Developing Narratives through Drawing and Writing

A picturebook is text, illustrations, total design; an item of manufacture and a commercial product; a social, cultural, historical document; and foremost an experience for a child. As an art form it hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning page.’

Barbara Bader

When creating a picturebook, the author must consider the relationship between words and images. The roles of the text and the pictures need to be carefully considered, rather than one being a duplication of the other. As Perry Nodleman (1990) states, ‘The words tell us what the pictures do not show, and the pictures show us what the words do not tell us.’

When reading picturebooks in the classroom, and in discussing these with children, it is important to consider the different relationships that can occur between text and images. Nikolajeva and Scott (2008) investigate the main ways that images and text work together in picturebooks.

The images can:

  • Complement the text
  • Elaborate and extend it
  • Contradict the text
  • Show feelings that the words may only imply 

Sketching ideas
When planning and developing ideas for picturebook narratives, children may wish to approach the process in different ways and should be supported to do so. Some children, like some authors, may think of the words in writing first and then the images that will accompany them. Others may think of the pictures first before composing accompanying text and others will work with a combination of the two.

Throughout the writing process it is therefore important for children to be given materials and space to allow them to plan and compose ideas in different ways. You may wish to give each child a personal sketchbook to develop ideas in and out of taught sessions.

Comic Jams
A comic jam is a creative process where more than one person collaborates on the narrative creation through drawing and writing. This is purely improvised, one person might begin with a character in a scenario, with or without accompanying text, and the others follow adding their ideas to develop the narrative. As in a comic speech and thought bubbles can be included as well as captions that move the narrative on.

Storyboards
When planning a picturebook, it is important to work out how the story will develop over the given number of pages. The most simple way in which to do this is by the use of a storyboard.

Used by author/illustrators as part of their planning process, it is particularly useful for marking out the key spreads in a story within a given number of pages, usually 32 pages or 16 spreads. Less experienced writers might want to work with fewer spreads to help begin to structure their story.

Working on small ‘thumbnails’ allows children to experiment with and work out ideas for how to develop a visual sequence, how spreads will look in a finished book, whether spreads will be single or double paged and how words and images will work together on the page. Children can also plan ideas for book covers, front and end papers, title pages and dedications, allowing them to use understand the language of picturebook publication in an authentic process.