Isn’t it fun to hone and revise your hilarious dialogue in your manuscript until it’s just perfect? To give your character another tiny quirk that makes them that much more them? To make sure every little word is important and cut each unnecessary one?
I love details, but they can drag me down too soon.
Most of us have truckloads of ideas now that PiBoIdMo is over. We want to jump into the tastiest one and get writing!
That can be a wonderful way to write a first draft. Find an idea you love for a picture book and jump in headlong. Let the joy of doing your craft show!
But then comes revising, and that’s where the dragging down can happen. I had a bad habit of looking at my first draft and trying to fix the tiniest problems first. I’d fix all my grammar mistakes and look for just the right nuance for every word in each sentence.
I was failing to look at the big picture first: plot and story, a strong or unique concept, character development, an element of surprise, pacing, and so on. Not all of those are right in the first draft. Most, if not all, need some heavy work right away. I was wasting time perfecting tiny details in my manuscripts that needed to change later anyway after I fixed the big problems.
Now I try to look at the big picture first and talk out the major points with my agent before I even write the story. My agent knows the marketplace and can advise me on what might work and what might not before I pour time into a manuscript. You can do that with a trusted writer friend or even by yourself.
When I wrote PENGUIN CHA-CHA, I was figuring out my approach to writing picture books (still am, actually). I knew I wanted to write about dancing penguins, and that was all I had to start. I wrote about penguins dancing in a talent contest, perfected the tiny details, and then realized my story wasn’t unique enough to make it in the market.
I wrote a whole different story about a brother and sister who bought dancing penguins from an exotic pet store, and again, discovered the big overall problems with the story after I spent loads of time sketching up the story into a dummy. (Since I write and illustrate, I submit my stories as a sketch dummy. If you aren’t an illustrator, you submit just the manuscript to publishers without illustrations—the publisher picks the illustrator.)
My final PENGUIN CHA-CHA book is very different than any of my earlier versions. It’s now about a girl who is determined to jitterbug with the penguins at the zoo after she discovers they’re secretly dancing. Random House published the book a few months ago.
I think these processes were necessary for me to learn, and it was fun working those tiny details, so maybe the time wasn’t exactly wasted.
A lot of illustrators go through this same learning experience. I love drawing faces the most. After all, eyes and facial expressions show emotion and the character’s heart. It’s so tempting to get lost drawing those tiny details on a face before I even plan out the rest of the illustration. If you watch kids draw, they start with the faces too. And then later they realize they should have drawn the face smaller to fit everything else on the page or drawn their character in a different spot.
It’s hard to start over with an illustration after you’ve put so much time into drawing the details on the face.
It’s hard to start over with a manuscript after you’ve put so much time into perfecting the written details.
Start with the big picture first. Unless you’re writing and drawing the details just for fun. Then by all means, get lost in those details! And maybe those details will lead to inspire the big picture. In that case, start with the details.
Oh my, we’re all confused now, aren’t we?
So maybe you need to do what you need to do to write your book best. And maybe that’s different than what I do. And that’s OK too.
Kristi wrote and illustrated the picture book PENGUIN CHA-CHA. She illustrated Danielle Steel’s upcoming picture book PRETTY MINNIE IN PARIS, as well as the Little Wings chapter book series, THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN, CORA COOKS PANCIT, and others. Kristi volunteers as the Regional Advisor of Indiana SCBWI and is represented by Linda Pratt from Wernick & Pratt Agency. She graduated magna cum laude from Columbus College of Art & Design with a major in Illustration. She lives in Indiana with her husband, little girls, and a room full of hippos, monkeys and sneaky penguins.
Kristi is giving away a picture book critique. Leave a comment to enter the random drawing.
You are eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge by December 3rd.)
Good luck, everyone!