Noodling out your story by M. Louise Kelly

 Earlier this month SCBWI Southeast Scotland was lucky enough to host Elizabeth Dulemba as she delivered an event for picture book writers and Illustrators. It was the first event Elizabeth had done for us and the first we’d run on picture books. It sold out WAY ahead of the date. 

Once the event got underway it was easy to see why the topic, and Elizabeth’s take on it in particular, was such a big draw: Creating picture books—words and pictures—is a hugely dynamic creative process.
Elizabeth Dulemba
 I confess, picture books are not my usual writing area (I write YA) so I went in wondering exactly what I’d take away that I’d be able to apply to my own work. Turns out: a whole lot!

Just as writing a synopsis for your story can often show you what’s missing, trying to think about the story in terms of picture book structure reaps huge rewards. Distilling a story to its most basic elements is a skill you can’t practice too much and having different forms to play with when doing that brings the process to life.
Elizabeth’s methods of helping us “noodle out the story” by breaking it down, working out high and low points, thinking about presentation of obstacles and satisfying resolutions really got the creative juices flowing. For me, part of the dynamism of the day came from Elizabeth encouraging us to use different physical representations of the story not just as outcomes of where we’d got to, but as active thinking tools. We practiced the art of paper folding to create various sizes of dummies as she guided us through experimenting with how to parcel our story elements up onto individual pages and how to expand that as we developed our stories. 
 Even those of us who were non-artists were encouraged to sketch out the key elements of our story. That’s sketch. No words (yikes! words are my world!!!). 
 We used story boards to think about story density, flow of ideas, light and shade, blank space. We thought about what is and isn’t on the page, space, movement, and got to pick Elizabeth’s brains about how she develops her ideas in this way. In fact, she talked us through a whole treasure trove of early sketches, story boards and mock-ups of not just her own work but some great examples from a wealth of prestigious illustrators and picture book writers who she’s worked with. Being able to see the development from these early stage examples to finished creations really highlighted the on-going creativity of the whole endeavour. 

 So, after all of this writing, drawing, cutting, folding, thinking and listening what was my highlight of the day? It’s a tough call, my brain’s been buzzing with picture book ideas ever since the event, but it’s *probably*, just, Elizabeth’s role playing of the ‘top New York industry professional you meet in a lift and sneak the chance to pitch to.’ It’s something to behold! She’s everyone’s dream enthusiast.

 If you get a chance to catch some of Elizabeth’s enthusiasm yourself, grab it. In the meantime, go on, noodle out that picture book story! 

 You can find out more about Elizabeth Dulemba, and download storyboard templates and other picture book tips on

 M Louise Kelly is co-organiser of the Southeast Scotland Network with Sheila M Averbuch. She aspires one day to write a picture book but is currently wrestling some longer pieces into shape for YA, and even adult, readers. She is represented by Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates. @mllouisekelly


  1. Really enjoyed your report. I hope Elizabeth can do this for us in London as well someday.

  2. Really enjoyed your report. I hope Elizabeth can do this for us in London as well someday.

  3. Brilliant post, really sums up a great workshop!

  4. Excellent--we miss Elizabeth here on this side of the pond!

  5. Thanks everyone. And Yes, Candy, we'll pass on Elizabeth's details to the London Co-ordinator and see what comes of it.

  6. I'd love to do this event! Thanks for sharing

    1. I'm pretty sure Elizabeth is keen to travel so get your Network guys to get in touch - with E direct, or me/sheila if they want to be put in touch.


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