Ask an adult what their favorite book growing up was, and more times than not, they will list a picture book. Why? Because picture books are the first books we are exposed to, and for some, it’s the only books we’ve ever read. This means as a writer, there is a lot of pressure when you plot your picture book.
But how do you build a plot in only 32 pages?
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How to Plot Your Picture Book Perfectly:
What is a Picture Book?
A picture book is defined as a book containing illustrations, particularly designed for children. (Source) This means that the pictures, along with the words, will work together to tell your story.
And you don’t have to be an illustrator to write and publish picture books. You only need to craft a story and use notes for the agent & editor to visualize what is happening while they read.
The Questions You Must Ask Yourself to Build Your Plot:
Who’s the main character of your book?
A picture book is normally about a preschooler or kindergartener unless you’re telling a story with an animal protagonist (Check out the different age levels you should know here).
Choosing your main character is about more than picking out their name. You will need to craft their personality, determine what motivates them, and decide what they will learn by the end of the book. This will give your character depth AND make them more relatable/enjoyable for the reader.
**Read this article to learn more about creating characters kids LOVE!**
What problem are they going to need to solve?
In a picture book, there’s always one problem. (Unlike a novel, where you have quite a bit of problems that intertwine throughout the story.) Examples might be, running out of tacos before the big fiesta, needing to find the perfect dress to wear to the make-believe tea party, or having to build the most gigantic sandcastle far enough away from the tide.
Think about WHO your story is about and HOW a specific problem will affect them. This will really help you bring the emotional level to your story. Plus, it will give you ideas for the 3 obstacles they will need to overcome.
**Check this out when you’re looking for your problem. It will help you do your research and brainstorm your plot before you write your first word.
How can you incorporate the Rule of 3?
When you plot your picture book, you can’t state the problem, then solve it on the next page. There has to be some tension and build-up to the climax before reaching a conclusion. And a suggested, practical rule is to use the number three.
Meaning, think of three things that your character will have to overcome before they reach their solution. (The rule of 7 and 12 are also great, if you have a lot of problems, like in The Rabbit Listened.)
Maybe they stop to talk to three animals along the way before finding the right one or maybe there are three dresses that are all wrong for the party before they get the perfect one. Something that will make it fun for the reader and build up your conclusion.
The Rule of 3 is not just for plot!
This rule is also great to help you keep a rhythm throughout your story. Use repetitive phrases, clink, clank, clunk or he did this, this, and that. It will help your manuscript flow better.
How will the main character solve the problem?
The biggest emphasis here is how with the main character solves the problem, NOT someone else. In a picture book, educators and publishers want to see the child solve the problem so that the readers learn to solve things themselves. Otherwise, we’d be encouraging dependency well into elementary school that could be damaging to our children’s futures. (And nobody wants that!)
When you’re plotting your conclusion, be sure to think of clever ways for the character to find the answer. Getting creative and choosing a different angle or unexpected solution is a fun way to catch the reader off guard, and bring a fresh story into the marketplace–Just don’t make it too crazy. You still want it to be marketable.😉
The plot of your picture book has the simplest structure, but can take a while to get used to. Try creating an outline that includes your hook, the problem, three points along the way, and a strong conclusion. And use the free children’s book template to help you out!
I also recommend that you buy #6 on this list of the best writing books if you don’t own it already! Ann Whitford Paul is an AMAZING teacher. Plus, she really dives deep into the rhythm and word choice that is necessary for picture book writing.
And check out these other articles to help with your picture book writing:
- The Best Way to Learn to Write a Picture Book
- The Best Way to Use Adjective in a Picture Book
- How to Write Characters Kids Love
- The Ultimate Guide to Illustrators for KidLit Writers
- The Step-by-Step Guide to the Picture Book Plot Structure
Also- Check out these book reviews of best-selling picture books to learn more about how to plot your own picture book: