4 Reasons to Draw Your First Picture Book Draft

About three weeks ago, I wrote a post about drafting your picture book. Among the things I discussed was Marla Frazee’s technique for writers. She recommends that we draw our first draft.

Yesterday I was feeling antsy in spite of a monstrous to-do list. I just didn’t want to do any of that. I wanted to write something new. I’d been noodling over an idea for a board book so I decided to use Frazee’s technique again.

As I drew I realized several things.

Page Turns Matter

I’ve known for ages that page turns matter but sketching a sheet of thumbnails made me more aware of page turns. I caught myself thinking that yes I could go from X spread to Y spread but . . . I really needed to make use of that page turn. I needed a surprise.

It completely altered the way I was thinking about this manuscript.

Pacing Problems

As I worked, I was also noting a few things about the pacing. What I currently have, doesn’t build. It is all over the place. I’m going to have to come up with pacing that not only builds from spread to spread but makes logical sense.

This is going to require another draft.

Disinterest Is a Sign

As I thought about how I could change things up in the next draft, I realized that I never got past this point on the last manuscript I drafted as thumbnails. Apparently drafting it and noodling about the problems had gotten it out of my system.

That’s not a good sign. A story that I can so easily “get over” isn’t a story that is going to grab the attention of an editor or agent. Maybe I can rework it to fix that but . . . do I really want to? I’ll have to think about it.

Parallel Stories

As I created my thumbnails, I realized that I was thinking of text and illustrations almost as parallel stories. One story is told by the text. Another is told by the illustrations and this one expands on the first.

That’s the way that picture books are supposed to work so I have hope that this technique is going to help me create successful picture book manuscripts. Do I dare try it for my graphic novel?


Scene vs Chapter

Scene or sequel? It looks like a sequel to me.
Photo by Gabriel Barreto on Pexels.com

I’ve been working on Air Stream lately, writing from my Save the Cat scene outline. I’ve noticed that what I have listed as a scene in my outline only rarely corresponds to a chapter in my draft. Because of this, I’ve been reading up on what a scene is vs what a chapter is. Here is what I’ve found.

A Scene

Is a set building block.

In a scene, the character has a goal, attempts to achieve it, encounters an obstacle, and fails to meet the goal. Some people consider what comes next another type of scene, called the sequel. Others consider the sequel the part of every scene. In the sequel, the character reacts to the failure, figures out what the failure means for the story goal, and sets a new immediate goal.

Sequels do not have to be equal in length to the scene. In fact, some sequels are only a few words or lines. A character who is trying to sneak into a locked room has only moments to react when they hear someone coming. Oh no, I need to hide!

Etc. This pattern continues until you reach THE END.

A Chapter

Manages the pacing of the story. Long, languid chapters slow things down. Short chapters speed things up. Think about how quickly a novel-in-verse told moves.

Should end at a place that will make the reader want to turn the page and keep reading. Me? I favor cliff hanger endings. “What happens next?” As explained by K.M. Weiland, she breaks her chapter after the character’s failure to meet their goal and and before the sequel. The sequel then opens up the next chapter. The sequel is thus used to re-hook the reader again and again at the beginnig of every chapter.

The opening of a chapter can serve as a transition showing the passage of time. This is especially true in the final chapter that serves as an epilogue.

In a book with multiple point-of-view (POV) characters, a new chapter can mark the transition from one POV character to the other.

Am I doing it all correctly? Probably not. I’ve got a good sense of where to break a chapter (cliff hanger!) and I love the play of scene vs sequel. I’ve been instinctively breaking my chapters between the scene and the sequel.

None of this means that my pacing is 100% and that I won’t find one or more areas that need serious improvement. But I’m glad I took a look at this.

Now, back to chapter scene 6/chapter 4. I’ve got many chapters and scenes yet to go!


Story Pacing: Getting It Right in Your Early Reader

Yasmin in Charge
Yasmin in Charge by Saadia Faruqi

I’ve been looking at some of my older manuscripts including several early readers. Soemthing felt off in the pacing which isn’t surprising. Like picture books, early readers don’t have a lot of text but they still have complete stories with a beginning, middle and ending.

To figure out how to correctly pace a story, I new I needed to do some reading. Fortunately I had Saadia Faruqi’s Yasmin in Charge checked out from the library. This is a compilaiton of four Yasmin stories bound into one book. This was perfect because I could sit down and read all four stories.

My reading revealed that each three-chapter story shared similar pacing.

In Yasmin the TEACHER:

Chapter 1: Set Up/Yasmin receives a gift of colored pencils and takes them to school.

Chapter 2: Complication or Goal/Teacher leaves Yasmin in charge but no one cooperates.

Chapter 3: Solution/Yasmin challenges her fellow students to a contest.

In Yasmin the CHEF:

Chapter 1: Set Up/Yasmin’s family is getting ready for a party.

Chapter 2: Complication/She doesn’t like any of the food but her attempts are all failures.

Chapter 3: Solution/Yasmin realizes what she can make. Everyone else loves it, but she thinks of a way to improve it.

As you can see, early readers still have three acts.

Act 1:

The reader meets the character and is introduced to what is going on in this particular book.

Act 2:

A problem arises and the character makes multiple attempts to solve it. All attempts fail.

Act 3:

What it seems like failure is eminent, the character comes up with a new solution. The key to this solution is often something from Act/Chapter 1. In the end, things work out although there may be a hint that the character has a plan for the future.

If your story isn’t coming together, check your pacing. Too slow a start can bore readers. Too fast a start leaves them wondering what is going on. Don’t be surprised if, like Yasmin, it takes multiple attempts to achieve success!


Scene Structures: The scene and the sequel

scene and sequelAs I do the research to write my mystery, I’ve been contemplating potential scenes.  What is a scene?  Try to find a definition online and you’re going to feel like you are looking for a unicorn or the Holy Grail.

Simply put, a scene is a unit of story telling.  Part of the reasons that it is so vague and confusing is that there are two types of scenes.  Confusingly enough, one of them is called the Scene.  I know.  It makes you want to beat your head on the desk, doesn’t it?  The other is called the Sequel.

In a Scene, the character tries to accomplish something.  This goal is somehow thwarted.

In a Sequel, the character reacts to having everything go ka-fooey.  Part of the reaction may by physical but part of it is mental because by the next Scene the character needs a new goal.


The Scene is the unit of action.  It is when things happen

The Sequel gives your reader time to reflect and gather herself up before your character gives it another go.

If your character has just discovered that she was betrayed by her best friend or her boyfriend, the Sequel may be pages and pages long.  It may be the same length as the Scene it follows.  If your character is scaling the wall of a building and the rope breaks, the Sequel may consist of only a sentence or two.  Grab the ledge?  Discover her super power?  Splat?

I have to admit that I am much better at writing Scenes than I am at writing Sequels but Sequels are important.  They give the reader a chance to feel and reflect along with your character.  You need this to help build empathy.

A manuscript that is Scene heavy is going to be exhausting to read.  Your reader will have troubles caring about your character because she won’t know your character.  A manuscript that is Sequel heavy may seem to drag.

Take a look at your work-in-progress.  Have you remembered to include Sequels to balance your Scenes?  If not, you might want to give it some serious thought.


Plot: Plot and Pacing working together

PlotWhen we discuss plot and pacing, most of us think of either the 3 Act Structure or Freytag’s Pyramid.

In Freytag’s Pyramid, the story consists of 5 primary parts:

Exposition:  This is the everyday world.  The reader learns what she needs to know to understand the story.  There is an inciting incident and then …

Rising Action: A series of related incidents; most often the character’s attempts to solve the story problem.

Climax: This is the turning point where the main character’s fate is decided.

Falling Action:  This is where the conflict between the antagonist and protagonist plays out.

Denouement: All is resolved.

In the Three Act Structure, Act 1 is the introduction.  We meet the characters, get to know the world and then BAM something sets the story in motion.

Act 2 takes up about 1/2 of the story.  This is when we watch the character struggle and wonder if he will succeed.  Something happens half way through this act that makes us rethink the whole goal.  Is it worth it?  Will he win?

Act 3 is the remaining 1/4 of the story.  It leads us up to the climax and then the falling action and resolution.

Katherine Jacobs of Roaring Brook Press doesn’t believe you should learn to use one, excluding the other.  She uses both to edit the books on her list because some books better fit one map, some the other.  That said, if you look closely you will see that they seem to overlap.  They are simply two different ways of thinking about how the parts of your story function. I don’t tend to think in Acts so Freytag works best for me.

Jacob explained that you don’t want to stretch your denouement out too long or it will drag.  This means that you don’t want to wrap up every single loose end in the story.  Instead, tie up the main plot and the main subplot.  Your reader will assume that the rest works itself out.

Whether you are writing a novel or picture books, plot and pacing are necessary to keep the story moving and your reader engaged. Which model do you prefer?



Pacing: 3 Tips to Keep Moving at Just the Right Speed

PacingSometimes our stories seem to drag.  Why isn’t it going anywhere?   Other times they zip along, out of control and moving much too fast.  Here are three ways to keep your story moving at just the right pace.

  1. Compression.  When things seem to go on for much too long, the problem may be that you need to compress this part of the story.   We don’t need to know which shoe your character put on first or what brand of tooth paste she uses.  Really.  Just zip right past it.  We’re good.  And the bus that your character takes to get to her job?  I don’t care what it’s called.  Knowing that she takes the bus to work is probably all I need.  Unless these ho hum bit of life actually play a vital part in the story, you can fly right over them, and you should.
  2. Change Drivers.  Other times there are plenty of things going on and the story still seems to drag.  How can we be fighting off bad guys, making a great escape or struggling to survive and still have things seem to drag?  Check to see if your main character is playing an active role.  If someone else is in the driver’s seat and your main character is just along for the ride, the story is going to lose drive.  Get your main character involved.
  3. Focus.  The above two tips might lead you to believe that your story should always fly along but that isn’t the case.  When the stakes are big or something super important is happening, it can’t be over in a flash.  This is important.  Make it feel important by slowing things down to show the impact of various vital actions.  This might mean focusing on minute details, letting us briefly in on your character’s thoughts, or simply focusing on things step-by-step in a way that you don’t when they are unimportant (like brushing their teeth).  Focus on it and we will know it matters.

You don’t have to worry about getting your pacing perfect in draft #1, but as you rewrite, these are the things that you need to keep in mind.