Friday, October 22, 2010

Happily Ever After?

TWO blog posts in ONE week?! Hey, it's a full moon tonight, anything can happen!

Actually, I was quite eager to post this week's Illustration Correspondence Course, as several people had to miss class on Tuesday night. So without further ado, here's...

Happily Ever... After?!?

In which we talked about the fine line between having a "moral" in your story, and having a "meaning" in your story. I feel like some picture books (*ahem* celebrity books, *ahem*) are conceived with the notion that you have to teach kids a lesson in books. Going to the dentist is not scary, reading is fun, etc. I also feel like kids know when they're being preached to. Take "Where the Wild Things Are", for example. If written by, say, Joy Behar (no offense), maybe Max would have been so scared by the monsters that he realizes he shouldn't be a Wild Thing, and he runs home and apologizes to his mother and is never naughty again. First of all, that is wholly unrealistic, because OF COURSE kids are going to be naughty. Instead of beating us over the head with the moral "Don't be wicked to your mother", we're left with a deeper meaning: All kids are naughty, and you are okay. Even if you're naughty, your mother will still love you. Even this last bit is understated: Max does not run home to a weepy apology scene with his mother- she doesn't even appear, she just leaves his supper waiting for him.

I feel that only recently did I really GET this concept: that the best picture books don't necessarily end with Happily Ever After. I think that good picture books end with a deeply satisfying resolution, but NOT the most obvious or predictable solution. For an example, I brought in my first dummy and my revised dummy for my book Olympig. Let's take a gander...

So I thought my first dummy for Olympig was pretty good. I liked the character of Boomer (a pig who wants to compete in the Olympics). He has a struggle (he's a terrible athlete), and I thought I had a good "hook" (the Olympics). And yet, I got turned down from several agents because my story was too predictable (their words). For example, when Boomer loses another event, and his temper...

... the other animals LITERALLY say, "Being an Olympic champion means more than winning gold medals, you know!" Talk about beating over the head with a moral! In the end, Boomer realizes that being nice is more important than winning, and he helps his fellow athletes out of a big mud pit & they all win gold medals. The End.

Luckily, my agent Paul Rodeen took the time to give me very wise feedback when I queried him, and I had my eureka moment. My main character does not have to get what he wants in order to have a happy ending! Besides, how many times did I ever give up winning something to help someone else out? (zero times= not very realistic). On the other hand, how many times did I try really really hard to win something, and I still lost? (about a bajillion times= more realistic). If I want to have a deeper meaning in my story, perhaps the "lesson" that you're not going to win everything you try is a more important one to teach.

It was, of course, more challenging to have Boomer lose and yet still create a satisfying ending to the story. Ultimately, though, I feel it's a much stronger, and strangely, more satisfying story now.

I recently read the climax of a story referred to as the "reversal", and I like that. It's the point when things that have been going in one direction suddenly do a 360, and you have to deal with the consequences. It turns out Pigeon CAN'T drive the bus- what now? Kitten CAN'T reach that bowl of milk in the sky- what now? David doesn't WANT to be bad any more- what now?

Lastly, we discussed the "mother of all page turns"- page 32, the final page in a picture book. I referenced the website of Darcy Pattison in outlining these possibilities for page 32:

1) Begin the cycle again (pigeon can't drive the bus... but maybe a truck!)
2) Fulfillment
3) Emotional connection
4) Unexpected twist

It's fun to go through books looking specifically at page 32. So many great books end with exactly the opposite message as the rest of the book! In No, David! we hear the word "No" about a million times... until the last page, when we read "YES, David... I love you". Unexpected twist & emotional connection. In Kitten's First Full Moon, we read "Poor Kitten, Poor Kitten" over and over again... until the last page, when we read, "Lucky Kitten". She has a family who loves her- unexpected twist & emotional connection.

And that, my friends, is THE END.


Nina Crittenden said...

I love these correspondence courses! Bug Musical will be fantastic, glad that Olympig is going well, I really liked the innocent and evil eyebrow explanation, and the "reversal" in the story seems somehow clearer to me! Good stuff! Did you see Oprah had the Sound of Music on today? Hope that you have been doing well! Your pal, Nina

Vicki said...

Thanks Nina! I DID see the Very Special Oprah- my mom & I watched it on Simul-Cast! As in, she recorded it & watched it 3 hours later when it was on on the west coast, & we called each other during commercial breaks. I was singing Eidelweiss all day afterwards!