Showing posts with label picture book illustrations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label picture book illustrations. Show all posts

Story or Illustrations, Which Comes First?

Contributed by Karen Cioffi

While most authors know the answer to the title question, whether story or illustrations come first in picture books, some newbies don’t.

The story should be written first then the illustrations should be created to enhance each scene (page or spread).

My reason for writing this article is because of a rewrite client I had. She created her own illustrations, which were good, but she wrote the story around her illustrations.

The sole purpose of the story was to describe the illustrations through a very weak storyline.

For this article, I’ll say she visited the pyramids in Egypt and the protagonist's goal was to find the largest pyramid.

He trekked through Egypt and talked about the things he saw on his quest, which related to the illustrations.

Being an artist, she wanted her readers to SEE everything she saw. She tried to incorporate as many tidbits of information about her journey into the story, and she wanted to do it visually.

The storyline and the characters were there just for the illustrations.

This doesn't work.

The story and the illustrations should complement each other. The illustrations enhance the story; they show what's not written.

The story itself must be properly written with story and character arcs.

While her primary focus was the illustrations, she did want an engaging and marketable fiction story to go with the illustrations, and after a couple of critiques realized what she created didn't work.

That's when she came to me.

I've worked from illustrations before. It was another rewrite project, but those illustrations were created for the story. I was able to rewrite the story around them.

With the pyramid client, the illustrations were the focal point. It's not a good idea to force a story around illustrations.

You may feel you have leeway if you're self-publishing, but if you want a quality book that you’ll be proud to be the author of and one that will engage readers, you need to follow the rules of writing for children.

As for my client, I recommended she create nonfiction books. This way she could spotlight the illustrations without bogging them down with a forced fiction story.

So again, a fiction story should be written before the illustrations are created.

But... there are no ironclad rules.

There are certain circumstances where text can be written around the illustrations. This could happen if you're working on a picture book with an illustrator. Or if the book is created primarily to tell the story through illustrations for young children.  You get the idea.

The general rule: Story first then illustrations.

This article was first published at:


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author. She runs a successful children’s ghostwriting, rewriting, and coaching business and welcomes working with new clients.

For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact her at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

And, check out Karen's The Adventures of Planetman picture book series, along with her other books.


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