Writing and Illustrating: Becoming a Pinball Wizard


By Diana Zipeto

Writing and illustrating stories can feel a little like a game of pinball.

Use the ball shooter to launch the story idea. Watch it bounce off the writing bumper, then the illustrating bumper, then back to writing, then illustrating. The ball might then get distracted by some other spinners and targets. When it seems like the ball is headed for the “out” hole, use the flippers to bang the ball back into play.

As someone who writes and illustrates stories, I have created book dummies where I spent a long time on the story before starting the character sketches or storyboard. On others, I have used images as a way into the story, created the storyboard, then wrote the text. It’s been interesting to try different approaches and so far for me, no project has gone exactly the same way each time.

Author/illustrators seem to run the gamut in terms of how they approach their work.

David Weisner starts with images, then moves into the story. He first completes character sketches and a storyboard. “This is how I write – I take the ideas that I have, even if incomplete, and explore them within the context of the whole book. Connections are made and narrative ideas develop.” (See more of David’s process here)

Dan Yaccarino has different approaches based on the project: “Some of my books start out as an image, and some start out as a fully written story before I visualized anything at all.” (Read more about Dan here) 

Anna Dewdney starts with an emotion and builds the story and images together. “Creating the books is a bit like creating a collage, one thing layering on top of another. I sketch/write/sketch/write for a long time until I’m ready to get official.” (Read more about Anna’s process here)

It does seem like the more times you go through the writing/illustrating process, the more chances you have to find the way that works best for you, that gives you a strong story with strong visuals and that feels like you could actually do it all again the next time.

Let the images and ideas lead you in whatever way they want to go. Pay attention and trust your developing process.

Shoot a new story idea into play and see what happens!

What’s your process? Do you start with images, or words? How does the story build for you?

Diana Zipeto is an illustrator and designer living in an energizing artist community in Lowell, MA. You can see her work at www.dianazipetoillustration.com. She has most recently illustrated books in the Olive and Max series published by Schoolwide, Inc.

One comment

  1. Nice analogy on how to tackle writing as if you are playing pinball. Writing a book like how a pinball game goes can put a bit of excitement and thrill to the reader. The reader may feel like the character has no control especially when things get out of hand, but ultimately, the one that controls the ball is the one with their hands on the level. Would rather write like this from time to time, but it can be a draining process.

    Liked by 1 person

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