Friday, August 4, 2023

The Zoom Where it Happens: How a Picture Book Is Made with Sylvie Frank and Ryan T. Higgins

The Zoom Where it Happens: How a Picture Book Is Made with Sylvie Frank and Ryan T. Higgins

Ryan T. Higgins’ books don’t come to him fully formed. In conversation with his editor, Sylvie Frank, Ryan shares a close look at the creative and collaborative process (which occurs over Zoom, of course) of making his latest book from idea, to manuscript, to bound book—and all the revising in between. Attendees are sure to leave informed, inspired, and ready to tackle their own works-in-progress.

The session began with laughter, joy, and fun banter. Sylvie and Ryan were both charismatic, energetic, funny, and welcoming, displaying such great chemistry that truly translates to their incredible working relationship!

Meeting every week, they work closely together through all of the drafts and phases of a book, from idea to final stages. Working on multiple books a year (3), they are constantly talking about upcoming books, drafts, publicity, etc. 

During this fabulous session, they walked us through their process of making a picture book as the artist and editor!

The 1st Draft

When you are starting the first draft, what do you think of first? The text or the art?

I start with a super rough draft. I write down jokes and text while picturing it in my mind like an animated short or a script for a play. I use different colors for text, illustration descriptions, and notes. I don't add page numbers. I just write.

Length of the text at this point: 
Over 1000 but don't worry about the text number. Just get the story out! :)

Then he sends it over to Sylvie.

They read the first draft with all of its ideas, thoughts, and scenes in mind, riffing and bouncing ideas off of one another.

It changes so much but SO MUCH stays from the first draft.

At this point, they cut out 3/4 of it. For example, in "Bruce and the Legend of Soggy Hollow" (the book they chose to talk about), the setup in the beginning that gave Bruce a reason to act made the story too long. So they reworked it. 

They whittle it down to what is essential for THIS story. If it is not necessary for the story, they take it out.

The ten pages to get Bruce in the play were cut down to two spreads.

It was saved for potential future books. This is important in the editing process because it is still productive; it can be used for future things.

The 2nd Draft

Editing together on a shared document, they utilize the comment section and strikethrough feature to edit clearly and collaboratively, slowly shaping the story. They are working jokes, working on flow and pacing, and making it shorter, clearer, and more concise.

[On Bruce's dialogue] 
In the first draft, Bruce is always more talkative and as drafts continue, he becomes a bear of few words.

A solid grumble usually does the trick.

Character is always at the forefront of their thought process. As the story develops, they are careful about getting things right and letting the characters move the scenes along. 

What would they do here? Why would they do that?

Length of the text at this point: 
Under 1500, including illustration notes. Actual manuscript, ~600

First Round of Sketches

Ryan then begins the sketching process. 

At this point, they are still changing the text. Once the story beats are made from the "happy draft," they shift the text as illustrations are created, constantly reading it aloud, shifting again, looking for sensitivities, seeing if jokes land, etc. 

Once sketches are approved, the book goes through additional phases like Inking and Color Blocking. Eventually, they go through 1st and 2nd passes of the illustrations where the book truly comes together and comes alive. 

This session was super informative and fun where you were able to see your own work reflected in their process, no matter where you are in your journey.

A big takeaway for me from the session was: to find collaborators who are excited about your work, who get your humor, and who bring you joy--which was exactly what Sylvie and Ryan have found!

If you want to view this session to hear the full content, along with the rest of the conference, register at Replays of the conferences will be available until September 10, 2023.

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Sylvie Frank

Sylvie Frank joined Disney Hyperion as Executive Editor in June 2021. She is the head of the picture book program and has the great pleasure of working with Ryan T. Higgins, Andrea Tsurumi, Joanna Ho, Dan Santat, and Tammi Sauer, among others. Sylvie is looking for character-driven, snappy picture books, especially those by author-illustrators. She is drawn to original and diverse voices across all genres. One of her favorite pastimes is browsing agents’ and illustrators’ websites for new talent. When she's not reading, she can be found running while listening to audiobooks.

Ryan T. Higgins

Ryan T. Higgins is the author and illustrator of the #1 New York Times best-selling Mother Bruce, which received the E. B. White Read-Aloud Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor. In addition to the Mother Bruce series, Ryan is also the author and illustrator of Norman Didn’t Do It!, We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, We Will Rock Our Classmates, BE QUIET!, and What About Worms!?, an Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! book. He lives in Maine with his three children, three dogs, three cats, one gecko, one tortoise, and one wife.

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