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.