Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My First Picture Book Dummy, Part 2 -Writing

Part 1 - Concept And Inspiration
Part 2 - Writing
Part 3 - Thumbnails
Part 4 - Character Design 
Part 5 - Roughs 
Part 6 - Finals

Last week in part one I wrote about how and why I decided to create my first picture book dummy. So then came the toughest part, the writing.

I knew that since I'm much less confident in my writing than I am in my drawing that it would be best to err on the side of simplicity. One day I might take a shot at wonderful rhyming prose like Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) but it will take a lot of work before I have the chops for that. At this point though, I still only had the idea of a girl having a pet tiger. Where to go from there?

One of my first versions had the set up of a girl asking her mum for a pet tiger, and her mum explaining why that would be a bad idea. Here's an excerpt :

Girl: I want a tiger!
Mum: If I gave you a tiger it would stay up really late to prowl. The tiger would make a huge ruckus and wake up all the babies on the street.
Their mommies and daddies would be so mad. The tiger would go out hunting and eat all of the neighborhood dogs. Their owners would be really sad.

It meandered along those lines and ended with the girl deciding against a pet tiger, and asking for a jellyfish instead. Not bad, but I kept getting stuck. I was having trouble adding in the visual punch that I wanted from the story. The point to me was to show the silliness that would come out of having a pet tiger. So I scrapped everything, put away the word processor, and opened up a spreadsheet.

Don't all great authors use Google spreadsheets?
I understand that a spreadsheet isn't a likely option to turn to for the purpose of writing but it kind of suited me perfectly for this project. I brainstormed what one would need to do with a pet tiger. It was really just analogous to a dog but on a bigger, more intimidating scale. So I filled the cells with all my visual set pieces, feeding, walking, bathing etc.. Then in corresponding cells I plugged in the text that could go with each. Looking back I realize that I must have been influenced by the many educational briefs that I've revived. They're often set up in a similar manner.

I changed the voice to that of an owner's guide, listing the various dos and don'ts of pet tiger ownership. This really helped to develop a contrast between the text and illustration that I really love. This became the books "hook" if you will. I mentioned last post about the influence of Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books. He does a tremendous job of this kind of text/illustration juxtaposition.
Since the book was now shaping into a series of tableaus and less a straight narrative, I could play with the sequence a lot which was easy to do in the spreadsheet.

I considered this to be a base on which to build. Much of the rest of the writing and finessing came in the thumbnailing stage which I'll write about next week. I'll even be providing my own handy resource, so please stay tuned!

Please feel free to comment below about your writing process or connect with me on twitter @marcuscutler.


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