Let’s design a picture book like we would plan a movie!
Imagine a group of writers and the director huddled together in a brainstorming session. They’ve got a great script and filming needs to begin. But they need a plan. Out comes the storyboard so they can plan the scenes. Each scene with it’s setting, dialogue, and action needs to logically and seamlessly flow into the next scene in order to carry the story along. It can’t move too fast, or the viewer will get lost or confused. If it goes too slow they’ll have a theater full of sleeping people who won’t be coming to see their next film when it comes out. So the sequence of scenes needs to be planned carefully to move the story along and keep the viewer anticipating what will come next.
It’s the same thing in a picture book ... write it, draw it, plan it to keep your reader engaged and anticipating what will come next ... make them want to turn that page!
We need to visualize how a reader will see the pages – 2 pages, side-by-side in an open book are called a “spread”. So get some poster paper out and make a storyboard by drawing out the number of spreads you want. Remember to allow for extra pages like the title and dedication pages, publishers information page, bio pages for the author and/or illustrator, etc. Most of the time the actual story will begin on a single right-hand page, then a series of 2-page spreads will follow, and then it may end on either the last spread of the book, or the last single left-hand page. Laying out the story will help you determine how many pages your book requires.
Note: depending on how the printed book will be produced, there may be constraints on page counts. You may need a page count in multiples of 2, 4 or 8. See my article, Producing Your Book – Part 1, in the Freebies section for more detailed info on that.
So grab some scissors, tape, and a copy of the manuscript that can be cut up. And by the way, this is a process that both the writer and/or the illustrator needs to be involved in. I personally like to initially do it “cold” and on my own without the writer’s input. And then I let the writer share their thoughts, and we compare notes and adjust until both are satisfied with the layout. So keep the lines of communication open between the two of you.
Read the story out loud. Just like when writing you can “hear” the natural places to put commas and periods, you will be able to “hear” where the natural page breaks should be.
Cut up the manuscript into the broken-up sections and place them on the storyboard. Some spreads will require typed copy and an illustration on both pages. Some spreads will require typed copy in only one area, and a full illustration will fill both pages. See if they fill up the number of pages you need ... you will likely need to adjust a bit. If you’re the writer doing this alone, just make yourself notes as to what you see happening in the illustrations. If you’ve got the illustrator there with you, of course you can collaborate.
Tape down all the typed copy and step back. Give your proposed book a good, honest, objective critique. Be the reader, and ask yourself these questions:
- Are the opening page and opening lines of this story inviting? Do they make me want to turn that first page and go on this journey?
- Do the following pages, copy and pictures, engage me in such away that I will continue turning the pages?
- And how about the ending? Was the journey worthwhile? Or did this author and illustrator disappoint me?.......
Yikes! That last question was rattling! Next week, we’ll discuss some page-turning tips and that all-important ending ...