When you are looking at how to plot a children’s book, keep in mind, children’s book plotting technique it is not unlike the process for a fiction or non-fiction adult or young adult book.
The process is just very condensed.
Writing a full-length novel or nonfiction book can be extremely difficult. However, writing for children is a very special talent.
Fitting an entire storyline, character arc, and orbital characters into a short story can be even more difficult. It seems counter-intuitive, but including the power of a full-length novel in the length of a short story is often viewed as the more difficult of the two.
Writing for children takes this to an entirely new level. Children’s attention spans are relatively short. They are still young, maturing, and growing, and to expect them to sit down for a 100,000 word story is not practical.
However, it’s still extremely important to write great stories for children–they just need to be much more concise. Plotting a children’s book is a feat in and of itself. In this article, we will discuss several factors of this process.
Remember, just as writing a full-length book is built around the several key points of story structure, plotting a children’s book is much the same.
Of course, these points will be streamlined and condensed in order to pack the most entertainment and learning into the least amount of space. Consider the points of plotting a middle grade, young adult, or adult book as the framework for plotting a children’s book.
With this in mind, plotting a children’s book will probably feel much less difficult, more practical, and much more attainable.
Before we dive in, let’s discuss the main points of plotting a book.
REMEMBER: Plots have three main points: start, middle, and end. A more literary definition would be the inciting incident (what starts the character on his journey), what is often referred to as the Marathon-Of-The-Middle, and the dénouement.
(Dénouement: “The final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work.”)
If you want to be a little more complicated, you could consider the five main points of a book: Inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution.
Keep these plot points in mind as we progress through this article.
This preliminary information in mind, let’s dive in.
How To Plot A Children’s Book
Getting into the weeds of writing a children’s book can be a bit intimdating. Many of us start out thinking it will be easy—it’s short, how hard can it be?
But it takes a bit more finesse than you may realize.
1. What’s Different About Plotting A Children’s Book Vs Others?
The difference between plotting a children’s book and a middle grade book, young adult book, or an adult book is simply the target audience you are aiming to reach.
For instance, when planning an adult novel, your target audience has a certain level of expectation already. They know the general format of a story. They expect to start with an inciting incident and expect to read through the rising action to the climax.
When planning a children’s book, it is important to understand that regardless of the age of the child you are targeting, they are either completely unfamiliar with, or not very familiar with, the general outline of a book.
They also have short attention spans. It’s important to grab their attention as quickly as possible and maintain their attention throughout the rest of the book.
This can be difficult to do in the few words it takes to write a children’s book. Just as every word counts in nonfiction and fiction for older readers, every word counts, literally, for children’s books.
You can learn more about recommended word counts for different book genres in our post.
DID YOU KNOW: Your non-fiction book can be turned into a children’s book for greater reach and message impact!
2. How To Plot A Children’s Book For Impact
When plotting a children’s book with a focus on making the most impact, it’s crucial to determine exactly what your plot is. While children’s books don’t have many words, creating an elevator pitch can help you articulate what you’re trying to communicate and how you’re going to communicate it.
It may be helpful for you to sit down and think through exactly what you want to include in your children’s book, then cut down the details until you have a short elevator pitch.
Write this elevator pitch down and keep it next to your work space so you can refer to it throughout the entire writing process: Brainstorming, drafting, and editing.
When it comes to children’s books, it may also be helpful to cut some of the traditional plot points so you have less to work from. This way your focus will be more targeted.
Trim it down until you see what you specifically want to teach or how you want to entertain, then determine the three ways to do so.
What starts your protagonist on his journey, quest, or experience?
What is the most important part?
What is the ending?
Once you have these basics mapped out, you can determine how he gets from point A to point B, in the most exciting way possible.
Let’s discuss some steps you can follow to help you do this in a simple way.
3. Steps for Plotting Your Children’s Book
When you decide to start brainstorming, it’s crucial to come with zero expectations. If you start brainstorming hoping that you will write the next bestseller, this expectation will probably hinder your creative process.
Much of creativity comes from strange ideas that aren’t expected. For instance, consider pairing an unusual character with a typical environment, or vice versa.
First, brainstorm. Open a blank Word document or grab a blank sheet of paper, some different colored pens, and turn off your phone. Write down your theme or idea in the middle of a sheet of paper.
Then create lines spidering out from that word. Write down any words that apply or could be used to teach or entertain. Continue with this method until you are out of ideas.
If you’re unsure of exactly which direction to take your idea, this can actually be a help to you.
Use your brainstorming time to take your idea in as many directions as possible. You never know what idea may spark something that leads to an amazing story.
Develop Your Theme
Once you’ve completed your brainstorming session, it’s time to move on to your theme. There are many themes to choose from, and if you are unsure which direction you want to take your ideas, a simple Internet search can provide you with a myriad of themes to choose from.
When writing a children’s book, it’s best to choose one strong theme rather than try to fit many into the word count.
Try to focus on one main idea, then present it in a way that your target audience can follow.
It may be helpful for you to find any nieces, nephews, or other friends’ children and run your ideas by them. If they seem confused, go back to the drawing board. If they are excited and want you to tell them the story, you’ve probably struck gold.
Tip: Remember that children have great questions and everything is new and exciting. If your story is about a donkey sitting down to dinner, realize that a young child may ask how the donkey sits in the chair or how he uses his fork or if he has to put his napkin on his lap. Try to consider the possible questions a young child may ask, and include the answers in your story.
Create A Few Different Plots And Get Feedback
Similar to running your idea by young children, try creating several different plots and ask for feedback from other children’s book writers. You may also want to consider reaching out to readers of different genres and different age groups so you have well-rounded feedback.
Writers often use beta readers to provide feedback. This can be a great resource for you as you plot your children’s book. While children;s books have a low word count, it can still be discouraging to put hours into your story only to find out the plot isn’t getting the interest that you hoped it would.
If beta readers point out a plot issue, considerate their feedback. At the end of the day you are the writer and you get to make the final call, but listening to beta readers’ feedback can be extremely helpful during the creative process
Follow Plot Structure For Kids
Plot structure, as mentioned above, should still follow the traditional outline. An inciting incident is important to get the story started, there needs to be some sort of climax toward the middle of the book, and there needs to be some type of resolution at the end.
It’s important to realize a children’s book has such a low word count that the entire plot structure could be summed up in one scene.
For instance, consider the popular children’s book, If You Give A Pig A Pancake. This book follows one main plot point which is summed up in the title. The book doesn’t start with the protagonist, a pig, focused in any other area than the pancake. The entire book centers around the pancake.
In an adult novel, eating a pancake (or even a full breakfast) could be summed up in one line such as: “After the detective had a breakfast of eggs and pancakes, he hurried out the door for his first appointment.”
An adult can follow this easily, but for a child, more detail is required.
One small meal can take the entire length of a children’s book, as If You Give A Pancake demonstrates.
The key is to make such a small thing exciting.
Ask how you could make the examples below (one small part of the day) an exciting adventure for children:
- Brushing teeth
- Waking up
- Going to the grocery store
- Getting ready for the first day of school
- Feeding the pet goldfish
- Learning how to jump rope
- Riding a bike for the first time
- Meeting a new baby brother or sister
4. Don’t Miss Steps!
As you plot your children’s book and work through the process of brainstorming, drafting, editing, and eventually publication, remember that you are creating a book. It can be easy to get into the mindset that having such a low word count makes it easier to write a children’s book than a full-length novel. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Writing a children’s book is an incredible undertaking and takes a lot of preparation, work, and endurance to complete. It’s difficult to fit an entire story into so few words.
Children’s imaginations are wonderful and their excitement for life is unparalleled. Writing a children’s book can be an enormous joy, but don’t underestimate the difficulty of hitting that word count.
Whether you’re writing a children’s book or an adult novel, a memoir or a young adult dystopia, writing books is a difficult task but one with great rewards.
Work through your brainstorming session, plot out your main points, and then get busy writing. Children devour books. Yours might be the next book they’re waiting on. You never know which children you may influence with your writing.
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