I have always loved the relationship between story and pictures. As a child, I would spend hours poring over picture books. In my teens I discovered the amazing world of graphic novels. At university I studied and learned the techniques of film and animation. This love of story led me to an established career as a visual artist in the film industry, and ultimately to follow my dream of becoming an author/illustrator.
Column by Jami Gigot, author/illustrator of MAE AND THE MOON
(Sept. 2015, Ripple Grove Press). Her book was featured as one of
The Best Children's Books of Fall 2015 by Foreward Reviews. In
addition to making picture books, Jami also works as a visual effects
film artist. Her credits include BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF
JUSTICE (March 2016), AVATAR, and the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA:
PRINCE CASPIAN. She is a member of SCBWI and is currently working
on another picture book with Ripple Grove Press slated for release in
2018. You can see more of her work on her website or follow her on Twitter.
As an author/illustrator I tend to think in pictures. It all starts with some sense of action, some small drama taking place. From that initial spark, a story slowly begins to unfold as a series of images in my mind. It's then that I take pencil to paper. In my process, the images and text are linked from the beginning. I'll have a draft of a manuscript next to character sketches in my sketchbook. I'll have thumbnail storyboards and text written all over the page. It all starts out a little messy in truth, but slowly evolves to be more organized, as I make revisions and work things out.
Here's a few things I think about during the process of creating a picture book. I hope they prove useful food for thought for all the picture book creators out there.
Let the illustrations “write” the story as much as the words.
One of the wonderfully unique qualities of picture books is the harmony they create between the words and images. Picture books are a form of visual storytelling, usually read to a child who cannot yet read for themselves. Therefore, much of the story (or sometimes all of the story) will be told with the pictures. The illustrations will reveal details about the characters, the setting, and the action. It is therefore unnecessary to repeat that information in the text. On revision, I go back and cut out anything that will be “written” with the artwork, and make sure the words augment what the pictures cannot show.
Create a dummy book.
Even if you are not an illustrator, creating a dummy book is incredibly useful. Breaking up the text across the pages of a dummy book helps to give a clear understanding of the overall pacing and rhythm of the story. Reading the story aloud will help to see how it flows. Consider making use of the page turns. Perhaps they can heighten the drama in some way?
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Consider wordless pages.
The first draft of my picture book Mae and the Moon had no wordless pages but in the end, I ended up with four full spreads with only images and no text. I have had many people comment to me about the impact those pages made. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true. Sometimes, you may not need any words at all. Many books that I love have used this technique. Anyone else thinking about wild things swinging from the trees?
Experiment with the story.
There are times when we all just get stuck. If I’m not happy with a story, I try to think about going in a different direction, and try not to force things. How else can the character solve the problem? How can I enrich the plot or add some deeper meaning? It can be overwhelming to think about all the possible ways a story can go, but that exploration can lead to some very interesting twists and turns.
Think like a kid!
I love picture books because they not only inspire children, but bring out the child in adults. And let's face it, anyone that writes or illustrates picture books really is a big kid at heart. Tap into that.
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