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So, I don't know if any of you have heard of Dinotopia by James Gurney, but it's written in a format with large pages, and lots of illustrations: enter image description here

While it is not exclusively a children's book, and definitely not a bad book, it lacks a main antagonist, climax, or any other really weighty, serious emotions, especially not negative ones. Is such a format only suitable for light-hearted, less serious books, or can I use it in a book with a villain and intense climax?

Would I be better off to cut down on the illustrations, or should I stick with the Dinotopia-style format?

  • Welcome to Writing.SE SealBoi! If you have a moment please visit the help center and the tour. Enjoy yourself. – White Eagle Apr 7 '18 at 16:27
  • I would imagine it very much depends on your target audience. Children will want the illustrations - adults will likely want the story without them. That being said, I see no reason why having lots of illustrations/sketches means you can't have a very serious story. The only drawback I'm aware of is that they will distract from the story, as the reader pauses to look at them. That might be a bad thing. – Thomas Myron Apr 7 '18 at 16:28
  • You might want to check out the Timeless series by Armand Balthazar. Only the first book has been published and I haven't actually read it, but I leafed through it in a book store. It's a novel-size children's book that combines an adventure story with amazing full-page illustrations. That sounds exactly like what you're going for. – Llewellyn Apr 7 '18 at 21:15
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There are heavily illustrated books with weighty serious content. Terry Pratchett's Last Hero and Neil Gaiman's Stardust are two examples I have standing on my shelf. Both are very much not children's books.
You want to go even more serious, there are the famous illustrations by Gustave Doré to Dante's Divine Comedy.
And of course you can look at the graphic novel genre. It takes the illustrations side of the book to an extreme, and some of them deal with complex, weighty issues, strong negative emotions, etc. Look at Maus, for instance.
So, as far as story content is concerned, there's no reason why you should cut down on the illustrations.

The real problem with this format, I think, is that it is more expensive to produce: it requires an illustrator in addition to the writer, it requires better quality paper, coloured print, and probably some other things I don't even know about.

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Unlike Galastel I'm not going to tell you that you can do picture books for adults because there are comic books for adults and medieval narrative poems with nineteenth century illustrations. What one has to do with the other, I don't know.

The problem you perceive and I see is that picture books are (today) mostly for children. There really isn't much of a market for adult picture books, and booksellers won't know where to put them in their stores. This is a serious obstacle, if you want to sell your book. I worked in a publishing house, and every year the sales representatives who had to visit the book stores and convince the booksellers to put our books in their shelves vetoed certain publications because they would fall between categories and bookstores wouldn't take them. The marked is a bit different today, what with many books sold from the websites of famous authors, but if you are a new author and don't have a large following on some social media site, you may want to think about how you are going to get people to know of your book.

That said, there is quite a number of picture books for adults. The link is to a Google search that comes up with a bunch of lists. Go through them and see what others have published, and do some research on how they market it.

If you don't care about sales, the answer to your question, of course, is: You can write anything you please.


As for Dinotopia, it is less a story than worldbuilding. Gurney is an illustrator, not a writer, and he had the idea for Dinotopia when he was recreating cities from archaeological finds for National Geographic. In an interview, he explains that his intention with Dinotopia was worldbuilding, and the story only served to frame the illustrations, in the way a travel journal ties together the photos of exotic places, but doesn't really narrate much besides that the places where visited and what went on there:

After painting a few of my "lost empires," I started playing with the idea of a picture book that would serve as a kind of grand tour. Then I thought of putting all those places on a single island, and populating the island with dinosaurs and people. I tried to immerse myself in every aspect of worldbuilding, from maps to mechanics to metaphysics, making it as real and believable as possible. I tried not to think of myself as creating the world, but instead just transcribing some lost journal. This attitude really freed me up. It's easier to transcribe something that already exists rather than creating something from whole cloth.

This travel-journal aspect of Dinotopia is the reason why the story, as you note, has no antagonist: it isn't a story in the way the writer of a novel thinks about story at all.

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