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Unknown-3One of the perks of being part of the Writing for Children & Young Adults Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) community is access to the generosity of that VCFA community. Every year in July the faculty, students, and visiting editors, agents, and other publishing guests offer gifts for the VCFA auction aimed at raising funds for the school. The gifts range from whole novel critiques to week-long condo accommodations in Hawaii, as well as hand-knitted hats, jewelry, watches, artwork, books, and other writing related gems.

BYQUE5mCQAA_sYuOne such gem was a graphic novel lecture consult with Cynthia Leitich Smith, best-selling author of the TANTALIZE series, among others. Given her success at converting her prose into a successful graphic novel format, I was curious about the process, bid, and won. So one Saturday morning not long ago, a few VCFA alums like Frances Lee Hall and I gathered at Ann Jacobus’ home in San Francisco and googled in Cynthia for a lecture and Q & A on converting prose into a graphic novel format. Here are some of my take-away points:

  1. Suppose you have a published novel you’d like to adapt to a graphic novel, you wouldn’t want to necessarily retell the same story from the same POV character. Think about offering new content or perspective with the goal of adding value for your readers. Perhaps tell the “same” story from a secondary character’s point of view, for example.
  2. A graphic novel manuscript looks like a screenplay. At this point in time, formats vary by publisher. There is no standard direction—ie 12 point font, Times or Courier, 1 inch margins, double space—as exists for prose. Candlewick’s graphic novel format is: action flush left, center speaker name above centered dialogue and centered interior monologue in italics.
  3. If you also write picture books, think of your graphic novel in the same way. Think of illustratable moments and get out of the artist’s way!
  4. Cut, cut, and cut some more by omitting descriptions, emotional reflection, and transitions.
  5. Simplify. Trust the artist and your reader.
  6. Trim dialogue and exposition to the bare essentials.
  7. Do include enough text for the story to make sense.
  8. Think of each page as 5 panels of art. Each picture is a snapshot of one moment.
  9. Cut, cut, and still cut. For example, from 965 prose words Cynthia cut, cut, and cut until she had 47 graphic novel words.



The biggest impression Cynthia left me with was the amount of time she and her TANTALIZE editor, Deborah Noyes Wayshak spent on the phone reviewing and revising each page. Definitely not for the chicken-hearted!

For articles on converting prose into a graphic novel format, read these articles:

Novel to Graphic Novel

Prose to Graphic Novel

If you’re a teacher, check out this Scholastic Guide on how to use graphic novels in the classroom.

For more in-depth articles on graphic novels, check out these links:

The Graphic Novel Renaissance

The Woodcuts of Lynn Ward

The Curies, Seen through the Artist’s Eyes

For a bibliography of graphic novels, Cynthia recommends Dave’s site. Please click here.


Ann and Frances, please feel free to chime in on anything I may have missed. The same to you, Cyn.

Thank you, Cynthia for offering your time!! You have always been generous with your knowledge. I wish you success in meeting your deadlines and great reviews.