Planning a picture book

Last week in my ‘Anita says…‘ writing tips regular blog I talked about Planning a novel. This week I thought I would talk about planning a picture book. As you know I had two new books out on the 17th of this month but how do I actually go about planning ALL the picture books I have had published?

Spring and Summer books2

A good picture book is not just written it is constructed. Every word counts. When I plot a picture book I think carefully about the beginning, middle and end. My first task is to jot down a brief sentence or two of what I want to happen in each of these three sections. These are my key points. It is important to me to know how the story is going to end before I start writing so I know exactly where the story is going.

My next task is to think carefully about the structure of the book. There are 32 pages in a picture book:

Picture book page breakdown

As you can see this is briefly broken down as:

Page 1 – Front cover

Page 2 and 3 – End papers. These are the pages that appear immediately after you turn over the front cover. Sometimes they include themed illustrations.

Page 4 – Prelims and dedication. It includes information about the publisher, the printer, the ISBN number, copyright notices and sometimes the author or illustrator’s dedication.

Page 5 – Title page. This features the title, series, author, illustrator and publisher’s logo.

Pages 6 – 29 – The story. 12 double-page spreads. Pick up a picture book and count them.

Pages 30 – 31 – End papers

Page 32 – Back cover. The blurb, price, ISBN number and bar code.

The part you have to write is twelve double-page spreads. Sometimes they can be slightly different formats but usually they are 12 double-page spreads. Most songs, nursery rhymes and fairy tales are built upon the rhythm of this magical number three. Take a look at how a familiar fairy-tale such as, Goldilocks and the Three Bears,  fits to this picture book structure.

Picture book page breakdown with Goldilocks example

Notice how there are three bears, three scenes – porridge, chairs and going to sleep on the bed. The Power of three is an important tool when writing children’s books, especially picture books. In the case of picture books THREE really is the magic number that young children can identify with. Think about it… the rhythm of the day has three parts – morning, noon and night – there are three main meals in a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The rhythm of growing has three stages: baby, child and teen.

When I plan a picture book I always try to think of the plot, which goes into the middle section of the book, in three parts too. I also try to keep in mind Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure and the story arc. I outlined both of these ideas in my blog post on The Art of Plotting.

Just as for a novel the stakes have to get higher and higher. I keep these in mind and think carefully what I would like on each of the twelve spreads. I use this planning sheet to help me as part of the rough sketch phase of my planning. Again I just jot down a few words for each section.

My picture book plannerWhen the plan is in place and I am happy with it, I start to write the picture book. My recommendation to you if you are just starting out is to try and use this format. I hope you find it helpful. Of course if you use other methods of planning I would really be interested to find out more. Please let me know.

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