Monday, November 11, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #38: Compare and Contrast

Greetings, Picture Book Peeps!

I am currently working on a picture book story that features an imaginary friend.  I started last week and I got really excited as the first draft started to flow.  But when I looked at what I had and tried to streamline a character goal and obstacles, I realized that I had some issues.

I could turn it into one kind of story if I create a main character who is lonely and solves that problem by creating an imaginary friend.  But, I want more of a Calvin & Hobbes vibe, in which case, not only do I need to create a world for the character that would justify why he would have an imaginary friend, but then I also need to come up with a story goal and obstacles that he and his imaginary friend can do together.

I wanted to see how other books with imaginary friends handled some of these issues, so I went to a couple library and got a stack of books. 

Some of them were weird.  I'm not going to say anything negative about any particular book, but I read a couple and thought, My agent would rip me apart if I showed him this.  There aren't any obstacles at all!?  But yanno, there's room in the world for many different stories told in many different ways ... so, whatevs.

But when I did find a few books that were more in the storytelling vein I was searching for, it was time to do some story analysis.  This is a fancy Venn diagram comparing and contrasting JESSICA by Kevin Henkes and THE THREE FUNNY FRIENDS by Charlotte Zolotow and Linda Bronson.


These books both center their stories around little girls who are lonely and who use the imaginary friends to help them cope with their loneliness and insecurities.  In both stories, once the child meets a real friend, they no longer see their imaginary friends and neither one of them thinks twice about it.  The imaginary friends are not real.

This isn't what I'm going for in my story, but it's good to see what other stories with similar ideas do, both so you can steal things you like, and avoid things you don't.  Also, I'd freak if I saw something that was very similar to my own ideas.  But I'd freak at home and change my story and avoid an editor telling me it's just like SO AND SO, which would result in crossing a potential editor off my list and being incredibly embarrassing.

There are many stories I've written where I haven't felt the need to refer to other stories, but if you're jammed up on something, it never hurts to dig up a few similar books and see how others handled certain issues.

Have a great week!


Mirka Breen said...

Even though all stories have been told, I need to feel I am doing it for the first time. Do you know what I mean?
I never look at similar stories, or even allow myself to think there are similar stories out there, until I've passed the third revision, lest I lose interest in the work. At that point my story has enough to distinguish it and give it its own wings.

Julie_c said...

I hear ya, Mirka. Even if a story sounds similar to mine, it usually is only similar on the surface. But I do like to refer to other texts when I have plot issues or to look at how someone else handled a character development. I learn a lot that way.

Anna Staniszewski said...

I LOVE the ven diagram idea! This is such a great way of breaking down story elements.

Joy Moore said...

I recently had that very situation.

My story was complete (or so I thought). I went searching to see if there was anything similar and I found one, no not one, no not two, no not a few, but a series (gasp).

Yes, I did freak!

I'm still at the stuck stage.