Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Pinning it down

 The wonderful, generous illustrator, author and teacher Pat Cummings came to stay with me in Senlis earlier this month.  She and I had fun working together, sharing our pictures and experiences of US, UK and French children's books, publishing and teaching.  And we gave a joint 5 hour workshop for Parsons Paris art students and SCBWI France and Germany members called

Shaping a Picture Book and Shaping Character.

We showed a lot of pictures but mostly it was about writing it all out. 
When drawing can tend to flutter about or meander from one tempting squiggle to another,  words are like pins.   Straight, sharp and effective.

We gave a brief advance assignment for part of the workshop:

  • up to 50 words  describing one character of your choice.
  • up to 50 words  describing the setting your character inhabits.
  • up to 50 words  describing a conflict, predicament, or obstacle your character has to confront.
People used this checklist to look over each other's assignments and pin down a character-led picture book structure that could work:
  1.   Whose story is it?
  2.   Does character description fit the story?
  3.   Are the emotions clear?  (language, eye-contact, gesture)
  4.   How are relationships between characters shown  (visual tools, actions, dialogue )
  5.   Is the character's behaviour logical for his/her age and situation?
  6.   How would the character resolve his/her own problem?
  7.   Why do we care?
We ended with another checklist, the final HOT SEAT checklist, in the hunt for that shiver-of-delight picture book ending, rare even in published books. 
  1. Is the outcome consistent with the character?
  2. Is it truly surprising?   (I’m Coming to Get You! by Tony Ross is a perfect example of a surprise that works - in this case an unexpected change of scale...)
  3. Has the character grown or changed?
  4. Is the conclusion truly satisfying?
Ah yes, editing and endings.  
Cutting down to essentials feels easy in the shared energy of a workshop.  

So much harder to stay on track back home with distractions on and off screen.   
 Here's one worthwhile distraction about just this problem, from UK writer Meg Rosoff: