Monday 13 April 2015

Plot: The Most Essential Ingredient of a Story

Plot is the most essential ingredient of a story according to Writer's Digest.  A successful story is one that gives the reader the feeling:  "I've got to know what happens next." (

In a picture book, usually 32 pages, the writer has about 25 pages of plot to work with.  Something different should happen in each picture.  For example, the reader should see:

-a change of scene
-a change of expression
-a closeup
-a panorama
-a change of viewpoint
-a change of mood
-a surprise
-meanwhile (what's happening elsewhere)

Writer's Digest states that logic and cause & effect are the two most important components of plot. The plot should illustrate the theme of the book.  A picture book, with limited words, should take place in one time frame.  The movement should be linear.  Begin the story where it starts to become interesting.  Eliminate the preliminaries.  Here are examples of how to start your story:

-the main character makes a decision
-dramatic dialogue
-the day begins
-the main character's present situation
-the main character's typical response to a specific situation
-the start of a journey
-the main character sends/receives an important message

What drives plot?  According to Writer's Digest, "strong consistent characters drive the action forward".  For example, Harriet and the Promised Land demonstrates powerful characters.  To learn about more picture books with strong character development, visit


A chapter book with a strong main character is Amelia Bedelia, which focusses on a girl who takes everything literally.  When someone asks her to "draw the curtains" she gets out a pencil and paper and draws the curtains.


Amelia Bedelia, which debuted in 1963, is a series consisting of dozens of titles, the latest of which appeared in 2014 at

As I stated in yesterday's post, you need to make your reader care about your characters.  The reader is interested in the story because he knows the protagonist, he knows his plight, he knows the choices he has made and he's curious about how he will proceed.  For example, the main character Jo in the novel Little Woman is a passionate one.  Her father writes from the Civil War front stating that he's suffering from an illness.  Jo immediately sells her hair to raise money for her father's care.  Jo's feelings drive the book's plot.

Illustration of Jo's father coming home from the Civil War courtesy 

When writing your picture or chapter book, don't forget to follow the story arc or narrative arc which refers to the chronological construction of the plot.  "It is the rising and falling of the tension, and the pacing and timbre of the plot." (

While every story contains a beginning, a middle and an ending, don't forget it also must contain a crisis, a struggle and a discovery.  There must be "a transformation in the life of the main character". Otherwise, it is only a report, not a story. (

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