Perimeters of the Picture Book Story
Just like the patterns of text explored in earlier posts, Writing to Be Heard, becoming more aware of the perimeters and proportions involved with a picture book story helps us hone our writing.
I recently gathered a canvas bag of picture books at my library, and began to see how they compared with the triangular template. I found more small variations in total number of pages than I expected. However, the proportions or percentages of space and text within the perimeters were basically the same from book to book.
Introduction of characters, setting, and conflict.
Characters struggle to resolve the conflict. This is, again, the part of the story where the audience becomes fully engaged in the story as the characters take action. It is also the largest portion of most stories.
After several attempts the characters finally resolve their conflict. The question stated in the beginning has now been answered. Cue the final music.
A final, very brief moment of celebration and/or wink to the audience.
THE FOX AND HEN
23% 56% 23% 7%
21% 43% 29% 7%
HORACE AND MORRIS BUT MOSTLY DOLORES
33% 40% 20% 7%
OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA
25% 56% 17% 6%
A TREEFUL OF PIGS
14% 43% 29% 14%
WILL I HAVE A FRIEND?
23% 54% 15% 8%
It can be very beneficial to see how our story-in-progress fits these proportions. If our introductory/green passage takes up more pages and text that the action section of solving the conflict, we would be wise to tighten the beginning. If the action/blue passage of our story is less than 40% we know our manuscript could be improved by expanding that section. And, if the finale’/yellow section of our story involves more than 10% of our text we need to be very sure why it has to be that long. If we can’t explain why, then it’s time to try a shorter draft of that passage.
The primary goals of sharing a story are to connect with the audience and keep them engaged. If we fail to do that, we lose the chance to share our theme and the events involved. The perimeters and proportions of basic storytelling exist because they work. They are not the only game in town, but they are certainly the most established.
Sample Picture Book Stories
THE AMAZING BONE by William Steig. Farrar, 1976.
THE FOX AND THE HEN by Eric Battut. Boxer Books, 2010.
FREDERICK by Leo Lionni. Pantheon, 1967.
HORACE AND MORRIS BUT MOSTLY DOLORES by James Howe. Illus. by Amy Walrod. Athneum, 1999.
JULIUS by Angela Johnson. Illus. by Dav Pilkey. Orchard, 1993.
MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL by Virginia Lee Burton. Houghton, 1939.
MRS. POTTER’S PIG by Phyllis Root. Illus. by Russell Ayto. Candlewick, 1996.
OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann. Ptunam, 1995.
PIGGIE PIE by Margie Palatini. Illus. by Howard Fine. Clarion, 1995.
A TREEFUL OF PIGS by Arnold Lobel. Illus. by Anita Lobel. Greenwillow, 1979.
A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker. Illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick, 2008.
WILL I HAVE A FRIEND? by Miriam Cohen. Illus. by Lillian Hoban. Simon & Schuster, 1967.