Sunday, 29 January 2012

Pacing a Picture Book Story by Lynne Garner

It doesn’t matter if you're writing a 70,000-word novel or a 600-word picture book you have to create a story with a good plot and that's well paced. Unlike a novel when writing a picture book you know how many pages you are working with as there are industry standards.The picture books I write normally adhere to the traditional 12 double-page spread formula. So when I start to work on a new story I take a piece of A4 paper and fold it to create 12 sections. To show you how I use this piece of paper to pace a story I'll describe how I wrote Captain and Nugget.


I knew the story was going to be about two dogs, Captain and Nugget. I had decided the theme was going to be about learning to share and I knew how this lesson was going to be learnt. So all I had to do was pace the scenes on my piece of paper.

On the first page I introduced one of the characters, being Captain. The next page I used to introduce both the second character, Nugget and the problem, Captain learning to share. I then skipped to the last page because I knew I wanted a happy ending with Captain realising that sharing has its benefits.


So by plotting the first two pages and the last I was left with nine. Having nine pages meant I was able to use the magic number three. Basically for an interesting story you can't have your character solve the problem on the first attempt, this would be boring. You shouldn't allow them solve the problem on the second go, you've not built up enough tension. Having them continue to fail would frustrate the reader so you need them succeed on the third. So I was able to split the nine pages into three sets of three, which allowed me to evenly pace the story.

I've used this method of pacing in many of my books and I'm sure I'll continue to use it, as it appears to work for me. In fact just this afternoon I grabbed my A4 note pad, created 12 sections and started to plot and pace out a new story.

Footnote:
When I'd finished this story I used it as part of an illustration course I was studying and at that time I also decided to turn it into an eBook (Amazon.com - Amazon.co.uk). As I no longer had to stick to the rigid 12 double-page spreads I increased the pages to 23 and was still able to create a story I felt was well paced.

15 comments:

  1. I agree, Lynne - the magic of three, so often found in folk tale, works really well in picture book. I find I fall into it without even noticing.

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    1. It wasn't until I started to read folk tales as research for improving my own writing I 'discovered' the rule of three. Now I just love having to come up with three inventive ways of solving a problem.

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  2. Great way of plotting a book, Lynne, I do a similar thing myself and hand out templates like that for my writing students to help them plot. It really helps you focus on the story.

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    1. Would love to see how you encourage your students to plot. I'm a great believer in trying to learn something new as often as you can. Especially if it helps improve the way you work.

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  3. If a story isn't working I take it apart and see if it will work better with the magic three obstacles. You're more logical and perhaps my 'planning' is done the wrong way round!

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    1. Paeony - The great thing about writing a book there is not right or wrong way to work we all have our own way and I just find my piece of paper works for me.

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  4. Fascinating and incredibly helpful, Lynne. I'm liking how all these blogs are so very varied!

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    1. Thanks - it's so nice to see how we all work. Finding it very helpful.

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  5. This is fascinating, Lynne.
    I also find I like to plot a story out like this over the spreads, it helps to make sure that it works evenly through the book.
    I think it helps me visualise how the story will work with the illustrations.
    But I had never really thought about the rule of three- seems so obvious now!.
    The amazing thing about writing is that there is always something new and interesting to learn from the way other people do it. I love to try new ways of looking at things and new ways of approaching a book.

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  6. Very helpful way to look at plotting. Thank you!

    Interesting that you mention 12 double-page spreads. The standard in North America must be different, because 16 double page spreads (including Title page and copyright info) is the norm here.

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    1. That's interesting - I wonder why the difference. I've just started to work on a story that needs a few more pages so have gone for the 14 double page plus two half pages. Have found I need a bigger piece of paper as the squares on a piece of A4 are a little small.

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    2. Publishers have some flexibility. Picture books are usually 32 pages in total, with the story comprising 24 of them (12 double page spreads).
      However they are sometimes 40 pages, with the story comprising 32 of them, or 16 spreads (e.g. my one, Horse, and the new one I'm doing with Walker / Candlewick called Too Noisy, where the story is on 15 spreads.)
      These are more expensive to produce, though, so they only go for them if they think it's really necessary.

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  7. I love this idea and it has helped me solve a problem I have had with a particular manuscript! Thanks so much for sharing. :-)

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  8. Illuminating and practical post, thanks Lynne.

    The freedom to re-interpret material once you're working outside the confines of a printed book is an interesting one. I wonder how much the constraints imposed by the standard printed format help in the formation of a story that can then be adapted for digital...

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