Creating Good Storytelling

Barbara DaCosta is author of Mighty Moby and Nighttime Ninja, both illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young and published by Little, Brown. Nighttime Ninja received the Children’s Choice Award. Visit her at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Have you ever stopped to think why you can’t put some books down? Or why you can’t stop listening to your friend telling you the same tale for the umpteenth time?

The secret is in the storytelling. It’s the tone of voice, the anticipation, the pacing. It’s in their utter commitment to the story. A good storyteller, they say, is someone who can read the telephone book to you and make it sound interesting.

Much of this is done through use of various devices: a movie’s suspenseful music or ominous lighting. A cliffhanger at the end of a novel’s chapter. A shoe about to drop, an unanswered question, a ticking clock. But ultimately, it’s about one person speaking to another.

Even in a picture book, a sense of urgency can be created, through the flow of the artwork, the rhythm of the words, the judicious use of page turns, even the use of punctuation! So it’s not enough to have only one element work. It all has to work, and it all has to speak to the reader.

In our book Mighty Moby, we strove to knit pictures and text together to create a sense of anticipation. Based on Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick, we follow Ahab-his obsession dragging whalers and whale into an epic battle-when suddenly-

You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.

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