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The Picture Book Plot Structure Step-by-Step Breakdown

The most popular type of children’s book that people choose to write is the picture book. But these short stories can be hard to write if you don’t know what the plot structure looks like. So what is the picture book plot structure?

Unless you’re writing a concept book, you’ll want to use this structure every time you sit down to write your story. Let’s check out the breakdown below.

Picture Book Plot Structure Complete Step-by-Step Breakdown

The Picture Book Plot Structure Step-by-Step Breakdown:

When you first start to write a picture book, you think it’s going to be easy. They’re only 500 words, how hard can that be? Well, it’s actually harder than you think because you have to tell a complete story within that small word count.

But when you use this simple picture book plot structure it becomes easier to tell your story using few words. And it’s reusable! (So every time you sit down to write a new picture book, you use the same formula.) Okay, so here’s what the picture book plot structure looks like:

Download the free children's book template

Step 1 – Introduction

This is the beginning of your story. It’s your job to choose how you want to invite the reader in. A good way to learn how to write an awesome introduction is by reading lots and lots of picture books. That will help you get the sense of what other writers are doing today.

But for your story, you’ll want to start in one of two ways: introducing us to your character or dropping us right into the action of a scene. Bonus, if you can do both at the same time!

Step 2 – Introduce the Problem

Then right after your introduction, you let the reader know what problem needs to be solved. This is the main purpose of your story. The crux of your whole plot. And you should let them know it in the first 50 words!

How you want to write in your problem is up to you, but you need to reveal it quickly, and it needs to be apparent to the reader.

Step 3 – Solution Attempt #1

Now that we know who our story’s about and what problem we need to solve, it’s time to find a solution. Obviously, we don’t want the solution to appear on the very next page — that wouldn’t make it a very exciting story!

So we incorporate what’s known in picture book plot structure as the Rule of 3. Meaning your character has to try (and fail) three times before they can solve their problem.

Step 4 – Solution Attempt #2

And each time you introduce a new solution attempt, the stakes need to get higher.

Since this is only a picture book, we don’t want the stakes to be as dire as they would be in a YA novel. So your failures could be something smaller like they ignored the letter he wrote them or everyone still laughed at his hat. Something that’s relatable to young children.

Step 5 – Solution Attempt #3

Then we get to the final solution attempt. This has to be it, right? We’ve tried and tried to solve our problem. The solution should be here right? Wrong. There’s still this last hurdle we have to overcome.

Step 6 – Climax/Sense of Failure or Doubt

Because your poor character has tried three different things or ways to help solve their problem, they get a sense that it’s never going to work. That they’re always going to have this problem.

This is what’s known in the picture book plot structure as the climax of the book. It’s the sense that all hope is lost. (Even if it’s something as minor as they can’t find their favorite food to eat. To a kid, even the minor stuff is big stuff!)

Kidlit Writer's Starter Kit | Your guide to help you write a children's book

Step 7 – Solution/Ending

Finally! We made it to the ending. Your character finds one more solution that might work to solve their problem and this time it actually does! Now, your character has grown full circle and has turned a new leaf. They’ve changed from who they were at the start of the book and have found the perfect solution to their problem.

An important thing to note about this final step is that your child character MUST solve the problem themselves. They cannot have anyone else, especially a grown-up, do it for them.


And there you have it! The complete step-by-step breakdown of the picture book plot structure: Introduction to the main character and problem they’ll face, three attempts to try to solve it, climax where they think it’ll never happen, and finally the perfect solution. (Bonus if you can find an unexpected ending!)

If you’d like more help writing your picture book use the picture book plotting worksheet here to help you write your story.

And for more tips on writing picture books, check out these other articles around the blog:

Try the Picture Book Plot Structure Today!

Download the free children's book template

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2 Comments

  1. thank you for the tidbits. looking to continue with my children book writing in the new year 2021. have a beginning for a book named “bubble gum shoes” inspired to me about my grand-daughter who witnessed bullying from the kids at school boys and girls, leaves to move to the country with her grand parents., the shoes were shoes that looked like bubblegum on the top with all color pebble like on them. she wore them everyday having moved from the city. excited for this is my second children’s book. first in production now, DNA, dolls nanna afternoons, growing up on the beach in New Jersey with Grand-mom. I look forward to your emails.

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