Archives for posts with tag: creative process

Voice as Character

I of III

In many ways voice comes down to character whether we are referring to characters in a story or the author/narrator telling the story. Voice is communication and the desire for connection between people. This connection may be face-to-face or leap over years and miles through reading.

A character’s dialogue and action are guided by back-story, but primarily by her immediate wants or needs of the other characters. If a character has no needs or wants why is she in the story? So…what do we, as writers, want or need from our readers? What does our narrator’s voice reveal about us?

As writers and storytellers our primary “want” is capturing and keeping the attention and emotions of our audience. Even if our desire is to do something supposedly more important than keeping their attention such as teaching them something we need answer this reality: How can you teach or inform anyone unless you have their attention? The vital next question is: What are we doing to achieve that “want” of keeping their attention? Volume? Tone? Attitude?

If we encounter resistance to achieving our want in life, we eventually learn that the best tactic is to try another approach. Then another and another. As picture book writers we want the same toolbox of approaches. And, to always being aware of what our storyteller’s voice reveals about us. Warm? Comical? Demanding? Bossy? Scolding? Condescending? Playful? Challenging? Most of all, is it a voice eager to share an experience with an equal?

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The Right Word

As writers we know the power of the right word. It is a significant part of writing and revising. Still, many of us feel a resistance toward revising or a sense of failure that must be repaired.

Once again the right word can make all the difference. I was at the Bonn International School in Germany last week to help students with their writing. During a visit to Jen Whitman’s second grade class I learned a new right word. Her students do not revise a manuscript. They revisit a manuscript. What a generous difference and shift in perspective that change of word creates.

When we revisit a place we know what we want to see again, what spots or activities weren’t as engaging as expected, and also what new things we’d like to explore. Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to revise a manuscript, and enjoy revisiting it instead.

We Will Survive!

While sales figures for picture books are down and many pundits have proclaimed the picture book to be a thing of the past, I loudly disagree. If you’re reading this I know you also disagree. We all have a friend in Julie Hedlund. If you don’t already know her blog “Write Up My Life,” you’ll be grateful the day you find it.

Julie honored me with the request of writing a guest post this month as part of her 12 X 12 in 12 year-long adventure. You can find my guest post titled “From Flicker to Final Manuscript” at  <www.writeupmylife.com>.

Thank you, Julie.

Illustrators: Responding to the Text

Kevan Atteberry

#1. What elements of a manuscript first capture your attentions? Plot? Language? Imagery? Tone? Sound? Theme?

Kevan

Obviously, all of those things play a part in choosing to accept a manuscript, with a light edge given to Plot and Tone.  The story has to engage me. It must be fun, hopefully funny, and when you finish it feels complete. (And as a note, if the tone is odd or bordering on irreverent, I jump at the opportunity. But even above the elements you list, I think a strong, likable character is the thing that most often says, “Do this!” Though I love most genres of picture books, the ones that stand out for me, the kind I like to illustrate are character-driven. I want characters that endear themselves to the reader. Characters with strong established personalities in the text alone, but that I get to flesh out visually. Maybe add my own traits or peculiarities to.

#2. What elements of a manuscript inspire your choice of style, line, and palette? For example, your illustrations in FRANKIE STEIN, LOTS OF LETTERS, and BOOGIE MONSTER are at once related, yet still different from one another.

Kevan

To be honest, when I am offered a book, the art director or editor has chosen me because of a style they have already seen of mine. In discussion with them, they will reference a sample illustration and let me know that that is why they’ve asked me to illustrate the book. I’ve had editors and art directors make suggestions on both line AND palette. In TICKLE MONSTER, we changed the palette a couple of times because the publisher had a particular vision. I did so reluctantly, but in the end I was certain that they had made the right choice. I LOVE the palette in TICKLE MONSTER and BOOGIE MONSTER—as do others—and give all the credit to the publisher for that decision.

#3. Is there a picture book text that you would love to re-illustrate? What about the text excites you?

Kevan

If you are talking about a picture book text by anyone, hmmm…let me think. The first book that comes to mind in Mercer Mayer’s, ONE MONSTER AFTER ANOTHER. A charming story with lovely, fun illustrations and characters. There is no way I could improve on what Mayer did, but I could have the best time creating my own spin on it. GEORGE by Robert Bright would be fun, too. A sweet story with an endearing protagonist. Jose Arugeo’s LOOK WHAT I CAN DO is a wonderful illustration-dependent picture book that would be hilarious to interpret.  The text is nearly non-existent so I don’t know if this is a good example of what about the text excites me. It really is just the inanity of the two characters and their one-upmanship. And then I’d really love to illustrate a collection. Where the illustrations weren’t linear but rather vignettes. Each illustration standing on it’s own, not linked to the previous or the next illustration—like a collection of nursery rhymes, i.e. Mother Goose.

#4. As an illustrator, what is it that you most want writers to understand about your creative process?

Kevan

Probably that ‘I know what I’m doing.’ And to trust me. I will not ruin their story. I will bring it to life and I will treat it with great respect. But the illustration part is mine. It is my half of our collaboration. I am open to any illustration note that is imperative to the story otherwise it is all up to me. And the editor. I don’t want that to sound standoff-ish, I just want to feel comfortable—have them feel comfortable with me—interpreting their story visually.

 THANK YOU, Kevan, for sharing your thoughts. You can find out more about Kevan’s books and illustrations at:  www.oddisgood.com

Illus. by Kevan Atteberry

Picture Books Referenced Above

FRANKIE STEIN by Lola M. Schaefer. Illus. by Kevan Atteberry. Marshall Cavendish, 2009.

LOTS OF LETTERS by Tish Rabe. Illus. by Kevan Atteberry. Innovative Kids, 2006.

TICKLE MONSTER by Josie Bissett.  Illus. by Kevan Atteberry. Compendium, 2008.

Illustrators: Responding to the Text

Craig Orback

 #1. What elements of a manuscript first capture your attention? Plot? Language? Imagery? Tone? Sound? Theme?

Craig

The easy answer would be to say all of the above, which for me is also true. More specifically though I get a lot of enjoyment from the setting, whether it’s historical or not and also the characters. For my picture books THE CAN MAN and NATURE’S PAINTBOX: A SEASONAL GALLERY OF ART AND VERSE both were set in the present which made for a nice change of pace from my typical historical projects. NATURE’S PAINTBOX does not really have a main character; the four seasons were my main characters. Bringing out the fun distinct elements of each season and letting my imagination run wild was really rewarding. It was also my first time illustrating poetry so that brought its own unique challenges. For the book I worked in pen and ink, pastel, watercolor and oil paint to depict each season. Typically an illustrator works in only one consistent medium for each book. For THE CAN MAN it was very character based and deals with serious and topical subject matter like homelessness and wants versus needs as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Tim lives in the city and comes from a family of limited means. He wants a skateboard for his birthday and decides to earn the money himself. I wanted my visuals to be grounded in reality. Living in Seattle at the time I took visual elements from the city but not in any obvious way then put them in the artwork. Traveling around the city with my camera was great fun.

THE CAN MAN

#2. What elements of a manuscript inspire your choice of style, line, and palette?

For example, your illustrations in PAUL BUNYAN, NATURE’S PAINTBOX and THE CAN MAN are at once related, yet still different from one another.

NATURE'S PAINTBOX

NATURE'S PAINTBOX

NATURE'S PAINTBOX

 Craig

For THE CAN MAN I knew I wanted to work in my usual medium oil to capture the richness and detail of Tim’s life in the city.  Oil painters like Edward Hopper and Wayne Thiebauld among many others were and continue to be an inspiration and I felt that oil paint best captured the urban realism depicted in that story. As I mentioned earlier, in NATURE’S PAINTBOX the poet Patricia Thomas in the text makes comparisons between the seasons and the four different mediums so the decision on what medium to use was made for me. I did however have to practice with pen and ink and pastel, two mediums I hadn’t used much since art school and much earlier. I felt a lot of pressure with that book to make all the different mediums look equal as far as skill level. For PAUL BUNYAN I wanted something flatter and more cartoon like so I worked in acrylic paint and used a lot of line work, which gave me the effect I was looking for. I wanted less realism and a more playful quality.

#3. Is there a picture book text that you would love to re-illustrate? What about the text excites you toward doing this?

Craig

They aren’t really picture books but I love a lot of the classic adventure stories that N.C. Wyeth illustrated a hundred years ago like TREASURE ISLAND, KIDNAPPED, ROBINSON CRUSOE and others. His images are so burned in my brain though it would be pretty hard I think to come up with something new or that wasn’t too influenced by his work. KIDNAPPED is a favorite story I have reread many times. I love the setting of the Scottish Highlands in the 1700’s and the main characters Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour. The tale is so vivid in every way.

#4. As an illustrator, what is it that you most want writers to understand about your creative process?

Craig

That we take these stories to heart very deeply and try really hard to bring them to life visually. Reading them over and over multiple times, acting out scenes in order to help you sketch the characters better and capture their feelings brings the illustrator into this world the author has created. Along with the satisfaction of completing a project I do feel a little bit of sadness and even a mild depression when it comes time to say goodbye to the world the writer created and I immersed myself in. If you’re lucky though another story awaits just around the corner!

THANK YOU, Craig, for sharing your thoughts and reflections. You can find out more about Craig’s work and books at:  http://www.craigorback.com

PAUL BUNYAN

 Picture Books Referenced Above

 THE CAN MAN by Laura E. Williams. Lee & Low, 2010.

NATURE’S PAINTBOX: A SEASONAL GALLERY OF ART AND VERSE by Patricia Thomas. Millbrook Press, 2007.

PAUL BUNYAN adapted by Stephen Krensky. Millbrook Press, 2007.

Illustrators: Responding to the Text

 Julie Paschkis

 #1. What elements of a manuscript first capture your attention? Plot? Language? Imagery? Tone? Sound? Theme?

Language is the first thing that grabs me. But it is hard to pick out any one element; all of the elements work together to create a good story. I respond to a good story first as a reader. When I read something that I want to illustrate I feel a general excitement. I rarely envision specific imagery right away.

I read a text so many times and from so many angles as I am illustrating; I really grow to appreciate a well-written text more and more as I am working on a book.

In your wonderful book WHO PUT THE COOKIES IN THE COOKIE JAR? I responded to the rhythmic qualities of the language and also to the loving message. It felt right to illustrate it in a way that was influenced by the books of my childhood.

2. What elements of a manuscript inspire your choice of style, line, and palette?

For example, your illustrations in THROUGH GEORGIA’S EYES, HERE COMES GRANDMA, and MRS. CHICKEN AND THE HUNGRY CROCODILE are at once related, yet still different from one another.

Before I start drawing at all I let the manuscript percolate in the back of my mind for as long as I can. Gradually I get a sense of what I want the illustrations to look like. It is a combination of intuition and rational decision-making. I will also do research related to the text.

 When I illustrated THROUGH GEORGIA’S EYES I read her biography, looked at lots of her paintings, visited her home in Abiquiu and her museum in Santa Fe before starting any sketches. That was the rational part. But I was still stumped for how to approach it. In Santa Fe I went to the folk art museum and saw some Polish paper cuts and made the intuitive leap to illustrate that book as paper cuts. That way I could honor her paintings without trying to paint a Georgia O’Keeffe; translating the medium allowed me to use her imagery in a way that was still mine.

In HEAD BODY LEGS by Meg Lippert and Won-ldy Paye I wanted bright colors and simple shapes intuitively to echo the simple and funny story. Specifically I was inspired by Asafo Flags of West Africa as a way to approach the storytelling. I continued that style in MRS. CHICKEN and in THE TALKING VEGETABLES.

Asafo flag

HEAD BODY LEGS

In every book I want the pictures to amplify and echo the words. And I want to have fun painting it. I think I have succeeded if the reader can’t imagine the words and the pictures without each other. The words come first in my process.

3.  Is there a picture book text that you would love to re-illustrate? What about the text excites you toward doing this?

I would love to illustrate Peter and the Wolf. I did a poster for NW Sinfonietta a few years ago. I listened to the story and the music while I was working on it. I love them both so much. I would like to illustrate the whole piece.

4.  As an illustrator, what is it that you most want writers to understand about you creative process?

I want the author to write a great manuscript and trust me to bring my best to it. These are the things that make it fun for me to illustrate a manuscript:

*There are wonderful words.

*Something happens – it is easier to illustrate a story than a reverie.

*Not everything is spelled out; there are places for me to use my imagination.

*I think that the same qualities that make a book good to read make it good to illustrate.

THANK YOU, JULIE, for sharing your thoughts. To learn more about Julie, her illustrations, books, paintings, and fabric designs please visit her website:  <www.juliepaschkis.com>

Picture Books Referenced Above

HEAD, BODY, LEGS by Won-Idy Paye & Margaret Lippert, Holt, 2002.

THROUGH GEORGIA’S EYES by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez. Holt, 2006.

WHO PUT THE COOKIES IN THE COOKIE JAR by George Shannon. Holt, TBA.

Illustrators: Responding to the Text

After 100 posts about picture books, I’m yearning to add other voices. I’ve begun to invite illustrators to answer a few questions about how they respond, relate to, and expand a text they didn’t write themselves. In other words, how do illustrators respond to our manuscripts.

Our first illustrator is Richard Jesse Watson.

#1. What elements of a manuscript first capture your attention? Plot? Language? Imagery? Tone? Sound? Theme?

What a clever question, George.  The first thing that captures my attention is the envelope (that is, if it arrives by mail). Things are changing so fast, that the traditional form of mail may be obsolete by the time you get this response. But I’m sure you remember what mail is even though your readers may not.  So, to clarify for you readers of George, I was referring to Medieval Mail, or Snail-Mail, or Analogue Word Transfer, or in other words,  The Hob-Nobbing of Wizards, using paper and ink made from walnuts. .  What was the question? Oh, right, am I intrigued by envelopes?  In a word, yes.  The fact that someone sent me an envelope with yummy words or story, is so exciting.  And the possibility of illustrating those words sends me into a little orbit. An orbit of imaginings.  Ahhh, what might I do with these words?

The tone of the words is what hits me at first.  Does the writer grab me by the…uh,  medulla. Am I intrigued? Is this writing fresh? Not like, Slap!!>>fresh, but original voice fresh. Then the other things follow: Imagery. Sound. Plot. Theme. Etc.

#2. What elements of a manuscript inspire your choice of style, line, and palette?

For example, your illustrations in THE LORD’S PRAYER, THE HIGH RISE GLORIOUS SKITTLE SKAT ROARIOUS SKY PIE ANGEL FOOD CAKE and THE MAGIC RABBIT are at once related, yet still different from one another.

 The final emotional delivery of the manuscript will inspire me to want to illustrate the story or not. As an illustrator, forsooth, even as a reader, I want to be led down a garden path; hopefully one with pretty flowers, and ripe fruit. Some lizards would be cool. Maybe I could be wearing a Davy Crockett hat.  It sure works if you surprise me with your thoughtfully arranged words, maybe startle me!  Amuse me? It does me-the-reader wonders if you can emotionally nudge me, or even wrench me  in some lingering way.  We could also just have fun.  “Good clean fun,” to quote Bill Murray.

But all that to say, a good story will compel me to experiment with medium in some unique way. My goal is to be true to the text but to explore the text and as N. C. Wyeth said, “To paint between the lines.”

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Clement C. Moore

 #3. Is there a picture book text that you would love to re-illustrate? What about the text excites you toward doing this?

I would love a chance to re-illustrate THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf. Actually it is so perfect the way it is. Forget I said anything. Ixnay on the what I saidnay.  But I love the anti-war sentiment, and the idea of letting each person be true to their unique gifting. Hard question to answer because I love so much in literature.  I am currently illustrating The Twenty Third Psalm. I would love to illustrate some Washington Irving, some Edgar Allan Poe.  THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS is a book I have always wanted to illustrate.

#4. As an illustrator, what is it that you most want writers to understand about your creative process?

 That illustrators cry real tears. We bleed. We put our pants on one leg at a time.  We eat turkey one leg at a time.  An illustrator’s job is to create a sub-text to the writer’s text.  A children’s picture book illustrator will be telling HALF of the story. One half, your words, one half, our pictures. It is an intimate collaboration. A perfect marriage of text and art. Or like the bishop says in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, “Mayowage…”

THANK YOU, RICHARD for sharing your thoughts.  For a fascinating look at Richard’s work and life please visit his website: <richardjessewatson.com>

THE MAGIC RABBIT by Richard Jesse Watson

 Picture Books Referenced Above

Moore, Clement C. THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. HarperCollins, 2006.

Watson, Benjamin James. THE BOY WHO WENT APE. Illus. by Richard Jesse Watson. Blue Sky Press, 2008.

Watson, Richard Jesse. THE MAGIC RABBIT. Blue Sky Press, 2005.

Willard, Nancy. THE HIGH RISE GLORIOUS SKITTLE SKAT ROARIOUS SKY PIE ANGEL FOOD CAKE.  Harcourt, 1990.

Picture Books, Pacing & The Vital Tease

III of IV

In PLAYWRITING: THE STRUCTURE OF ACTION Sam Smiley explores three vital elements in revealing a story. The first, exposition or back-story, is more important and useful in plays and novels than brief picture books. However, the second and third, planting and pointing have much to offer the picture book writer.

“Planting”

Smiley explores eight forms of planting, but to simplify we’ll say planting is an item of information that turns out to be significant later in the story.

MY LUCKY DAY by Keiko Kasza includes a plant that’s sly as a fox. Or should we say pig? When a pig knocks on Fox’s door, Fox declares “My lucky day!” Pig attempts to stall his demise by suggesting a bath, getting fattened up, and tenderized with a massage. After Fox collapses from exhaustion from all his related chores Pig runs home declaring, “This must be my lucky day!”  Lucky? Not so fast. Kasza’s clever twist of an ending makes perfect sense thanks to her plant. Pig schemed the entire day. Pig made his lucky day by creating the situation. Next up, Wolf.

Kevin Henkes’ deliciously distilled SHEILA RAE’S PEPPERMINT STICK includes a line that is at once planting and pointing.

“If I had two, I’d give you one,” said Sheila Rae…” as she balances on stool, pillows, and books to keep her candy out of reach.

The fall of the arrogant occurs on the next page when Sheila Rae literary falls to the floor and her peppermint stick breaks in half. She is now forced to keep her to keep her promise. “If I had two” serves as a plant and gives reason for the sharing at the conclusion. It also (with Sheila Rae perched so high) serves as pointer that makes the reader hope for a case of prophecy fulfilled.

 “Pointing”

 Where a “plant” makes the reader think back through the story, a “pointer” sparks the reader to look ahead. It whispers something of interest and related is coming ahead. In other words, anticipation and suspense.

Examples of “pointing” can be found through a manuscript. Marie Bradby’s third and fourth sentence in MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE is a pointer that immediately creates anticipation of an answer.

My stomach rumbles, for we had no morning meal. But it isn’t really a meal I want, though I would not turn one down.

Pointers appear much later in SQUAWK TO THE MOON, LITTLE GOOSE by Edna Mitchell Preston. But they still pull the audience forward with concern and anticipation. After Little Goose is chastised for waking the farmer with a story about a giant sky fox eating the moon:

Little Goose waddled away

   With her head hanging low for shame.

Up the lane

Across the meadow

Back to the pond

With her head hanging low for shame

And she never once looked at the sky.

Preston’s emphasis on not looking up sets the stage for something Little Goose will miss seeing. After “not looking up” ends badly, Little Goose heads home with her head held back and never taking her eye off the moon. Once again, such an absolute can only bring a problem, and the reader senses it coming. Little Goose doesn’t see the Fox till he’s caught her.

Plants and Pointers serve the reader like a classic English butler—indispensable, but rarely noticed. Let’s write like a butler’s butler!

 Books Discussed

MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE by Marie Bradby. Illus. by Chris Soentpiet. Scholastic, 1995.

MY LUCKY DAY by Keiko Kasza. Scholastic, 2003.

PLAYWRITING: THE STRUCTURE OF ACTION by Sam Smiley. Prentice-Hall, 1971.

SHEILA RAE’S PEPPERMINT STICK by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow, 2001.

SQUAWK TO THE MOON, LITTLE GOOSE by Edna Mitchell Preston. Illus. by Barbara Cooney. Viking, 1974.

Working With Our Audience

Photo credit: Steve Stolee

I’ve not written here lately because I’m been spending time with our audience, and helping them find ways to both improve and enjoy their own writing. While I may use different references with children than I do with adults, writing is writing. After a recent visit to Dallas letters from 4th graders let me know we had truly connected through the basics of writing.

 

 

 

 

A video project in Washington state brought key aspects of writing to life in a different way. LISTEN, DRAW & TELL was sponsored by Thrive by Five Washington, The Culture of Literacy Council of Olympic & Kitsap Peninsulas, and Early Learning Coalition. Filming and production were provided by Stolee Communications & The Picture Project.

Now, back to the puzzle and pleasure of writing for children.

Photo credit: Steve Stolee

Go!

“You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.”

Jack London

 As in childhood most of us tend to approach games and new endeavors with “Get ready. Get set. Go!”  But when it comes to writing “getting ready” and “getting set” can easily become a quagmire of avoidance that brings us to a stop.

 Just Go!

“One never knows what one is going to do. One starts a painting and then it becomes something quite different.” Picasso

Write. Doodle with words and ideas. Write without clinging to previous ideas. Write to discover what the writing reveals. Write without fearing a finish line. Write with the playful flow of Bidemmi in Vera Williams’ CHERRIES AND CHERRY PITS. How many stories can grow from a single cherry pit? More and more and more and more.

 

 And Keep Going…

At the “Go!” stage of writing picture books there are no mistakes. Surprises and frustrations, yes. But these offer more opportunities. REGINA’S BIG MISTAKE by Marissa Moss shares this truth as a picture book. The class assignment is to draw a picture of the jungle. As she draws the sun Regina’s crayon slips. It’s ruined! Not true. Her ability to keep going, to keep imagining allows her to created something unique. Everyone else draws the jungle in daylight. Regina’s ruined sun becomes the perfect moon for her distinctive picture of the jungle at night.

Illus. by Marissa Moss

Just like Aesop’s tortoise wins the race through ongoing action, picture books are created in the “Go!” of writing.

 Books Discussed

CHERRIES AND CHERRY PITS by Vera Williams. Greenwillow, 1986.

REGINA’S BIG MISTAKE by Marissa Moss. Houghton, 1990.