Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

September 2020 Monthly Meeting: Varian Johnson

September’s meeting was hosted by Austin SCBWI member and VCFA faculty member Varian Johnson, award-winning author of nine novels including new middle-grade graphic novel Twins, illustrated by Shannon Wright, from Graphix/Scholastic. TWINS was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and has received starred reviews from KirkusBooklist, and School Library Journal.


Varian titled his presentation “The Writer’s Intro to Graphic Literature.” He spoke from the vantage point of an author of graphic novels that will be illustrated by others.

-Definition of graphic literature: “Sequential, book-length illustrations and text that cross all literary genres and reader categories. Also referred to as comic format.” The term graphic novel typically applies not only to novels, but also to memoirs, non-fiction and other genres of book-length sequential art forms.

-Similarities and differences between graphic literature and picture books:

-Recommended reading:

-Writing a graphic novel is like writing a screenplay:

-Script templates can be found on apps such as Scrivener. An example from TWINS:

-Working with the illustrator is a collaboration—a conversation between author and illustrator with the goal of making the best book possible. Strike a balance between dialogue and how much is happening in each panel. Write dialogue first, then go back and plan page turns, scene transitions, and layout. When in doubt, create thumbnails. Think about camera angles and how text and art are working together.


Think about how to communicate feelings and ideas. For examples check out these titles:

-Common mistakes: Do not over explain; do not go overboard with panel descriptions; do not include too many panels per page.

-Think outside the box; this is a new form of literature!