Picture versus Words: Happy Marriage or Epic Battle?

I just went and saw Scott Westerfeld speak last week. He’s the author of Leviathan, Behemeth, Uglies and many other books. Many fans showed up in full steampunk costume (such as my friend, Sarah, who’s pictured below with the author and me). As you can see, I did NOT dress up. My excuse is that I haven’t read any of Westerfeld’s books yet—but after hearing him speak, I will.

Sarah, Scott Westerfeld, and me.

I found the presentation very engaging, especially since Westerfeld talked about the relationship between words and picture in books, and how his process of working with illustrator Keith Thompson was so instrumental in the creation of the Leviathan trilogy. He would write a section of the book and send it off to Thompson, who would then illustrate the various scenes. The words informed the illustrations, but sometimes the pictures turned out totally different than how the author imagined. Sometimes this was a good thing, sometimes a bad thing and Westerfeld would send Thomspon back to the drawing board.

Of course, I couldn’t help to think about my own process. Being my own illustrator, I work slightly differently with my author self. First of all, I do realize that I have two different parts to my brain; my illustrator side does not always agree with the author side. Sometimes I have a picture in my head of what a character or place looks like when I write it—but then, when I go to draw that character or place, it turns out totally different. And then I have to go back and change the words. Or sometimes I have to change the picture. It just depends on which part of my brain wins the argument of what is the best for the overall story.

I remember when I was designing one of the key locations in my book: The Elder Stone. As you can see in the illustration below, I at first decided that this place would be called “The Hall of Elders” and that it would be quite palatial. It had one singular tall spire, with balconies and windows, and even a flag at the top. As I recall, in this instance, the picture came before my words.

Elder Stone concept.

Then, as the story evolved, I realized that the Eens weren’t really the type to have castles and such. They were more humble, more secretive. So I had to rethink this “Hall.” So, my words forced me to go back and change the picture, and I ended up with this squat, rock-like structure known as the Elder Stone . . .

Elder Stone

Marching to the Elder Stone

I show the concept picture to kids all the time, and I think some of them like the idea of the palace a bit better. But I know it just doesn’t fit the Eens.

Well, you will get to see more of the Elder Stone in Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack of Kazah—it plays a very important part. And, in fact, you’ll even get some idea of how the Elder Stone came to be! Stay tuned . . .

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One thought on “Picture versus Words: Happy Marriage or Epic Battle?

  1. Your so right! Words and Art can be a total pain to mix, but when you get the right amount of both and they match well, you have a amazing book!

    Re: Kevin Sylvester Cooks Up a Good Interview:
    Bought the Sequel to The Marco Polo Murders a few weeks ago and just yesterday bought the Marco Polo Murders! Its AWESOME! Kevin’s a double threat just like you Mr. Fodi! A Awesome author and a awesome illustrator!

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