Story Structure…

One of the first steps in writing and illustrating a book for children is to plan out the story. That seems a bit obvious, but I think we’ve all read stories that just ramble on and don’t seem to go anywhere. In a fictional story, the main character and his goals are introduced, and the reader is told what that character wants to do. He starts to carry out his plans, and then runs into a problem or “conflict.” Then he has to decide on a solution and attempt to resolve his problem, which leads to a “crisis,” or a “no turning back now” situation. Then,  the crisis is over, and things go back to normal… or a new normal, as the main character has had to face change. Not all stories follow this structure… “how to” books general do not include conflict. Biographies sometimes do, if the author focuses on a life-changing event. Sometimes the conflict in a children’s book is very subtle, or hidden.

I wondered about the story structure of Pie from Scratch… Annie wants to do a grown-up task, and instead of facing opposition, she finds encouragement. There’s a strong “how to” element that drives the story. And themes of hard work, “can do,” patience, and the satisfaction of a job well done. So how does that fit into the typical structure of a fictional picture book? Here’s a peek into how my storyboard for Pie from Scratch developed…

Quick sketches of illustration ideas were my first step.
Thumbnails actually came later, but I needed to
get to know Annie and her grandparents first…

And to think about what they might do together…

I drew some thumbnails…

And eventually, the whole story came together.

A storyboard is sort of like a map or plan for a children’s picture book. Because of their short, constrained structure, picture books need to be tightly mapped out. Usually the entire story has to fit within 32 pages! The “map” helps the illustrator fit everything in, and keep the story line moving along at a good pace. Looking at the book as a “whole” helps me see where changes might be needed…

Once the storyboard was created I had a good plan to begin the illustrations!

I’ve worried a bit about Pie from Scratch‘s departure from the typical story structure. I think I’ve always felt a bit more safety in the gentle type of story, the kind you can read at bedtime with no worry about bad dreams. What kinds of stories are YOUR favorites? Do you prefer stories with strong conflict and resolution? Or ones that have more of an everyday gentleness? How do you think kids feel about the story line? Do you think they’d LIKE a story about baking a pie? Honest opinions welcome!

See all the blog posts about making
Pie from Scratch!
by clicking below!

One thought on “Story Structure…

  1. Pingback: Starting over … | Deb E

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