While most authors know the answer to the title question, whether the story or illustrations come first in picture books, some newbies don’t.
I have a client with a three-book series. This client happens to be an amazing artist and created her story around her illustrations.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll say she visited the pyramids in Egypt.
Using Fred as the protagonist and an example, he was looking for the largest pyramid. He trekked through Egypt and talked about the things he saw on his quest.
Being an artist, the client wants her readers to SEE everything she saw. She wants to incorporate as many tidbits of information about her journey into the story . . . and she wants to do it visually.
This can be great, but when you’re writing a fiction book, it’s ALL about the story. There needs to be full story and character arcs.
The illustrations complement the story. The illustrations enhance the story. It’s not the other way around.
While her primary focus was the illustrations, she did want an engaging and marketable fiction story to go with the illustrations, and after a couple of critiques realized what she created didn’t work.
That’s when she came to me.
I’ve worked from illustrations before. It was another rewrite project, but those illustrations were created for the story. I was able to rewrite the story around them.
With the pyramid client, the illustrations were the focal point. It’s not a good idea to force a story around illustrations.
It’s got to be valuable to the story to be in the story.
It’s not a good idea to write text within a story simply to include scenery, characters, or information you want the reader to be aware of. If they’re not valuable to the story, if they don’t move the story forward, they shouldn’t be in the story.
This is especially true with picture books, even if you’re self-publishing. You may feel you have leeway, but if you want a quality book that you’ll be proud to be the author of, you need to follow the rules of writing for children.
Your story should begin with a problem the protagonist needs to overcome.
You need to quickly get the reader interested enough to care about the protagonist. You need to grab the reader and get her involved. The reader needs to quickly understand what the problem is and be motivated to see how the protagonist works to overcome it or solve it.
So, going back to the title question, the story should be written first then the illustrations should be created to enhance each scene (page or spread).
Side note: If you’re writing a nonfiction book, the text could definitely explain the illustrations. But, not with fiction writing. Fiction writing is about bringing the reader on an engaging and page-turning journey.
Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter and rewriter. I can turn your story into a book you’ll be proud of.
Shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700