Behind Every Great Story

By Virginia Parker Staat

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”
 ~ H.E. Luccock

Drawing stick people is a challenge for me. For that reason, I have had the wonderful privilege of working with a very talented visual artist over the past several years. Andy Ramon has developed a logo, a legend for a cookbook, and is now illustrating a children’s book for me.

I like how Andy works. He asks smart questions and listens intently to my needs. Amazingly, his style of communication leads him to somehow see what is in my mind’s eye. As a result, he delivers drawings that are exactly what I want.

Andy has given me permission to include in this article the first rough sketch he drew of El Patron, the renegade bear in my children’s story. The manuscript is a true story about a starving bear. Driven by hunger, El Patron followed his nose to a poorly kept hunting camp. He was marked as a nuisance bear after he broke into the camp’s cabin and consumed fifty-pounds of birdseed, a refrigerator full of food, six cases of rat poison, a bottle of wine, and two gallons of cooking oil. In the process, he wrecked the place. And that was just the beginning of this bear’s wild adventures.

In my initial discussion with Andy, he asked what was most important to me. I told him that I wanted the bear to look realistic and not ferocious. One of the key elements in El Patron’s story is how we can co-exist with wild bears, so it was most important that my young readers learn to be respectful rather than fearful of these magnificent creatures. When Andy sent this initial sketch, I knew he would be able to capture the essence of my bear. I had found the right artist for the job. I can’t wait to see his final pen and ink drawings.

Too often we writers are considered solitary figures, doing our own thing in isolation rather than being collaborators who work as a team with other crafts. The truth is writers do not work alone. Behind every great story, there is an accompanying support team. We have editors to make our writing better. We may work with researchers, layout designers, publicists, and/or visual artists like Andy. We also receive motivation and support from friends, family, critique groups, and fellow students.

In Writing Tools, author Roy Peter Clark suggests that writers should understand the various auxiliary crafts that support our written work. By learning about these crafts and working closely with the people who have mastered them, we can make our writing richer and greatly improve our presentation. He writes, “This requires not just the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated – but what my old colleague Bill Boyd calls the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated.” The Platinum Rule includes meeting deadlines, communicating clearly, and finding out in advance what each craft person needs to do their best work.

For Andy to do his best work, we had a lot of communication before he drew the first sketch. I had to determine what the layout of the book would be. I chose portrait rather than landscape. Did I want watercolor or pen and ink sketches? I also had to decide which scenes needed to be illustrated.

Andy Ramon is an example of a tremendous artist who has certainly improved my work. His sketches will complete the presentation of El Patron’s story, enticing children to read further. I encourage you to learn more about the auxiliary crafts that support your writing. Those rich collaborations are the gems behind every great story.