Tuesday, November 1, 2011

PB PROJECT X - The Balance of Text and Art

So PB PROJECT X keeps getting more and more interesting.
After receiving the pdf dummy, I followed in my agent's footsteps and printed up the book on my home printer. I cut out the pages, folded them and pasted them into a tiny booklet. "COOL!" my kids said.

And then something happened.

I opened the book as if I were reading it to a child, and began flipping through the pages. I discovered, to my horror, that my text was not working. In my effort to create this different-sort-of-book I had pared away too much text. Now, it's true that a picture book can have practically no text. I mean, hey, Paul Fleischman, the creator of SIDEWALK CIRCUS (Kevin Hawkes illustrated it) invented a story concept with almost no words. Interesting that you can be the author of a book without using words, and without being the illustrator. He had done it well.

But as I flipped through the pages I realized that my book had worked in manuscript form because my illustration notes were on the sidelines to explain the action. They were supposedly invisible notes to the artist, but we were all inadvertently reading them as part of the story. I figured when the illustrations were there they would take the place of the notes and work in the same way. But illustrations don't work exactly like that. Yes, they depict the action, but there are things words do to describe and clarify a scene that art leaves open to interpretation. My illustrator had done a marvelous job--everybody through so. But after cutting away my illustration notes, the book as a total piece was falling flat. It needed more text.

I waited for my agent to call, because she said she would, and when she did she described the problem exactly. Her comments underscored my thoughts. "I hate to send you back to the drawing board," she said. But I already knew everything she was saying. I was glad that, at least I have come far enough with picture book writing that I'm no longer oblivious to the problems and can figure them out myself. It just takes me a while.

So I spent several days adding text back into the story. I went back to some of my earlier drafts of the manuscript before I had cut away so much text and used those versions as a guide. It was a tightrope walk...not wanting to add too much but also making sure we were now hearing the bones of a story to accompany the pictures.

I submitted the revised manuscript to the illustrator, who was gracious enough to agree to redo the dummy. There were other projects going on so I agreed to wait until November 11th for the revised art. I'm eager to see if now, on VERSION 30, I've got it right.

Version 30 after ten months of work, and I've been obsessed. Students, do you see that writing a picture book is not for sissies?