Thursday, March 15, 2012

Visual Storytelling—Part Two

Back in October, I posted about the beginning of my visual storytelling process for my next book, COURAGE HAS NO COLOR. This book is about a group of people who should be as well known as the Tuskegee Airmen, but are fairly unknown. The Triple Nickles were the first black paratroopers in WWII and proved to the military that black men could be paratroopers. Their story is a fascinating and complex one, and tracking down photos for this book has been the hardest of any book I have written. It has taken several years of playing detective and unearthing photos one by one from varied and far-flung sources. Now I am at the other end of the process—not nearly the end, but getting closer. I have inventoried all the photographs I collected and have decided to use, chapter by chapter, and keyed the manuscript with the numbers I assigned them. What does keying mean? It means I go through each chapter and note which image I want to use and the text it should be placed nearest.

Then I go back through my inventory and see if there are photos that matter to me that I haven’t found a place for yet and I take another pass. This may mean replacing one I think has more storytelling potential than something else if I can’t fit them both. It’s a tricky balance as you physically can’t fit too many images on a spread without overwhelming the design—or the designer!
I then go through the next pass for a different visual feature—pull-out quotes. This means I am looking through my own text with an eye toward the reader who will be skimming the pages to get a sense of what this book is about—which lines or quotes do I want to highlight that will lead my reader through the story. Again, there will potentially be more than the designer can fit, so I have to choose with intention and know they won’t all make it in. There will be another pass, and another, and another, so I’ll be able to make changes, but this is the big first important sweep that begins to transform a manuscript into a book.

Meanwhile, my talented designer is working on sample pages with the images I have sent. Is there a font we want to use that will help convey the time of the book, or the emotion in it? How do we make things flow? How will we fit everything in? And, of course, a hundred other design concerns and questions I know nothing about—I will simply get to see what her handiwork and vision produces!

What we are all doing at this stage is looking at the book from a visual perspective. We want to know that we are assisting the readers for that moment when they will inevitably browse through to see if they even want to read this book. Are we making an impact? Is it clear what this book is about? Have we set the right tone? Do they want to turn the page? As we head into this phase of production, it is always astonishing and wonderful to me how many minute details there are to consider, and how much they impact the final product. I’m excited!


Unknown said...

What a great blog, Tanya. Picking images is a very personal art (I try to make sure they expand on the text, add humor, comment on the era I'm writing about, and, in general, enrich the readers' experience in any way possible). And I look at, study, worry about type face, size, how wide the margins are...on and on and on. Does your head spin every so often as you try to find the right balance?

Unknown said...

I love the fact that you are sharing your thinking about putting together nonfiction! Thanks for giving us a window into your purposes and processes.

Mary said...

Thanks Tanya,
I really appreciate you sharing your process. I am working on my first non-fiction book and not quite at the stage where I can begin these steps. Another draft of the manuscript and still waiting for a few photographs to come in. So fun to have a glimpse of what will be coming.