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kristivaliantby Kristi Valiant

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

guestbio

penguinchachaKristi 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.

Visit Krisi online at KristiValiant.com or on her blog at KristiValiant.blogspot.com. The penguins do their own dance at PenguinChaCha.com.

prizeinfo

Kristi is giving away a picture book critique. Leave a comment to enter the random drawing.

 You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge by December 3rd.)

Good luck, everyone!

kristivaliantby Kristi Valiant

PENGUIN CHA-CHA is my first book as both author and illustrator, so my process was very different than when I’ve illustrated manuscripts written by other authors.

penguinchachaUsually I receive a manuscript from a publisher, I read it over—that first read tickles the first glimpses of images into my head—and then I decide if that manuscript is one that I want to spend months illustrating.

Illustrating stories by other authors gives me a chance to illustrate ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise and brings variety to my work.

For example, in THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN, the author Janna Matthies wrote about a family growing a healthy vegetable garden as Mom recovered from cancer. It’s a powerful story of healing. Since I’ve never gone through something like that, I wouldn’t have thought to write that story, but Janna experienced a very similar cancer battle in her own life before writing this hope-filled story. As soon as I read that manuscript, I knew it would be an important book for many families. It was an honor to be able to illustrate it.

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Another part of illustrating someone else’s manuscript is to add my own voice to the book through the illustrations. I need to figure out what to add to the story they’re telling, and that may mean showing things in the illustrations that the author never thought of. (That’s why publishers like to keep the authors and illustrators away from each other.)

corasdogIn the picture book CORA COOKS PANCIT by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, Cora feels ignored at first by her family. To echo her feelings, I drew a little dog that follows Cora around wanting to play, so he brings her more and more toys on each page. Cora ignores him.

Just as Cora gets her happy ending, the dog gets his own happy ending when Cora finally plays with him. The dog wasn’t part of the text by the author. The dog is my own contribution to rounding out the story with the illustrations. Since parents are usually busy reading the words, they may not even notice the dog, but be assured that the kids who are hearing the story and studying the illustrations definitely notice that dog! Kids are master picture readers, so that’s always something I think about as I decide how to draw my half of the story in books written by someone else.

My process for PENGUIN CHA-CHA was different from the start because the illustration came first instead of the manuscript. Way back in 2007, I drew an illustration of penguins dancing. I used to be in a swing and Latin dance group and I liked penguins, so I decided to combine two things I liked to create a fun portfolio piece.

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Around the same time I had tried my hand at writing my first picture book manuscripts about other subjects. I had a meeting with an editor and showed her my picture book manuscripts and also my portfolio. She remarked about how much more my face lit up when we got to the dancing penguin illustration than when I talked about my manuscripts!

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So I realized I really needed to write about the things that make my face light up. Makes sense, right? So I wrote story after story about dancing penguins. It was much harder to write a wonderfully marketable picture book than I thought it would be! What remained constant were the dancing penguins, but the plots of the stories were all over the place. Those penguins danced for years as I figured out my story. I even licensed them out as wrapping paper at some point. I finally sorted out my story as it played as images in my head. I only wrote down the words that I felt were necessary and not shown in the illustrations. In the end, my editor at Random House asked me to add in a bit more text. I may be the only picture book author that’s happened to—usually they want to cut words!

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Writing my own books allows me the freedom to draw my favorite subject matter and favorite kinds of characters and things that make my face light up like dancing penguins. And the story usually starts with an image for me. Illustrating someone else’s manuscript brings more variety to my work and new experiences. So I love both!

Speaking of new experiences, I’m currently illustrating a picture book written by Danielle Steel called PRETTY MINNIE IN PARIS. For research, I visited Paris—what a lovely city to experience! The story combines Paris, a fashion runway show, a long-haired teacup Chihuahua, and a stylish little girl. Oh la la! Watch for PRETTY MINNIE in the fall of 2014.

penguinchachaprizeThanks, Kristi, for giving us a glimpse into your process! 

PENGUIN CHA-CHA releases today!  Happy Book Birthday, Kristi!

And lucky readers, Kristi is giving away a PENGUIN CHA-CHA prize pack! You’ll receive a signed book, magnet, bookmark and sticker! Just leave a comment below by September 5th to enter, and if you’d like to ask Kristi a question, you can do so there, too.

You can learn more about the book at PenguinChaCha.com and download a Storytime Activities Kit.

Also follow Kristi’s blog at KristiValiant.blogspot.com.

 

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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