The Basics of Plotting

The plot is the arc of the story; the beginning, the middle and the end. It is also a crucial part of a successful picture book. Writing a standout book is (unfortunately!) more than just the winning idea and physical words. You need to harness all your storytelling skills to string together a series of exciting, suspenseful and satisfying events. Notice I refer to ‘storytelling skills’ not ‘writing skills.’ Picture books need action and shape and heart, to include: 

A BEGINNING: Your opening should set the scene for your readers, detailing the setting, the main character, who the character is and what has been happening in their world that’s about to the change. Then comes the inciting incident. Your character will need to overcome some kind of conflict or problem. This is the moment they first face it. (*Don’t forget that this doesn’t all have to be in the words. Think visually and leave room for the illustrations to tell some of the story). 

A MIDDLE: If your character faced a problem and then overcame it straight away, would it be an enjoyable and satisfying story? Unlikely. The middle should follow your main character on a journey. There are different kinds of plots but whichever you choose, your protagonist needs to face obstacles. These often come in threes. Three obstacles in increasing weight and tension that aren’t interchangeable or list-like. It helps to ensure spread 4-9 can’t be read in any other order. The climax is the biggest and last obstacle. For suspense, this ‘rug pulling’ moment should be the darkest moment for the main character. It should have them thinking they might as well give up, and us as readers should be left wondering how the plot will ever be resolved. 

AN END: Your ending should see the main character make a final choice, that leads to their success and them achieving their goal. Your protagonist should be active throughout the text, but it is especially important that they are instrumental in the solving of the final problem. For a fully satisfying ‘pay off’, all loose ends need to be tied up and resolved. Great endings often have a surprise twist or leave the reader wanting more. Endings are often the trickiest part of a picture book, which is why it is good practice to know the end of a story before you begin. That way you know where you are headed. Mirror endings work well. They give a sense of balance and show explicitly what has changed.