May 21

Picture Books – Story or Illustrations, Which Comes First?

Picture books While most authors know the answer to the title question, which comes first in picture books, the story or the illustrations, 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.

Being an artist, she 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. The illustrations complement the story. The illustrations enhance the story. It’s not the other way around.

It’s got to be valuable to the story to be in it.

It’s not a good idea to write text in fiction writing just 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 can’t have one or two spreads of unnecessary fluff introducing and describing the characters as well as setting up backstory.

You need to quickly get the reader 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.

A story I read . . .

I recently read a manuscript and the first three spreads were written just to give information and bring irrelevant characters into the story just for the sake of bringing them back from the prior book.

While there were two exciting elements in the middle of the story, it wasn’t enough to carry the story as the last two spreads were also fluff written to ensure the reader knows exactly what the author wants him to know to wrap up the story.

Readers read between the lines, even young readers. You don’t need to spell everything out. Through the action and dialogue they’ll know what they need to know. And with picture books, the illustrations fill in the blanks.

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. Again, fiction writing is about bringing the reader on an engaging and page-turning journey.

While the setting can be an amazing part of a fiction story, characters need to be an actual part of the story to be in it.

Articles on writing for children3 Steps to Querying Publishers and Agents
Balance in Fiction Writing – The Major Elements
Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

Need Help With Your Story

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter and rewriter. I can turn you story into a book you’ll be proud of.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

May 08

The 3 Levels of Picture Books

Children's picture books have three purposes..Children’s picture books have 3 levels or purposes in regard to the reader and purchaser. Think of it as the structure of a house: there’s a basement, a first floor, and often an upper floor.

Level 1: The basement, or Surface Level, is geared toward the youngest reader (or listener if too young to read). This child is able to understand what’s going on. He is engaged by the story. Using a wonderful children’s picture book, Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, the child will think it’s funny that monkeys take the peddler’s caps, put them on their heads and won’t take them off.

Level 2: The first floor, or the Underlying Meaning Level, is for the older children who can understand on a deeper level. At this age, they can realize danger, anger, and a cause and effect scenario. Again, using Caps for Sale, the children should be able to understand that the monkeys are mimicking everything the peddler does, but the peddler doesn’t realize what they’re doing. With this age child, he/she may yell out, “They’re doing what you do!” in an effort to help the peddler.

Level 3: The upper floor, or the Take Away Level, is the value the book holds for the purchaser, usually the parent, grandparent, or teacher. The adult reading the book to the child understands the meaning of the story, what value can be taken away by children. In the case of Caps for Sale, the young child is engaged and understands the monkeys took the peddler’s caps and wouldn’t give them back. The older child is engaged and understands that the peddler is causing the monkeys to act as they are. The value that might be taken away is that our actions create reactions.

I just want to point out that Caps for Sale was first copyrighted in 1940 and renewed in 1967, so there is a great deal of telling in the story. Back then, writing for children used a different structure. The stories were not geared toward today’s short attention span and need for action. But, some stories, such as this one, hold up even through change.

Keep in mind though, in today’s children’s market a writer must take into account that a child is bombarded with media and entertainment. Children’s publishers want showing rather than telling. They also want action right from the beginning of the story. In today’s market it’s the writer’s job to grab the reader quickly.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Creating Conflict in Your Story
Imagery and Your Story
10 Rules for Writing Children’s Stories  

Need Help With Your Story

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700