|© David Lucas, from This is My Rock (Flying Eye, 2015)|
For those who are not yet familiar, David Lucas is a prolific children’s book writer / illustrator. He has illustrated for other writers as well as having written and illustrated his own stories.
He is the creator of characters such as Grendel and Halibut Jackson. In these instances, they are both lovably flawed characters that find their way in the end, which is very reflective of David’s story style. His work brings something new - a sense of moral and personal betterment, which separates him from many storybook writers in more recent years. When not in his studio, David tours up and down the UK visiting schools, festivals and museums to run workshops on picture book creation. So it was a treat to be able to pin him down for one afternoon to pick his brain.
Proceedings of the day
- Who are you as a creative?
- What has been your story?
With a commandment from the temple of Delphi - ‘know thyself’ projected on the wall behind him, David started the session with a cognitive thinking game. It was clear that he places a lot of importance on knowing who you are as a person as this will dictate what makes you tick as a creative. Your experiences should help to fund your creativity. So use it, good or bad.
Following on from that, we embarked on a journey looking at language through the ages - what words mean, and how they were used in storytelling. David placed particular emphasis on monosyllabic words. They are simple and ‘stripped down’, their simplicity can pack a punch. Perfect for the limitations of a picture book.
Creating a story
This led us onto our next exercise. We were given a list of words which David had prepared. He asked us to select a few words and place them in a preferred order and create a story / character.
Within minutes my creatively corked brain had started working again. There was no pressure and the outcome was of optional consequence. Suddenly, from just three words that I had selected (electric, pig and hat) I had developed a character and had a very rough skeleton for my story to hang off. It just goes to show, it doesn’t matter what you write, it’s just important that you do write!
I will definitely be using that technique for future writer's blocks.
The next step: A simple plot formula
David explained that when he had written books in the past he had struggled with a simple 24 page picture book structure. This was, at least, until he found one basic formula that really worked for him. He started plotting out his stories according to the formula below – each number representing a spread in a picture book.
1. What is the problem? There always has to be one.
9. and then…
12. problem solved.
And there you have it. In one afternoon one could potentially create a character and plot out a basic story using two simple exercises.
It will not take away from how complex it is to write a picture book. However for me personally, it does demystify the process just enough to encourage me.
Look to the past. Everyone’s story is utterly unique. Use the good and the bad to help the formation of your characters, stories and plots.
Keep it simple. Strip down words to their minimum and create impact.
Be sure of who you are as a writer / illustrator. Don’t be afraid to be the anomaly, it’s important.
In parting I will leave you with a quote on writing for children from David Lucas himself - ‘Leave common sense at the door and surrender to mystery and magic.’
Melissa Rozario is a writer / illustrator who joined the SCBWI Illustrator Masterclass team in January 2016. Contact her via themightymindcircus.com