurs (and then another reunion is looked for).
if an idea touches on all these points, you have a winner.
Audrey Couloumbis writes middle grade novels, but reads picture books for her own satisfaction and entertainment. Occasionally she reads poetry. Currently, she is enjoying God Got a Dog, by Cynthia Rylant.
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