This is the third in a series of blogs about how to write brilliant rhyming picture books.  The first instalment covered writing with perfect METRE, the second covered writing with brilliant RHYME and this time we are focussing on PLOT.

Why is plot so important – is beautiful, lyrical rhyme not enough?

No, sadly it isn’t.  Compared to most books, picture books are expensive to print because of all the full colour illustrations.  To make things work financially, publishers like to have other foreign publishers buy the book to sell in their own territories (and in their own languages).  These ‘co-editions’ can help making printing picture books more cost-effective.  However, to sell co-editions, you can’t rely on beautiful words which rhyme for the UK market – you need a strong plot to make the story worth translating. 

Beginnings, Middles and Endings

Everyone knows that a good story needs a great beginning, a strong middle and a satisfying ending, but have you ever thought about what a beginning, a middle and an ending should include?  And why?

  • Brilliant Beginnings:

A beginning needs to do a number of things, it needs to establish:

  • WHERE we are – where is this story set?
  • WHEN we are – what time period are we in?
  • WHO the character is 
  • WHAT the character WANTs 

A Beginning needs to HOOK us into the story and to tell us about what is ‘NORMAL’ for a character.  This helps us relate to them and to understand their actions and feelings as we progress through the story.

Speaking of which, Beginnings also need an ‘INCITING INCIDENT’ (Trigger 1).  This can be anything, even something seemingly minor, but it will kickstart a series of events that will move our character from their ’normal’ life and into ‘The Middle’.

  • Magnificent Middles:

The most important thing about a middle is that, put simply, ‘stuff happens’.  Even the most lyrical PB needs to have some action to hold the interest of a very young child. 

  • A middle must establish what the character’s CONFLICT is.   All stories need conflict, this can internal or external, but the character needs to have something that they WANT.
  • Once you have established a ‘want’, you need to put OBSTACLES in the way of your character achieving this.   These obstacles could be their own internal fears, other people, or physical obstacles, like distance. Each obstacle should make the problem seem harder and harder to solve, thereby increasing the tension.
  • Now you need action.  Your character needs to DO STUFF to try and overcome the obstacles to solve their problem. If the character is too passive then you don’t have a story.
  • SO WHAT?  Your middle must establish what your character has to lose if they don’t solve the problem. What is at STAKE is what makes the reader care. 
  • As things get worse, the TIPPING POINT (Trigger 2) will kickstart the Ending.   This can again be anything, but it is something that almost makes your character lose hope and tips them into their Darkest Hour.
  • Excellent Endings:

The most important thing about endings is that they must ‘match the promise’ set out in the beginning – you need to ensure that the core of your story hasn’t changed from when you started writing.  You’d be surprised how often this happens, but PBs are too short to have more than one core story.

Your ending needs:

  • Increasing tension as the character reaches their ‘DARKEST HOUR’.  This is the point where it seems as though everything is lost. 
  • Now we need a ‘TURNING POINT, as, incredibly, things turn in the character’s favour.  What could this turning point be?   Perhaps the character finds strength in themselves to overcome their fear?  Perhaps the friends that the character assumed had abandoned them come back to help?
  • Whatever it is that happens, it needs to MATCH the story.  If the story has been about overcoming a fear of water, then it is no good to have an alien come down and save the day.  Your character must somehow overcome that fear of water for a satisfying ending. 
  • And that leads us to what the character has learned or how they have CHANGED.  Great stories should affect us all, especially our characters.
  • Once this has happened and once the character’s goal has been achieved, you must tie up the loose ends. 

Don’t let your rhyme lead the story!

One important thing to note for rhyming stories is that YOU should be deciding where the story goes, and not your rhyme.  If you want to write a story about a cat on a fence, then don’t have her sitting on a mat just because the rhyme is easier.  Try writing your story out in prose beforehand so you can corral it in the right direction.

If you have other questions on plot then do come follow me on Twitter at @Emmett_cath or drop me a line via my website http://www.catherineemmett.co.uk.  I’m a rhyming geek and am always happy to talk picture books!

Happy writing!

www.catherineemmett.co.uk ‘King of the Swamp’ out NOW!

You can order at the below link! https://www.waterstones.com/book/king-of-the-swamp/catherine-emmett/ben-mantle/9781471181696