Archive | January, 2018

Ballet & Beatrix Potter: Framing Your Picture Book

3 Jan

“Is this story meant to be told as a picture book?” is a dreaded question that will ultimately be asked of both novice and experienced picture book writers. The picture book medium is challenging, especially for writers who do not illustrate, because there needs to be just enough action on each page with enough to entice a page turn. If the action in your story stands still there’s no incentive for a reader to want to see what comes next and the setting and actions become monotonously repetitive. On the other hand, if your protagonist is on an adventure through 101 exotic locales, then it will difficult for you to capture it all with 12 to 30 images.

The trick to fitting your story into the picture book format is framing. This technique is beneficial for both writers, artists, and writer/artists. It’s healthy to imagine every second of your story, but now think about what screenshots are essential to telling your story.

Thumbnail these ‘frames’ into a working storyboard. Now let the writer take over and fill in what the pictures don’t say. If you’re the writer, be happy with simply your words and allow the illustrator to re-envision the images. If you’re the writer and illustrator, you’ve just completed a first draft.

You may be thinking, “that’s easier said then done.” True. For inspiration, I recommend scouring Kathy Temean’s brilliantly helpful Illustrator Saturday posts on her Writing & Illustrating blog. Often the illustrator’s will share storyboards and allow you to see the process in creating the story from start to finish.

However, perhaps you are drawn back to the title of this post. “Hey dude, you mentioned ballet and Beatrix Potter. What happened?” This brings us to the meat (or tofu if you are prefer veggies) of the meal. Over the past few years I have relished watching my talented wife Jaewon embrace ballet. We’ve seen several live performances and documentaries and I’ve come to the conclusion that ballet is much like a picture book. The dancers while graceful, move in a frenzy on the stage, but they all remain in one ‘frame’ or scene, with each scene standing apart from the others yet exists in a narrative of sorts.

The ideal example is the 1971 film Tales of Beatrix Potter which takes the classic ballet based on Potter’s animal filled stories off of the stage and into the countryside. It is as if a picture book is brought to life on the screen. Carefully watch how the director, Reginald Mills, frames each scene. There are no transitions, simply abrupt changes from from scene to the scene. Typically the camera will stay still allowing the only movement to be performed by the costumed dancers. Each frame also effectively arranges the character in left to right direction to further promote narrative direction throughout the film. Writer’s do not need to be as concerned with angles as illustrators, yet it’s always more effective if the writer can visualize the full picture.

While you are eating breakfast, sketching a story, or laying in bed, put on this wonderful film and you will have been not only treated to a mimed interpretation of Potter’s world and beautiful ballet but you would have taken a class on framing!