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.
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: 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