Nick Bruel: How Did the Dog Find Out?

Nick_Bruel_WPby Judy Shemtob

Nick Bruel, author and illustrator of the Bad Kitty picture book series, advised SCBWI-Westchester attendees to be curious, compassionate, and brave at his Nov. 4th workshop, “The Three Things Necessary to Write a Story.” He treated participants to a Saturday afternoon of creating their own characters, cartoons, and stories as he brought out everyone’s creative self.

A master storyteller, Bruel used audience participation to share his process for inventing a story. He started with a title, asked the audience questions, and combined the details, actions, feelings, and emotions he received into an exciting story. The audience listened in awe as Bruel weaved their responses into his exciting story. “The more you ask yourself, the more interesting your story becomes,” said Bruel.

The Westchester resident shared techniques of building characters by blending traits of several people you might observe while doing things like riding the bus or waiting in line. A list of questions guided writers to build “more complex and intriguing characters”. Bruel recommended Syd Field’s book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting for ways to develop character even further.

A cartoonist in his youth, Bruel began by studying famous strips like Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Bruel taught himself to draw in black and white and later to paint when he realized that color cartoons paid more. At that time the going rate was $25 for a black-and-white drawing and $60 for a painting in color. He also cited writers and illustrators like Dan Gutman, Jules Pfeiffer, and Maurice Sendak as influences.

Audience members shared their own cartoons. Enthusiasm built as Bruel challenged them to create three cartoons in five minutes. “Make the idea real,” he said. “Either shape it or move into another idea. Make it make sense and let it happen.”

“Presenting to someone else is daunting,” Bruel said. But he encouraged people to “Get your work out there” by creating blogs, and not “keep it in your journal where only you can see it.”

And what is his first step? “Daydream,” said author and illustrator.


Judy Shemtob was selected by elementary librarians as 2016 guest author at Scarsdale/Edgemont Teachers’ Picture Book Course and has studied at Sarah Lawrence. A SCBWI-Metro NY member and organizer of a local Write/Sketch group, she’s made author visits at Quaker Ridge School and MidWestchester JCC. Her written pieces have appeared in and ArthritisToday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s