Picture Books: Leaving Room for the Illustrations

illustrationFor those of us who write but don’t illustrate, part of the balance we need to achieve is writing a story that leaves space for the illustrations.  I knew better than to include specific character descriptions or clothing descriptions.  After all, unless the story depends on the character’s bright red hair, that’s the sort of detail that you can leave to the illustrator.

What I hadn’t considered was minimizing how much information I give about specific character actions and how my character gets from point A to point B.  Then I read Fred Koehler’s post, Writing Between the Lines.  Fred is the illustrator of One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich which just one a Boston Globe Horn Book Award.

One spread has the words “One day I took a bath.”  Yes, the last illustration shows the character in the tub but before she gets there she uses her boot to shelter a flower, slips into a mud puddle, has wind-blown leaves stick to the mud and that’s why she needs the bath.  But the text doesn’t detail what led to the bath.  Koehler got to play.

Koehler’s recommendation is to imagine an omniscient narrator who tells the story in your head.  He also recommends that you imagine either the voice of Sean Connery or Morgan Freeman but I think Judy Dench would be a better match for my story.  Any who, imagine this voice narrating the heart of the story.

Yes, write the scene with all the words that you need to get it down and then rewrite it including only this heart.  This is something that I’m going to try with my fiction picture book in progress.  It isn’t going to be easy to give the illustrator so much room to play but it will be worth it if, by giving the illustrator space, I can entice an editor to pick up the project.


PS. A special thank you to Lee Wind who pointed Fred’s blog post out to SCBWI members.