Monday, 1 July 2013

Plotting a Picture Book

It doesn’t matter if you're writing a 70,000-word novel or a 600-word picture book, creating an interesting story is simply a task of asking yourself some questions. Perhaps the most helpful source for what to ask yourself was penned by Rudyard Kipling (30th December 1865 – 18th January 1936),

“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

The four lines above have helped me on many an occasion to solve plotting issues. So what follows is how I use the above to help me construct a story.

The who is obviously your main character or characters. Unlike adult fiction keep your character numbers small. So it is easier for a child to follow the story.


For a picture book writer there are two what’s to think about. Firstly what is your character? Are they animal, human, mythical create (fairy, wizard, witch etc.) or inanimate object. However many will tell you to keep away from these. Yet Disney still appears to create characters from cars, toys, gnomes etc. that children love. The second what is what happen or perhaps what is your theme? For example the theme for my story ‘A Book For Bramble’ is loneliness and missing a friend. 

Why is linked into the what, so you ask yourself what happens and why. For example in my book ‘The Best Jumper’ the what happens is my character Spindle the mouse has a jumper that appears to be shrinking however the why it is shrinking is because he is growing, something all children will be able to relate to.

In picture book this is perhaps one of the less important questions. Novels for any age tend to be anchored in a time period. However many picture books are timeless. That is to say when reading them they could be set in any time period. A book about fairies inhabiting a different world could be now or it could be 100 years ago, there is no real relation to ‘our’ time.

Many picture books are set within their own world as in my book ‘Dog Did It’ which is a mythical world populated by trolls or in a world that sits along side our own. For example in my book ‘A Book For Bramble’ the place it is taking place could be almost anywhere in the world where a mouse lives in a hole under a hedge. As the author I see Teasel and his family living in the English countryside however he would be just at home in many countries in Europe or even in some parts of the US.

This is quite a big question. However I normally use it to answer the question of how my character overcomes the problem I have given them to resolve. If you are a reader of picture books (something I would urge you to do as often as you can) you will notice the how to overcome the problem is not just used once but at least three times to give layers to your plotting.

I’m hoping you can now see how you can use these questions to help you plot your story and create one children will love and adult will be willing to read time and time again.   

I also write for: Electric AuthorsThe Hedgehog Shed and The Picture Book Den

I have three new distance learning courses commencing soon via Women On Writing:

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