Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Dig Deeper: Connecting to Characters and Voice

Making your characters believable and relatable and your voice engaging takes more than surface-level details.

Let's take an example of a surface-level voice/detail and Dig Deeper:

I love flip flops. I wear them all the time.

They’re comfortable.

Why? Why does that matter?
Comfort is way more important to me than looking posh.

I don’t care what others think about my looks.

It’s not important.

What is important?
Family. Getting things done. I don’t need to spend a million years on my looks; I have too much to do.

Using these answers, re-write the sentence:

I throw my flops on; no need to spend a million years on my looks. Who cares what others think – I’ve got too much to do.

See the difference? Having dug into my character's statement, I scratched the surface to find out motivation, perspective, attitude...voice! I've taken a fairly common and bland statement and transformed it into an engaging voice.

Let your character talk to you. Had I gone even farther with my questioning, I might have hit on some internal flaws, internal motivations, fears...the deeper you go, the deeper the connection.

If you're struggling to make an emotional scene really punch hard, or trying to find that authentic voice, take some time to Dig Deeper.

An exercise in digging deeper:

  1. Find three places in your first chapter where you tell us something your character likes or is feeling.
  2. Ask "why" (and/or why-questions) a minimum of six times.
  3. Use the answers to re-write the original sentence.

Feel free to share before and after versions in the comments. I'd love to see them!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thinking Visually

In novels, you're constantly told to show not tell. In picture books, this works a little differently, because the show is done as a partnership with the one who tells.

Illustration shows us: emotion, physical characteristics, detail
It is your MAP: what do you see?

Text tells us: context, direction
It is your GUIDE: where are you going?

Let's look at a few examples:

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

What can be shown in illustrations that you don’t need to say?

The text has given us the context: Penelope is nervous. She's starting school. It's important to know if they'll be like her (how many teeth will they have)? The illustrations show us: the emotion/what nervous looks like, that she REALLY cares about and loves school and friends, because she's been practicing - she has her own table of dinosaur friends pulled up next to her writing board, implying she's used to being alone/with her pretend friends - it deepens the emotional layers and context that the text provided.

Think back to your MAP and your GUIDE: what do you SEE vs. what are you TOLD

Here's another example:

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

The text tells the illustrator what direction to go in for these pages without telling her HOW to illustrate the pages; we aren't TOLD what his "tusk" being different means - we can see that. We aren't TOLD what it means they have different taste in food - we can see that. We aren't TOLD how he's a bad swimmer - we (very adorably) can see that with the ingenious use of floaties. And what's more, we aren't TOLD that his family loves and protects and accepts him anyway - but we can SEE that in the way they are surrounding him in a circle, soft smiles on encouraging faces.

Art notes should be used sparingly; think short and simple sentences. If you have multiple complex sentences, descriptive elements, have crafted the text so that you can see the image in your mind's eye...pare it back! The role of the author is to inspire the artist, to provide the artist with possibility, while giving direction.

So yes: this means, if you're the text author...you should tell not show!

Other considerations when thinking visually:

Is there room for dynamic illustration? 

Think about scene and perspective; would each potential spread in your story be in the same space? Would they look relatively the same? Is there room for an illustrator to give spot art, full spreads, motion, creative energy, different perspectives - a variety of art? The book needs to be visually stimulating to capture attention; if you haven't left room for dynamic illustration, you've limited the visual possibility.

Does it work in a traditional 32-page picture book?

Use a storyboard (red text mine):

In your text, place spaces between lines to denote potential pages. Is your conflict occurring around pg. 7, your climax around pg. 28? 

Do you have "page-turn"?

Does your text invite the reader to turn the next page? Do you wonder, what comes next? Look at the examples above: you know you've just started this story. You've been given the conflict...what happens next?

You can use punctuation to leave room for page turn, too. For example:

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean and Eric Litwin 

Mind your P's!

Provide possibility.