Show, don’t tell …

Elaine Forrestal and Winnie Court. Winnie’s favourite picture book is ‘Miss Llewellyn-Jones goes to town’, illustrated by Moira Court.

Professor Louis Labrat has now gone off to the submissions department at Random House, having gone through a major rethink as a result of the work I did with Libby Gleeson on Rottnest. During the rewriting process my Professor, who had been a solitary, work-obsessed character, has developed into a more sociable being and the puppy who had adopted him becomes more actively  involved in the story. A new neighbour, and her baby, have been introduced and the cat, who covets the Professor’s white mice, has been foiled in her attempt to eat them. Strangely enough, most of these new developments happen in the pictures. Apart from one new ‘verse’, the words remain the same.

During the recent judging of the Make Your Own Story Book competition I have been reminded of just how difficult it is, particularly for young writers, to allow the illustrations to tell enough of the story. The annual competition has a picture book section and, on average, half of the overall entries are picture books. Across the four age groups, Pre Primary to Year 8, there are thousands of entries, but only a handful of these young writers actually trust the pictures to tell part of the story. Having just grappled with my own picture book text, I am not surprised by this. In a successful picture book there is a precarious balancing act to be performed. While every single word must be essential to the development of the story, the pictures can have much more freedom to add, embellish and extend the text. Being able to see where pictures and words can complement each other is not an easy task, but it is certainly worth being aware of the power of a picture to add to the action and to tell the story in a more detailed and enjoyable way. There is almost nothing worse than a picture book that is ‘too wordy’. In this year’s MYOSB competition the true picture books were certainly rewarded, so keep trying. It’s only by trying again that you will develop the skills and experience to make those words and pictures work together.

Happy writing – and illustrating.

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