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Plotting a Picture Book

As a rock-climber, back in my youth, it would never occur to me to  scale a cliff without seeing at least a few moves ahead -a foothold to my left, a handhold to my right. As a skier, I will stand on the crest of a mogul run and pick a line. That’s not to say I always get it right. I’ve fallen countless times, both on ski slopes and on cliffs. Still, I like to know where I am going. I guess by nature, I am a plotter.

The terms, plotters and pantsers, are  used to describe writers. These terms have probably been around for a long time but I recently learned about them. Plotters typically outline their works in progress. They have an idea of the storyline and most likely its ending. Pantsers, on the other hand, write by the “seat of their pants.” They have no plan. They just plunge in, let the words flow and see what happens.

But, come on, do true pantsers really exist? Would a  pilot take off without knowing the flight pattern? Would a contractor build a house without a set of plans?

Some say that plotting curbs creativity. I don’t buy it. As a picture book author and illustrator, with generally 27 pages in which to tell a story, I need to know where I am headed. I need a plot. It can be a simple one, but something has to happen. And the story needs to move forward from page to page.

So I start each of my books with a simple little storyboard: 

This is a standard storyboard for my nursery rhyme books – in which I take the original first verse and then add new verses to create a story. The storyboard shows me how many verses I will need and gives me a sense of the arc of the story. Since I also illustrate my own books, the storyboard helps me  visualize the pictures. It’s critical to think of the pictures when writing a children’s book.

And now the fun and creative part begins. I love the puzzle-solving process of writing the verses, of  reading and singing them out loud to make sure they flow and scan, of using playful language, of coming up with a satisfying ending. It’s a joy and a challenge. It may seem simple but it’s hard work. Without a storyboard it would be even harder- for me anyway.

What about you? Do you lean more toward being a plotter or a pantser?  Will you tell me?

About the author

Iza Trapani I am a children's book author and illustrator, fan of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, lover of big dogs, aspiring yodeler. When not in my studio, I spend time outdoors and have climbed over many a mountain to see what I could see.

9 Responses to Plotting a Picture Book

  1. Stasha says:

    Big time plotter! Love this post Iza. And your photo too. I used to climb in my teens, but I was rubbish. Hope I am a better plotter now 🙂

    • Iza Trapani says:

      I don’t believe you could be rubbish at anything! I don’t climb anymore either. It’s such an all-consuming sport. We have much in common- skiing, climbing, love of big dogs, born in another country…I would love to hear your story! Thanks so much for our comment.

  2. Great post, Iza! I am a plotter. Most definitely so. I don’t always know everything about my stories even with being a plotter (and much still changes in revision), but I completely lose direction if I to pants it.

  3. Oops. That should read: try to pants it

    • Iza Trapani says:

      I knew what you meant, Barbara, fellow plotter! I can’t imagine starting out without a plan. Revisions are inevitable, but at least there is some idea where the story is headed. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Susanna says:

    Another former climber here – Eric and I spent our honeymoon climbing in Joshua Tree! I think of myself as a pantser, but looking at your layout I realize I’m not a complete pantser – I always have some idea of where I’m going even if it’s pretty darn vague 🙂 When I don’t have some idea, the story ends up not getting written or finished, so that’s a pretty good indication 🙂 I like how you show ACTION everywhere, because it’s so important!

    • Iza Trapani says:

      Wow! I didn’t know that about you. I’ve spent many weeks climbing at J-tree (had my longest leader fall there- 25 ft upside down air fall!) We’ll have to share stories 🙂 The visual of the storyboard really helps me, but we all work differently. I know you think about the pictures when you write, and your stories all have so much going on and round out nicely so you’re doing something right!

  5. Pingback: Iza Trapani Artist Interview by Cindy Wider: Part 2

  6. Pingback: Iza Trapani Artist Interview by Cindy Wider: Part 2

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