By Ishta Mercurio
It’s NaNoWriMo, and even though this is a picture bookers’ blog, and NaNoWriMo is about writing a novel, the “Buckle down and write!” spirit feels like it’s permeated everything. So how about a craft/process post!
My process is long and messy and it involves many many many manymanymanymany drafts and rewrites and scribblings and doodles and dummies. I have a book that I use for picture book manuscripts in process, and it’s full of pages that look like this:
So rather than get into every element of my process, which would make for a really long post, I thought I’d share one thing I do that really helps me when things have progressed far enough that I need to see the whole story at once. This is important for tracking my main character’s emotional arc, tracking the passage of time, checking the pacing of the story, and generally seeing any bumps in the road. Any time I need to do any of those things, I make a thumbnail sketch of the book.
A thumbnail sketch of the book is when you take two pieces of paper and draw a rectangle for each page spread on them, and in each rectangle you very roughly sketch an image of what’s happening on that spread as the story is written now. It’s not a complete representation of the whole scene--rather, it’s a representation of the thing you’re trying to track in this particular moment. So if you’re focusing on your character’s emotional arc, you can just draw emoji faces to represent your character’s emotions.
If you want to track something else at the same time, you can add that element to the spreads. So, for example, the story in SMALL WORLD takes place over many years, so I wanted to simplify the narrative a bit by making sure that the progression of seasons from one spread to the next followed the progression of seasons in real life. I didn’t want to be jumping around from summer to winter to fall. So I used colored pencils to simply color-code the spreads, so I could check that the seasons in which each spread were taking place followed a logical order throughout the book, while I was simultaneously tracking other things like the progression of shapes Nanda encountered throughout the book (from simple to complex) and the progression of geographical concepts throughout the book (from house, to immediate community, to her city, to her county, etc.).
It looked like this:
When you do this, you can see very quickly and easily where you messed up: where you have a winter spread happening in the middle of summer, or an emotional turning point that’s coming too early in the story, or whatever. It’s a really good revision tool.
I hope this has been useful, and I hope it helps some of you move your picture books on to the next stage.
Happy writing, everybody!
Ishta (pronounced EEESH-ta) Mercurio is an author, actor, and lifelong environmental activist. Raised in the US, she has also lived in England and Scotland, and has visited Venice, Italy; Paris, France; and a range of beautiful places all over the United States. One day, she hopes to visit her relatives in Cebu. She now makes her home in Canada, where she homeschools her two sons and films and photographs plants and wildlife, from the tall to the small, in her backyard. Find Ishta at www.ishtamercurio.com or connect with her on twitter at @IshtaWrites.
Her fiction debut, SMALL WORLD (illustrated by Jen Corace), is a STEM-concept picture book that explores a girl's journey of growing up in the world and discovering its beauty and marvel.
By Kristin L. Gray
Like many writers I know, I spent several years (about seven) studying, reading, and writing picture books while my children were young. As luck would have it, though, my longer work was picked up first.
To back up a bit, I took the opening pages of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, what would become my debut middle-grade novel, to two writing conferences for feedback. One was a local SCBWI conference, and the other was the Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Big Sur Writing Conference set in beautiful Big Sur, California. There, I was lucky enough to be assigned to Caryn Wiseman’s roundtable. Caryn simply got Vilonia’s heart and humor from those early pages. That was a huge boost to me as a writer, to have an industry professional connect with my work. I returned home and finished drafting. Thankfully, Caryn still loved the manuscript a WHOLE YEAR later and—joy—connected to my picture book texts. We agreed to work together. To say I was over the moon is an understatement.
But so much of publishing is waiting and more waiting, revising and more revising. This is why it’s a good idea to have projects in various stages, so while you are waiting on notes for one project, you are also drafting something new. I’m still finding this balance, but one of these side projects became my debut picture book, Koala is Not a Bear. This text underwent numerous revisions while I tried to balance the fun animal facts with the fictionalized storyline, and in one frustrated email to my agent, I wrote I wanted to set it on fire.
I’m so glad I didn’t!
And I’m so thankful Sterling Kids loved it enough to publish Koala in May.
If you are new to the writing journey, take heart. You don’t have to travel across the country to meet an agent. The query inbox is alive and well. Just be sure to follow the agency’s guidelines. But if you do have the means and drive to attend a reputable conference, go for it. I was both excited and terrified. I knew no one. But I remembered a quote which stated life expands in proportion to one’s courage. So, I took a deep breath, went, and doors opened. Having just enough courage for the moment and then following through to finish that manuscript were key for me. And when I grow overwhelmed by my current WIP, as I often do, I remember this: I summon that same courage every time I sit at my desk.
It’s worked for me before. It can work again. And it can work for you.
I’m rooting for you.
Find me online at kristinlgray.com or on social media here: