Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Writing so your illustrator won’t hate you (with tips from a pro!).

zap!  manuscripts that will inspire your illustrator If you’re reading this post, you’re probably a writer, and not an illustrator (unless you are an illustrator and are wondering how not to hate yourself?). 

So it’s not your job to draw the pictures for your story.

Sounds basic, but too many authors forget and overstep what they’re supposed to be doing.  On the other hand, there are writers who go too far the other way, and don’t give the illustrator anything to work with.

Let’s look at both these types and figure out how to turn you into the kind of writer your illustrator will love!

The two kinds of boo-boos

writer / illustrator Christine TrippSince I’m not a visual person (as in, when I draw stuff you can’t really tell what it is that I’ve drawn!), I’ve asked illustrator Christine Tripp, a writer and illustrator of over 50 kids’ books, to help me out in giving advice from her own experience of working with a number of authors.

She helped me pinpoint a couple of the things that writers do wrong, specifically, the two directions they can go wrong… either veering in the direction of too much instruction / guidance for their (future) illustrator, or too little.

Too little information

According to Christine, “So many authors, when they first write, show ‘talking heads’ throughout their story.”  You know the type:  “Mom says to child, child says to mom, mom says to child ... and on and on and on :)”

That’s not a story, it’s a conversation.  In fact, if that’s your “story,” your odds of getting picked up by a publisher in the first place aren’t all that great.  Conversations are a great part of any book, but they’re not terribly vivid and hard to draw in the context of a picture book.

The setting doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do need a setting. 

As the writer, you don’t have to draw every detail of where the action takes place, but unless you’re writing a sci-fi tale about heads in jars, you’ll need to set your characters somewhere… hopefully, somewhere interesting.

You don’t need a car chase or battle scene, but you do need some kind of action.

This involves having them do stuff.  You know, like real people do, every single minute of their lives???

If I’m stuck, I like to figure out what my characters can do with their hands while they’re talking.  Are they peeling a potato?  Fidgeting?  Knitting?  Hand movements aren’t the most interesting, but it’s a start.  Think about what their body’s doing while the dialogue is going on.  Are they kicking a ball?  Bleeding out their ears? (Probably not best for a kids’ book, but it sure adds interest…)

I’ll give you an example. 

this kind of writing is a yawn to read and doesn't inspire illustrators...Which of these scenarios is more interesting, and more likely to result in a great illustration?

“You know,” said mom.  “It’s been a while since we went camping.”
“I know,” said Tiffy.  “The tent’s kind of musty.”
“It’ll air out in a few days,” said mom.
“If we make it that long,” Tiffy said.


“You know,” said mom.  “It’s been a while since we went camping.”
Suddenly, a giant mosquito landed right on top of Tiffy's head.  Mom's eyes widened in panic.
“I know,” said Tiffy.  “The tent’s kind of musty.”
“It’ll air out in a few days,” said mom, slowly shuffling closer to Tiffy, trying not to panic the girl.
“If we make it that long,” Tiffy said, wondering why her mom was rolling up that newspaper.
SMACK!  Mom whacked the mosquito, hard.
"Ouch!" yelled Tiffy.

Lots to draw here, right?  In the first example… not so much.

Still – of the two types of errors, Christine prefers to see this first kind.  “Too little… opens up all the possibilities for the Illustration to ‘tell.’” 

So if you’re going to err, err on the side of too little description.  Why?  Well, let’s take a look at the nightmare that happens if you go too far the other way.

Too much information

Here’s the boo-boo Christine says is way more common.  In fact, she’s turned down work from writers for this very reason (writers, are you listening???).

Let’s head back to the campsite one more time.

“You know,” said mom.  “It’s been a while since we went camping.”
Suddenly, a giant hairy mosquito landed right on top of the 3-foot-tall Tiffy's curly blonde hair.  Mom's cerulean eyes widened in panic.
“I know,” said Tiffy.  “This old green tent’s kind of musty.”
“It’ll air out in a few days,” said mom, slowly shuffling closer to Tiffy's left hand, where she held a bag of marshmallows, trying not to scare the freckled girl.
“If we make it that long,” Tiffy said, wondering why her mom was rolling up yesterday's copy of the New York Times.
SMACK!  Mom whacked the mosquito, hard.
"Ouch!" yelled Tiffy, who thought she could see about a dozen stars twirling around her pretty little head.

dizzying the reader - and the illustrator!OUCH!  Says every illustrator ever, when handed a manuscript with this level of detail.  Here, you’ve left no room whatsoever for creativity.  It’s almost like you don’t trust your illustrator… at all.

If there’s too much detail in the manuscript, Christine says, “there would be no real need for art… it would be like repeating yourself… So much description ties your hands, and you become a hired wrist, not an Illustrator.

Why do they make this mistake?  “I think it's because writers have not read enough good picture books, REALLY read them, studied them… They are also very in love with their words (as writers would be:) and just cannot fathom leaving behind the flowery descriptive text.”

It’s a common newbie mistake, she says.  “To the new picture book writer, it just seems very wrong to replace ‘Jenny tossed her long brown hair over her shoulders and with a determined scowl on her freckled face, she dug into the dirt with shovel,’ with ‘Jenny dug a hole.’”

Newbies, I hope you’re listening! 

You’re the writer:  it’s your job to write.  The illustrator’s job is to draw the pictures.  Yes, your words should be colourful and evoke images… but not too many, and not too specific.  Leave a little space to let your illustrator shine!

Help an illustrator out

So what DO illustrators want to see when they crack open your manuscript for the first time???

Christine says, “The first thing that I love to see is, a) humour [she’s Canadian; that’s how we spell it!], and b) action.”

Funny, those are exactly the things that KIDS love to see when they crack open your book for the first time.  Are you giving them what they’re looking for?  Seems to me that if you write your book with kids in mind (and not so much with an eye to how it will be illustrated), you’re probably on the right track.

Thanks, Christine, for your help!  Please, everybody feel free to stop by her site to see what she’s capable of.

1599635763More useful reading on this topic:

Have I forgotten anything?  What are your tips for working with illustrators?  I’d love to hear them!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting headline and also the article. I feel good to read this post.


As always, I love to hear from you.