How to Write a MetaFiction Picture Book

http://www.darcypattison.com/picture-books/metafiction/

http://www.darcypattison.com/?p=5776

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I’m working on a revision of my book, How to Write a Picture Book (Look for the new version in September). One section goes through various genres with tips on writing an ABC book, a narrative nonfiction, a picture book mystery, etc. One genre that I neglected in the first draft was metafiction picture books.


A Revealing Conversation between DH and Me

Me: I need to write a blog post about metafiction picture books.
Darling Husband (DH): What’s that?
Me: You know. Postmodern stuff.
DH: What?
Me: They are books that refer to themselves in some way. They break the concept of “book” in the story itself.
DH: Oh. Faux books.


Metafiction picture books are those that break the mold by making the reader aware that they are reading a book. Often fiction writers talk about the immersive book, and value stories that transport a reader to a story world and immerse them totally in the story. The reader’s surroundings disappear and they are deeply involved with the story.

Metafiction breaks that immersive experience. Why? In the theater, this is referred to as breaking the fourth wall.  The stage has a back wall and two wings; the fourth wall is invisible wall that separates the audience from the stage. When an actor turns to the audience and makes comments, it’s breaking the fourth wall. The technique can be used to add information, set up irony, create humor or other purposes.

While metafiction isn’t new, it’s been more prevalent in the last few decades. Some say that it’s related to the postmodern philosophy. Read more about postmodernism here.

So, what is a metafiction picture book? Let’s look at some characteristics typical of this genre. Of course, you won’t use all of these in any given book. You can mix and match techniques to tell your story (or un-story). The best way to understand these is to read through a variety of the books suggested below.

Characteristics of a Metafiction Picture Book


Me: One reason I need to write this is because I’ve been trying to critique some manuscripts and having a hard time.
DH: You expect them to be a certain way and they aren’t.
Me: Well. Yes. There are rules about writing picture books.
DH: Are there?

  1. Parody or irony.
    Some metafiction picture books refer to folk or fairy tales, often with irony or parody.
    Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book? By Lauren Child
  2. Pastiche. Copying a certain style of art to create something very different, these are usually author-illustrator stories. Willy the Dreamer by Anthony Browne.
  3. Story gaps. Sometimes the text has gaps that require readers to make decisions about the story and its meaning. Academics call this interdeterminancy. The Three Little Pigs by David Wiesner.
  4. Multiple narrators or characters. The story includes multiple point-of-view characters, often with multiple story arcs. In Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex, the author, illustrator and main character each tell separate stories and talk to each other. The complex interaction has three separate endings.See also:
    • Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
    • Black and White by David Macauley
    • Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
  5. Direct address to reader. When you use second person point-of-view and talk to the reader, the story can fall into the metafiction category.In a quick review of different points-of-view, you can usually figure out the story’s POV by looking at the pronouns.
    • 1st person: I, me, my
    • 2nd person: You, yours
    • 3rd person: he, she, it, his, hers

    In Warning! Do Not Open This Book, by Adam Lehrhaupt, the reader is warned against opening the book. When—of course—the child does open the book, the text provides other warnings.
    See also: Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, by Laurie Halse Anderson,

  6. Non-linear, non-sequential. Most narratives follow a certain time sequence. This happens first, and then that happens. There’s a beginning, middle and end. However, metafiction picturebooks create stories without a clear reference to time order. In Black and White by David Macaulay, each page is divided into four sections which tell different stories and it’s up to the reader to connect them. Or not.
  7. Narrator becomes a character. The author or narrator of the story steps into the story and participates. In Chester, by Melanie Watts, a simple story devolves into an argument between a cat and the author about what story to tell.
  8. Unusual book design or layout. Some metaficiton picture books have unusual typography, while others use a layout that breaks the story out of the page or book. Three Little Pigs by David Wiesner, has illustrations showing the pigs folding up a page and climbing out of the story onto a blank page. Or, they fold up a page into a paper airplane and take a ride.
  9. Stories within Stories. No Bears by Meg McKinlay, Ella writes a book within the book.
  10. Characters and narrators speak directly to the reader.
    Sandra Boynton’s board book, Moo, Baa, La, La, La.
    The text says,
    “The pigs say, ‘la, la, la.’
    ‘No, no,’ you say, that isn’t right.
    The pigs say, ‘Oink,’ all day and night.”
  11. Characters who comment about their own or other stories. In Chester by Melanie Watt, the author and cat character go back and forth about the story. Among other shenanigans, the cat crosses out the author’s name on the cover and puts his own name.
  12. Disruption of time and space relationships. Redwoods by Jason Chin. A boy picks up a nonfiction book about redwood forests and enters the forest.
  13. Something makes the readers aware of what makes up a story. In Help! We Need a Title! By Herve Tullet, characters realize someone is watching them (that’s YOU, the reader) and decide to make up a story. In the end, they invite the author to help finish the story.
  14. Mixing of Genres.
    In A Book by Mordecai Gerstein, a girl runs into characters from different genres in a search for her own story. This allows the reader to learn about elements of different genres.
  15. Metafiction + Creative nonfiction. Can you write a metafiction nonfiction picture book? Yes. These stories often mix informational text with fiction. No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young features a couple of worms who make funny comments while the narrator explains where chocolate comes from.
How to Write a Metafiction Picture Book | DarcyPattison.com
How to Write a Metafiction Picture Book | DarcyPattison.com

Writing a Metafiction Picture Book


DH: Actually, I do metaficiton.
Me: What? When?

Flashback to memory of DH telling bedtime stories to our kids:
“Once upon a time, there were three bears. Flopsy, Mospy and Peter Bear.”

Me: (Slapping forehead) Oh, my goodness. You’re a metafiction storyteller!
At least, there’s one in the family.


Know the Rules – Break the Rules
If you’ve read my book, How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, you’ll know most of the “rules” of writing a picture book. Break any rule that’s reasonable for the story, but have a reason to break it. You may want to inject humor, parody, information, or yourself into the story for a good reason. Do it. And do it boldly.

Metafiction Topics
While you can write about anything, often the topic of a metafiction picture book is to explain a book or some element of fiction or writing. That’s reflected in titles such as It’s a Book, There are No Cats in This Book, and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book?. Of course, if you try this, remember that you’ll have lots of competition.

Good Read Alouds
Make sure these are good read alouds because youngest readers may read these with adults to make sure it’s understood. Read more about how to make your story a good read aloud here.

Have fun
One of the main reasons to write a metafiction picture book is to have fun, to play with the genre. Do something unexpected, disrespectful, funny.

Critiquing Metafiction Picture Books


DH: Actually, I like a lot of the books you’re calling metafiction.
Me: Why?
DH: They’re unexpected. A surprise. They make me laugh. Kids love them.</p>

      An aside: In my household, it’s understood that I don’t have a sense of humor.
          Slap stick? No, it’s not funny.
          Potty jokes? Absolutely not.
          Metafiction? I’m not laughing.

DH: Of course, it’s hard for you to critique metafiction manuscripts.
Me: (Groan. Why is he always right?)
DH: (Wisely, DH refrains from saying anything else.)


Authors, give your group (or editor) a heads up.
When I approach a critique of a picture book, I am always expecting a traditional story. So, it’s helpful if the author is aware of the type picture book they are writing and can tell the critique group, “This is a metafiction picture book.”

Readers, read the story in front of you.
I often read movie or book reviews and get aggravated because the review is more about the reader than the text. The reviewer talks about what they wanted or predicted and how those preconceptions were disappointed. That’s the danger in critiquing this special type of picture book. Especially for metafiction picture books, you must read the text in front of you. Be open to a new way of telling a story for kids.

Resources: Read More

  1. Ann. Teaching Tips: Fun with Metafiction. July 30, 2015. Many Roads to Reading blog. Nice list of books and teaching tips.
  2. Tantari, Sue. The Postmodern Picture Book and Its Impact on Classroom Literacy. C. 2014
    Great explanation of metafiction picture books, including interactive elements, illustrations from selected books, charts and audio. If you’re totally new to this genre, start here.

Metafiction Picture Books to Study

Look for other titles by these authors, too.

Ahlberg, Allen. The Pencil
Barnett, Mac. Chloe and the Lion
Bingham, Kelly. Z is for Moose
Boynton, Sandra. Moo, Baa, La, La, La
Browne, Anthony. Willy the Dreamer
Child, Lauren. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book?
Chin, Jason. Redwoods
Freedman, Deborah. Scribble
Gerstein, Mordecai. A Book
Gravett, Emily. Wolves
Hopkinson, Deborah. Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek
Lehman, Barbara. The Red Book
Macauley, David. Black and White
Schwarz, Viviane. There are No Cats in this Book
Scieszka, Jon and Lane Smith. Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Smith, Lane. It’s a Book
Spiegelman, Art. Open Me. . .I’m a Dog!
Stewart, Melissa. No Monkeys, No Chocolate
Tullet, Herve. Help! We Need a Title!
Watt, Mélanie. Chester
Willems, Mo. We Are in a Book

The post How to Write a MetaFiction Picture Book appeared first on Fiction Notes.

Review: The Art of Comic Book Writing

http://www.darcypattison.com/picture-books/comic-book-writing/

http://www.darcypattison.com/?p=5772

BURN: MICHAEL FARADAY'S CANDLE

Coming February 9!


PreOrder Now!
</p>

One of the most puzzling, yet exciting formats for writers is the graphic novel. That’s the new name for comic books, or telling stories in a set of illustrated panels. In some writing a graphic novel is like writing a movie script, except the images are still instead of moving.

Writing a graphic novel comes with lots of questions.

  • What’s the standard format for a graphic novel manuscript?
  • Do you have to provide the illustrations?
  • How do you decide how many panels per page?
  • How do you pace a story across a couple pages?

Many of these questions relate also to writing children’s picture books, which are a combination of text and illustrations.

Finally, I have a resource I’d like to recommend to answer these questions: The Art of Comic Book Writing: The Definitive Guide to Outlining, Scripting, and Pitching Your Sequential Art Stories by Mark Kneece. Available as Kindle or paperback.

Writing a Graphic Novel or a  Children&quot;s Picture Book? Highly recommended resource for understanding how layout affects a story. | DarcyPattison.com
Writing a Graphic Novel or a Children’s Picture Book? Highly recommended resource for understanding how layout affects a story. | DarcyPattison.com

NOTE: I didn’t receive a review copy on this book. I just found it at my local library and was captivated.

Kneece has taught comic book writing at the Savannah College of Design for over two decades and his expertise and experience shows. He has created eight graphic novel adaptations of The Twilight Zone, and has published numerous graphic novels and comics, including work for Hellraiser, Verdilak, Alien Encounters, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, and The Spirit.

Comics Tell Great Stories

Kneece begins with an emphasis on the story that you want to tell with hints on how to develop a story past a gag. You’ll see actual examples of a formatted script. Next comes a detailed look at a single page and how a story flows across the page. Templates for a 5-panel, 6-panel, 9-panel and 12-panel bring the page to life. Rough sketches illustrate Kneece’s points about how a story flows across these different panels.

With the basics out of the way, the book gets really interesting digging into dialogue, text, characters, pacing and more. This is a fantastic book for those writing picture books because everything he says here applies to both comics and children’s picture books.

I LOVE the pacing chapters.
In Part 1, pp125-127, there’s a great example of revising for pacing, emphasis and impact. The question is where to expand the story with more details and where to compress the story for impact. This is one of the best illustrations of pacing an illustrated story that I’ve seen.

And then, in Part 2, there’s a great example of a story with a boy hears an ice cream truck. The top row is 4 panels.
Panel 1: A boy is playing with a toy rocket. A few musical notes intrude into the frame.
Panel 2: grass and musical notes
Panel 3: grass and musical notes that are trending upward
Panel 4: musical notes dance past the trunk of a large tree.

In other words the 4 panels operate more like one large panel that spans four panels. But the choice to create four panels – a quad-tych, if you will – adds energy to the story. It’s brilliant.

If you’re an illustrator of children’s books, you need to study this book. If you write children’s picture books, you need to study this book. Comic books writers and illustrators, it’s definitely the best text I’ve seen on the topic. Highly recommended.

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