Mentorship, Part 1: Kill your Darlings

When I submitted my manuscript for the #PBChat Mentorship program, I thought I had taken the story as far down the road to completion as possible. That is, I’d shown it to a peer critique group, I’d worked on the dummy book for several weeks, and I’d put it in a drawer for several weeks, then taken it out and worked on it, then repeated the process several more times. But what I hadn’t done was show it to an author/illustrator like Brian Lies who has extensive experience both as a professional creator and as a mentor. And that’s exactly what I needed to do!

Brian and I haven’t met online yet, but he’s already given me a wealth of advice in what he called his ‘first thoughts’ – all three pages of them! One of the most valuable tips he gave was to pay attention to the pacing of my story. Once I have the story laid out in dummy book form, it’s not just all about the page turn. There will be fast-moving parts of the story which need the counterpoint of slower passages, and I hadn’t thought much about that aspect at all. Tomie de Paola compared creating picture books with writing, directing and performing an opera or a musical, because you are engaging your audience with language, rhythm, colour, emotion, story and action all at once – so why not music as well? And just as we need quiet passages in a musical performance, so we need comforting pauses in a fast-moving children’s story.

Brian made several excellent suggestions about the positioning of the characters, such as making sure that your hero is not placed so far away in the picture that you can’t see his facial expression, or you can’t empathise with his situation because you aren’t right in there with him. But he also drew attention to the fact that my hero wasn’t really resolving the situation himself – he was getting too many hints from his helpful companion, the Raven. I needed to make the Raven’s character more subtle so that he didn’t just behave like a schoolteacher, but gave Elton the opportunity to work things out on his own.

I ended up pasting my original layout into a giant storyboard which I joined together from four A4 sheets. I took out two scenes that I felt weren’t needed, and added another spread to slow down the action in the first few pages, which then contrasts with the buildup of momentum in the second half of the story. I downloaded a template for this purpose from The first spread represents the cover design, which at the moment I have repeated as the CIPdata/title page spread. The blank pages represent end papers, plus a blank in the middle of the book that needed an extra illustration, to represent the calm before the next disturbing event.

You’ll notice that the animal sounds are very large and a little worrying! Brian suggested I make them less distorted, so a child could read them more easily.

This is how my first storyboard looked.

In my next blog post, I’ll demonstrate what happened after I started applying some more of the changes that Brian suggested.

Published by julia

l love drawing and printmaking. I also love communicating. And I love meeting people who care about these things.

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