Sunday, 19 July 2015

Three Clever Ways to Build Up Your Climax by Natascha Biebow

Picture books are a tall order:

• a limited word count
• a unique premise
• an opening that needs to hook right away
• plus a satisfying ending, preferably with an unexpected twist.

But what about the middle?

You’ve got your character, your problem, a spiffy opening. The story rings with promise like an unwrapped present.

Then, the action starts. Your story reveals itself, bit by bit, like the gift wrap as it's peeled away. Your reader is filled with expectation: what could be inside?!

This bit needs to be page-turningly exciting, like a game of pass the parcel, where each layer reveals a little bit more and readers can't wait to find out what the big prize is. Don’t let your middle sag!

A sagging middle will make readers turn right off.
But how? How can you make the middle really, really compelling?

1. Use the rule of three: build up the plot and make things worse for the protagonist using three incidences that lead to a dramatic crisis and turning point in the story. This should be 75% of the way through your picture book, roundabout spread 7.  

Make your characters face their worst fears,

In Don't Panic Anika, the door has just blown shut and Anika is stuck inside the house on her own!

make time run out,

make your characters fall in the mud, get lost, or  . . .? 
From by Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough

2. Create a pause (with words and visuals):

3. Use clever page turns and don’t be afraid to use the book format creatively:




After the pause, you are ready for the big reveal:

We get to see what was inside the present and everything changes. Ahh, an experience so satisfying, we can’t wait to do it again (and again and again!).

Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission.  Check out my Cook Up a Picture Book Small-Group Coaching Courses!

Natascha is also the author of Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Regional Advisor (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles.


  1. ... And it looks so simple when done as brilliantly as in the examples you've given. If only! Thank you, Natascha, for a really insightful and practical blog.

    1. Thanks so much, Pippa! Yes, if only it were so simple to implement. That's the thing about picture books - all the behind-the-scenes crafting is invisible when you get it right. It is seamless to the reader, which is how it should be of course.

  2. Nice post. We love DON'T PANIC, ANNIKA.

  3. Great points! Love the examples you've shared.

  4. Nice post, Natascha. Thank you, I'll share...

  5. Terrific post, Natascha. Such good advice about that saggy PB middle. Any advice for the saggy personal middle? ;-)

    1. If only! Saggy personal middles are a story all of their own.

  6. I like this article. The rule of three is helpful, and the examples are perfect.

    1. Great, glad you've all enjoyed it and found it helpful. Did you see the blog post on the rule of three, Benjamin?

  7. This is exactly what I needed today to help with my story! A million thanks!