Here are a few pointers about plotting I have come across over my time of writing for children.
- Every scene must serve more than one purpose. This could be developing your characters, giving brief background information, creating atmosphere, world building or clarifying motivation. If it does not move the plot forward then cut it.
- Always consider the motivation of your protagonist. Think about their actions and why they are doing them. They should not be doing things just because your plot demands it. if this is the case you need to have a serious rethink.
- The protagonist’s motivation should change and deepen over the course of the plot they discover new facts and truths that change the way they view and interact with their world.
- By the end of the novel the character should be changed by their experiences. this might be for he better but it can also be for the worse. Make sure it is a realistic emotional journey. The protagonist should learn and grow during the process. This growth usually conveys the theme of the story.
- Ensure all the scenes progress logical with no giant leaps. it is amazing how easy it is for logic to become muddled to suit the plot. You can see it in many TV series all the time. It is frustrating to the reader. Always think in terms of what is happening, why has it happened, what are the results of this either directly or indirectly and how will this effect what happens next.
The basic sequence of plot stages is: arrival of conflict, initial success of the main character, reversals, final victory, and outcome. The success-reversal sequence may repeat. I find Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure useful when writing fiction – this includes novels and picture books.
The plot is built around a conflict involving the main character—for instance, with another character, or with circumstances, or within themselves. Conflict often takes the form of a problem the main character must resolve. The character should succeed or fail at least in part through their own efforts.
In my opinion a story for children should open with conflict. Aristotle said the most important thing in any story is the sequence of events. Each event has a cause and effect, and each is connected in the plot. According to Aristotle there are six stages of plot development:
- The opening
- The arrival of conflict
- The early achievement
- The twist and the change
- The denouement
- The final outcome
The conflict should result in increasing dramatic tension, which peaks or ‘climaxes’ towards the end, then resolves. A novel may have several conflicts, but a short story or picture book should have only one. Think about the story arc.
In this way, a story can be broken down into six elements:
- Balance – all is well at home, nothing interesting is going on
- Disharmony – the mood changes for good or bad
- Inciting incident – just when things were looking better a change of mood provokes a change to something ‘other’
- Problem – there is now an even more serious dilemma that needs solving
- Resolution – the story can be brought to a conclusion
- Outcome – the purpose of the story unfolds
Move the plot forward with events and action, rather than with internal musings and I know I’ve said it before but show, don’t tell. It may be a rocky climb to the top of your story arc but when you get there the view’s are worth it.
You can see some of my other posts on plot here: