Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How the Picture Book Gets Its Pictures

I just got a sneak peek at color comps for the illustrations for my latest picture book -- Big Cat, Little Kitty (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2011). I can't show the images here, but I thought I'd offer a few comments on the whole "children's picture book process." (I can show you a preliminary sketch of the cover art, which is also posted on Sylvan Dell's web site.)

When I do library and school visits, adults in the audience are usually surprised to learn that authors of picture books almost never choose their own illustrator, nor do we have any input into who is chosen or what the illustrations should show (other than what we provided in the manuscript itself). An editor at the publishing house that accepts the manuscript is responsible for choosing the illustrator and working with that illustrator to create a finished book.

Why is this?

Well, first of all, editors at publishing houses receive and are familiar with countless portfolios from illustrators. Although I suppose there are authors who have access to illustrator portfolios, I doubt many of them are acquainted with the styles of as many illustrators as the average editor. From this vast storehouse, an editor can choose an illustration style that fits his or her own vision for the book.

Secondly, an editor typically has more experience than the average author in the art of matching illustrations and text, working with illustrators, and keeping the bigger picture (or picture book) in mind.

An author-illustrator (one who both writes and illustrates a book) is in a different category, of course.  

When I do book signings or author appearances with my picture book One Wolf Howls (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2009) I hear a lot of comments on how perfectly the illustrations complement the text. People assume that Susan Detwiler, the illustrator, and I sat down right next to each other and put everything together.

Nope. But a great editor (like Donna German) and illustrator (like Susan Detwiler) can make it seem like that's what took place.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thank you, Faith Hunter!

Like most writers, I have had the "Show Don't Tell" mantra pulsing in my brain for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it intertwines with the lyrics to the song "Show Me"  from the musical My Fair Lady.

I can't even read a published novel without periodically exclaiming (usually silently): "Hey, that's a lot of telling instead of showing! How come the author got away with that? Who published this book?!?!"

Recently I came across an article by fantasy author Faith Hunter called "Show, Don't Tell -- Conveying Emotion." It's one of the most useful articles I have seen so far on the subject, especially given that I'm writing a fantasy novel at the moment!

Faith points out that not only do we need to "show, not tell," we need to avoid using worn-out phrases or crutches to do so. She gives examples of crutches, including:

  • "She chewed her lips."
  • "He shuffled his feet."
  • "He sighed."

Faith then proceeds to give an example of a "Bad Scene with too much telling" and a "Better scene," after which she breaks down that "Better scene," explaining why it's better.

What I'm going to do here is quote a list that Faith provided in answer to one of the comments on the article. I will preface the list with the following quotes from Faith:

"Anything done to excess becomes a crutch."

"A good writer never uses just one device at a time, or one part of a scene for only one purpose. A good writer blends them to create a total that is much more than the sum of the parts."

And now, the list.

"Emotion can be demonstrated with:

  • Physical stage direction
  • Dialogue
  • Things happening in the same scene but which are not actually a part of the main action
  • Inner monologue
  • Narrative
  • Dialogue at cross purposes" *
* Two characters discuss two different things, but neither realizes that.

I encourage you to read the entire article HERE . And while you're at it, check out the whole Magical Words site!

Monday, June 14, 2010

What's in a Name?

As a reader...

... I like a character's name to either be "fitting" (it suits the character somehow) or deliberately ill-fitting (for example, an ugly person named Beauty). 

... I don't like characters with similar names (for example, Henry and Harry). 

... I'm also getting pretty tired of female main characters being given traditionally male names. I guess this is supposed to suggest that they are in touch with their masculine side? Or maybe it's supposed to attract male readers?

Fellow Readers: 
Do the names of the characters in books matter to you?
Do you have any pet peeves about the way authors name characters? 
Should a character's name somehow reflect or relate to his or her personality or purpose in the book?

As a writer...

... I use a lot of different sources for names, and I do try to choose "suitable" names. 

... I also try to avoid using the same initial letter for more than two characters' names, especially if they are prominent characters.

Fellow Writers:
How do you name your characters? 
What tips, tricks, or techniques have you learned about naming characters?
What sources do you use?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Warding off those evil vibes

As writers, we are bombarded with reasons why our work won't/can't make it. Our heads become filled with so many "musts" and "shouldn'ts" that we second-guess ourselves at every turn. It isn't pretty.

Sometimes I just have to sit myself down (well, usually I'm already sitting down) and ask myself: "Do you WANT to write this, or not?" If yes, just do it. If not, don't. Write something else. Or don't write at all. Go find something else to do.

It's sort of a "tough love" approach I guess.

So, fellow writers, what do you do to ward off the evil vibes and banish the clouds of pessimism? Let me know!

Meanwhile, I'll be reading a bit of writing advice from George Orwell: