The Stories We Tell

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3 Point Perspective EP 19: The Stories That We Tell.

We talk about the different kinds of stories you might illustrate as a kidlit artist in the latest episode of our podcast 😀

Current Projects:

Lee, Is continuing on his book cover series; he also worked on creating 50 patterns to give to his agent to take to a convention in New York for licensing.

Will, Still working on the sequel to Bonaparte, and is working on a new Kickstarter, to be released in February or March. Stay tuned for details! Sidenote: in case you didn’t know, Kickstarters are exhausting!

Jake: Is all finished with his Skyheart Kickstarter and is still just rounding up any stragglers, so if you are a backer and haven’t filled out your survey yet, log onto Kickstarter and fill it out so we can get your reward to you!, sponsor of this podcast! Free for 7 days. Click here if you  are interested in learning more!

What stories do you want to tell? That is the question that we want to dive into with today’s topic.

The Stories That We Tell

In illustration there are some recurring stories and themes that come up with similar plots and basic story details. Lee did a deep dive on the internet to learn more about what stories keep coming up in the world of children’s books and here are the results from the first website he found.

Basic Themes, Plots, and Actions

10 Basic Themes in Children’s Books:

  1. Courage

  2. Friendship

  3. Belonging /Identity

  4. Family

  5. Loss/ Grief

  6. Growing Up

  7. Anger

  8. Suffering

  9. Jealousy

  10. Love

Lee did a little more research by clicking on the next Google result, and found this:

The 7 Basic Plots, Christoffer Booker

  1. Overcoming the Monster, or overcoming some big thing

  2. Rags to Riches: follows a rise to happiness.

  3. Voyage and Return

  4. The Quest

  5. Comedy

  6. Tragedy: riches to rags, follows a fall.

  7. Rebirth

Jake’s 4 Different Plot Categories:

  1. Winning

  2. Escaping

  3. Stopping

  4. Retreating

These are the modes of action of the main characters.

I.e. Where the Wild Things Are, Max is escaping.

Little Bot and Sparrow, It’s all about a robot that becomes friends with a sparrow and they grow in their friendship together, until one day the sparrow has to leave for the winter. The story is all about: Friendship, Belonging, and Dealing with Loss and Grief.

A subtle version of rags to riches.

Plot applies more to bigger, longer stories, stories with a 3 act structure. Children’s books can have a 3 act structure but often times they don’t.

Most stories: a problem that needs to be solved and then they find a creative solution.

The late Rick Walton: Come up with an interesting problem with a creative solution.

Are there things that you like to create?

Are there things that you like to create? What are you naturally drawn to creating?

If you are a student in school you should be creative enough when you get an assignment, you should be able to fit what the assignment is with what you want to paint or create.

Some themes that come up in Lee’s work and entertainment interests:

Kids that find something magical, and then that drives the story. Normal real life with a hint of magic, or one thing out of place. Like The Goonies, Iron Giant, and E.T.

With Harry Potter, he liked the details, more than the overall story.

3 Different Types of Creators:

  1. World Building: get really caught up in the details, sometimes overlook the story and characters and can get caught up with plot points, etc.

  2. Character Building: very focused on the characters and their development.

  3. Plot Building: very focused on the overall story, but maybe doesn’t have specifics figured out with characters, the world, etc.

Jake loves Worldbuilding. What are the mechanics of the world?

It’s super interesting to have characters with conflict. I.e. A bad character who is forced to do something good.

The reluctant heroes, the anti-hero are very interesting and fun stories to follow.

What are you going to paint and create if you are left on your own?

Will’s goal is to become an Authorstrator.

Will and his wife were losing their home because of poor financial choices, and this was a direct influence on the story he helped write: Gary’s Place. What if this gopher decided to dig a hole and then added a whole bunch of rooms, and then the house got flooded because the Gopher dug too far.

What do I like to do in the winter time? etc, then you can start thinking about situations and character ideas.

Essentially the stories that you tell will come from your life experiences, your interests, and from who you are.

How to come up with a good story

Why a story starts and why a story ends is so difficult, the resolution is the hardest part, it is difficult to come up with a story that ends in a satisfying and meaningful way.

You can say, I know that I want the story to be about this..., but instead of thinking about how it starts, think about how it ends. Then you can work backwards and reverse engineer it.

Some stories are serious, and others are just fun jokes.

Like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

The story is along the lines of a really good joke. It is simplified, toned down, and has a great punch line. Think about the jokes that you are drawn to. Funny picture books are just illustrated jokes. Every element is essential to help tell the joke.

I Want My Hat Back

No David! It is very loosely a story, but there is this interaction and story, and then it ends with the resolution of his mom hugging him.

Writing a simple short book that is also satisfying is very difficult.

Dr. Suess was amazing at creating stories that were deep. He started off as a political cartoonist and a lot of that carries over into his children’s books.

There is a lot more to it than what you see on paper.

Horton Hears a Who, he is making a commentary about the U.S. and Japan after WW2.

The Cat in the Hat, his message and commentary on authoritarianism.

The Lorax, it is about environmental stuff.

He is so good at making a story that is interesting on two levels.

But with these stories the story isn’t overwhelmed by the message beneath it. The surface story is also interesting.

Too didactic, is a warning zone. Don’t make it too preachy!

You want it to be fun and not focused on preaching.

Jake has got this note, editors don’t want it to be too strong a message. It has to be more underneath the story.

You can’t be hit over the head with a message.

“Don’t Run into the Road!” It’s not a story. There was this big name author that tried to create a story about that, but it never really sold anywhere.

Preachy stories are really off-putting. Beating reader over the head never works. We don’t read children’s books to be preached at.

Early Influences

What are your top 3 books as a kid? Why? Why do you remember them now?

Will: The Francis books, Will was fighting with his sister, and in the book the brother was being mean to his sister. The book showed the perspective of the little sister and how she was really hurt when he was being mean to her. It really hit him and helped him see that he was being the bad guy. It made him self reflect, and had an impact on his life.

Rick Walton: if you set out to teach a lesson, that’s fine. But if you have to make the right decisions to make the story good, and those decisions take you away from that lesson, then follow the story.

Jake: Richard Scarry books, Where’s Waldo? books, stories with the faintest of stories but lots of amazing visuals.

Early influences play a huge role on who you are as a creator. Those early influences stay with you for your whole life.

Lee’s dream: to listen to the radio in 30 years and hear that a book he wrote had an impact on someone.

Lee: The Pink Elephant with Golden Spots. These kids are in an empty house and they find these keys that open a magic wardrobe, and they discover a pink elephant with golden spots, that ends up being taken to the zoo where all the  other elephants make fun of it, but all of the visitors want to see the pink elephant, and all of the other elephants paint themselves to look fun and crazy like the pink elephant. Lee still cherishes that book.

These things stick with you for the rest of your life.

Will: I Wish That I Had Duck Feet

We want to be unique. We want to stick out. This book is an influence on him and his work.

Jake, what inspired you to draw robots?

Yukito Kishero’s Battle Angel Alida was a big influence.

Appleseed was full of robots, and in the back the artist, Sherow, would show robot designs with cut aways showing the insides of the robots and how they worked.

Jake likes to offset the high technical, really detailed robots with cute little animals. Richard Scarry liked cute animals driving cars and Jake likes cute animals with robots.

Jake likes the engineering aspect, the form and function of drawing robots. Star Wars is amazing, and they have all of these books showing cross sections of ships and how things work.

How do you avoid being cliche?

You need to connect dots that haven’t been connected before.

Just write a great story, that is totally original. It’s that easy!

Anything that is unique and original, there is an element of the familiar and there is something that is unexpected. This is why it is vital to fill your creative bank account.

Where are some unlikely connections? What are the interesting things that you notice?

Notice the things around you. Look for things in your life that are unique to you. Look for problems in your life and find ways to solve them.

Lee’s real life question: “What if it didn’t stop raining?” Led to him creating a story about a girl who encounters that problem, it doesn’t stop raining. Find the problems that you are going through personally and then solve them in interesting ways.

If you are stuck on doing the monster under the bed something then you need to do something unexpected.

Seinfeld, comes from real life. There is a level of richness and charm that has to come from real life.

Have fun telling and coming up with your own stories!


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

Alex Sugg:

Tanner Garlick: Instagram: @tannergarlick

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