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I was chatting with my editor last week about my upcoming book with Mike Boldt, ALIEN IN THE DOGHOUSE (working title). I mentioned my philosophy about picture book art notes—how they describe the action that needs to happen for the story to work.

While I teach this at writing conferences and workshops, I never Tweeted it. So…

…and this resonated with a lot of picture book writers.

New writers often hear “don’t use art notes”—but that’s not correct.

I believe some editors/agents say that because new writers tend to misuse art notes. The mistake is overusing them—writing visual instructions that are unnecessary or superfluous. It’s like writing [bunny hops away] when the text already says that the bunny skedaddled.

Misused art notes can also dictate what things should look like when that’s not a writer’s job. Art notes like [she has pigtails] or [green ball] aren’t the writer’s decision. The only time something like that is necessary is when the appearance of pigtails or a green ball act as important plot points. Can the girl have short, curly hair? Can the ball be orange? Does the story still make sense? Then leave out the art notes.

Art notes should only be used when it’s not clear what’s happening from the text alone. Like when you want to be subversive:

She smiled!

How will anyone know your character is supposed to look upset? Art notes! Erm, I mean ACTION NOTES.

Then Kevin asked me a question…

So, here’s my newest book from Tundra, YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL, illustrated by the fabulous Melissa Crowton.

I set out to write a story with mostly visual puns and jokes, and this book is the result.

Here’s one of my favorite pages…

My manuscript reads:

Don’t worry, the bus has an endless number of seats! [clown car]

How else is the illustrator supposed to know the school bus is really a clown car?

Then there’s this page…

My manuscript reads:

Walk this way! Your big brother will show you the ropes. [tightrope]

Now, truth be told, I imagined the brothers on a high wire, carrying a balance stick and walking into the school, hence the “walk this way”. However, coupled with the previous page, which had to show the BIG TOP, this was the best way to illustrate the entire spread. Notice I did not dictate exactly how or where the tightrope should go. All the illustrator needs to understand is the literal tightrope.

And this is another hilarious page…

My manuscript reads:

You can let off some steam during recess [circus train], but watch out for other stuff that steams! [poop]

Ahh, what’s a picture book without some well-placed scatological humor?

That’s how I approach art notes, as action notes. Note that I don’t even write “art note” between the brackets—the brackets and italics is enough for the editor and illustrator to know what they are.

I try to be as succinct as possible so I don’t interrupt the flow of the story.

But Tara, I hear you ask, what do you do when the art notes are so plentiful, it does interfere with reading the story?

Well, take a look at the grid format solution. It’s how my agent and I submitted YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

And now that it’s back-to-school time, how about a giveaway?

I have 3 signed copies of YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected next week!

Good luck—with your art notes and the giveaway!

 

7ate9

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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