Illustration notes—the bane of a writer’s existence. There are so many conflicting opinions about illustration notes, it’s hard to know where to begin. First off, an illustration note is a quick description of what the author envisions at a certain point in the story. The notes are intended to stand in place of an illustration that might be needed in order for the reader to understand what the author intended.
An illustration note is not a play-by-play of how the author sees the characters, settings, and scenery of the story.
Here’s an example using Where the Wild Things Are:
“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind …” [Art: Max is wearing a white wolf suit with buttons down the front and is nailing a line of tied-up clothes to his bedroom wall.]
That is a bad—scold it and send it to time out—illustration note. In fact, you DO NOT need an illustration note for that line at all. It’s perfectly fine just the way it is.
A picture book text can paint a picture or it can set the stage for a corresponding visual story. Sort of the difference between
… and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day…” (Where the Wild Things Are)
In the great green room there was a telephone …” (Goodnight Moon).
The first one paints a mood that the art alone can’t tell. The second one creates an image that accompanies the text. Both are good for the story they are telling, both create a visual without taking over for the artist.
The trick, as a text-only picture book creator, is to realize that you are a visual artist. Your text needs to create moods and images word by word, sentence by sentence, and it has to do it page by page and beginning to end.
One way to set yourself up for success in this area is to storyboard. Storyboarding your text will give you visual feedback on how your text works on each page. If you have a text-heavy page, you’ve either stepped into the artist’s area, or you have too many words, or your story may not be best suited as a picture book. You also need to be aware of your page turns.