Picture Book Writing: How Much Detail

galoshesRecently I read a blog post by agent Heather Alexander on whether or not to include illustration notes in your picture book manuscript.  In short, her answer is NO.

Yes, there are times that it is okay but most often the answer is NO.  Why is this? Because for the most part illustration notes are the author’s attempt to take over the illustrator’s job.  What color is Becca’s dress?  Not your problem.  What type of shoes does she wear?  Not your problem.  Back pack?  Not your (can you fill in the blank?).

The reality is that these details fall under the control of the illustrator unless they somehow impact the story.  And the truth is that most often they don’t.

One of the biggest problems that writers have is writing too much into a story.  When we do this, we don’t leave room for the reader to explore and stretch and make the story her own.  For more on this, you can read my post today at the Muffin.

Picture books are a bit trickier than your average novel or short story because we also need to leave room for the illustrator.  That means that you don’t need to include visual details.  The beauty of this is that when you  are writing a picture book you can reserve your precious word count for the details that are truly up to you, the writer.

Don’t tell us that Becca’s galoshes are yellow.  Tell us about the sound they make when she stomps in a puddle. Tell us how they smelled new out of the box.

Tell us why they matter to the story.  I’m not telling you to write Becca loved her galoshes more than anything in the world. Instead, give us the kind of detail that helps us reach the conclusion ourselves.  Becca wore her galoshes to school.  She wore her galoshes to bed.  She even wore them in the shower.  

No illustrations notes required and you’ve left room for your reader to come to her own conclusions about Becca and her galoshes.