3 Ways to Slow Things Down: Picture Book Pacing

In addition to being an agent, Tracy is the author of Chicken Wants a Nap.

Yesterday I read Tracy Marchini’s e-mail newsletter, The Quacktory. In it, she wrote about the function of picture book page turns. Marchini wrote about how page turns do three things. They indicate the passage of time (and then this happened). The allow for humor and surprise after the page turn. And they control pacing. You can read a version of her article here on Cynsations.

I may have had other things to do yesterday, but I found myself considering picture book pacing. The example that Marchini gave involved a two-page spread with a character illustrated to take up almost an entire page (cow), looking away from the page turn. The character in question is looking at a character on the previous page (chicken). The reader is thus encouraged to also look at the character for a moment. That slows things down.

Two-page Spreads

Creating two-page spreads in your story is a great way to slow things down. Single page spreads are fast reads. After all, with text and illustration on one page, there is only so much room for text. Read. Read. Turn. Read. Read. Turn. Things move along at a steady pace.

A two-page spread is panoramic. It gives the illustrator more space to create a vast image, an image that can invite the reader to linger and drink it all in.

Pages that Fold Out

There is probably a spiffy name for these special two-page spreads but these are spreads where two pages just are not enough. Instead, the pages fold open to create an even larger expanse. Suddenly the spread is up to twice as wide or as tall as usual. The illustrator and the writer have even more space to play.

Not only does this invite the reader to linger, but manipulating the pages slows the reading experience down as well. Pages must be unfolded, opening the book up. Then they must be folded back in.

Turning the Book

One last way that the book designer and the illustrator can slow things down is by changing the orientation of the book. This often accompanies pages that fold out. The reader is enjoying a book that, when opened, is wider than it is tall.

Suddently they turn the page to discover that to see things correctly, they need to open the book. Now it is very tall indeed.

And again, this takes time.

You might be tempted to think that all of this is in the hands of the illustrator or the art director. But think about it in terms of story. You are writing about a journey through the woods. Then you write, “Before them opened a vast valley.” That begs for a two page spread or even a fold out.

If you had written, “The tree was taller than a building. It reached up among the clouds,” that might require you to turn the book to see this amazing tree. Give the illustrator a reason to slow things down. Picture books are, after all, a marriage between text and illustration.

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–SueBE