Monday, October 14, 2013
Picture Book Workshop #35: CRIME & PUNISHMENT
Happy Columbus Day, Picture Book Writers!
I've been working on a story with a nasty little protagonist. He's kinda like Plankton from Sponge Bob in that he has very ill intentions, but he's very small and inconsequential so he's not really threatening.
Still, he's a bad guy, so how does that work in picture books? Based on my research, it's OK to have a naughty protagonist as long as they are punished and the punishment fits the crime.
Ammi-Joan Paquette (one of my group members and a fabulous author) recommended a book called UGLY FISH by Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon.
In UGLY FISH, a nasty little fish lives all alone in his fish tank. Whenever a new fish is introduced to the tank...
... Ugly Fish chases the new fish around and then eats them. Yup - he eats them!
After a while, Ugly Fish gets lonely all by himself. He realizes that he had more fun when there was another fish in the tank to chase. So when a new, big fish comes around, Ugly Fish is delighted. It's going to be different this time! And it is, because the Big Fish chases Ugly Fish around and eventually eats him.
Death, in this case, works because Ugly Fish was also eating his temporary companions. Ugly Fish's punishment was exactly equal to the crime he committed.
Another example is Caldecott Award winning THIS HAT IS NOT MINE by Jon Klassen.
The story begins ...
Throughout the book the little fish goes on to brag about how well he stole the hat from the big, sleeping fish, and how much better the hat looks on him, and how he's totally going to get away with it. (Add hubris to the list of sins.)
Well, as you may be able to imagine, the big fish wakes up and goes after the little fish and catches up to him in a thick patch of seaweed. The big fish emerges from the seaweed with his hat and the little fish never emerges.
It's kind of brilliant, really, because the fate of the little fish is unexplained. Maybe the big fish tied him up in the seaweed? Maybe he ate him? It's up to the reader to decide based on their own scale of justice.
So, if I kill off my character and all he's done is annoy people, then the punishment is too harsh. I have to lighten it up. I have to balance the protagonist's crime with the consequences that follow equally in order to pull off a successful anti-hero story.
Wish me luck!