How Ideas Become Good Ideas: A Note from Mo
The first step to figuring out a story is your characters. And with each book, I go through hundreds of sketches that aren’t used. Here are a few that I did in the early stages of That Is Not a Good Idea!
for Hungry Fox, Plump Goose, and the Baby Geese.
Purple Fox: After I have a sense of a story and their characters, I start to make test sketches. It's my hope that the technique (the brushes, pencils, markers, or crayons) will give me an insight into who the characters really are.
Baby Geese: This process goes on for a while (sometimes weeks, sometimes months). Even the character stylings that don't work help. The covering-the-eye pose from this test was used in the final book, even though the characters look completely different.
Goodwolf Sketch: We use butcher-paper as our tablecloth, so that our family can doodle every night after dinner. (You can see some examples on the Mo Willems Doodles blog.) All of the characters seem to have taken over this night's dinner (I saved the drawing for later reference).
Test Background: Once the characters started to come into focus, it was time to go through the same process with the backgrounds...
If anyone is going to pull off a picture book built on the conventions of old-time silent movies—exaggerated facial expressions, telling body language, and, of course, blacked-out dialogue pages cut into the story—it would be Willems. The setup is classic dastardly villain and innocent naïf, as a three-piece-suited, top-hatted, grinning fox catches the eye of a sweet, old babushka-wearing duck. Dinner! He asks if she’d like to go for a stroll in the deep, dark forest to his kitchen, where he’s making a pot of soup that’s missing only one last ingredient. At each step of the way, an increasingly frantic litter of chicks warns That is really, really, really, really not a good idea! By the time the story reaches its peak, you can practically hear the Wurlitzer throbbing, and kids will be squirming with tense glee, primed for a classic Willems gotcha that turns the whole thing on its head for the poor, unsuspecting fox. A quick, crowd-pleasing lark that should be a hit at group storytime. High-Demand Backstory: Willems, Willems Willems! And as much as everyone loves Elephant and Piggie, fans will be pleased to have a new offering in a picture-book format. Preschool-Grade 1. --Ian Chipman