children's book plot

Creating an Exciting Children’s Book Plot in 5 Steps

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

December 15, 2022

Reading a book meant for kids can give you the impression that writing a children’s book plot is easier, quicker, and takes less planning than writing a book intended for adults. Children’s books present a simplified storyline, minimal characters, and even artwork that might dominate some of the pages.

And on one level, that assessment is accurate: novels and books for adults are longer and have much more complex plots and character development. But a children’s book plot is just as well thought out and can be challenging to develop as a writer due to the obvious limitations that come with the genre.

So how does plotting children’s book structure work for an author? Let’s look at what you need to know when you have decided on bringing your story to life with children’s book printing.

Is Plotting a Children’s Book That Different Than Plotting an Adult Book?

The elements of writing a book are the same, regardless of the audience and genre of the book. But authors developing a children’s book plot have different considerations than those planning out a novel for any level of reader.

Writing a novel requires authors to plan for in-depth character development and multiple character arcs, short and long-range plot elements, and multiple thematic elements that take place in the story. Most novels clock in at a minimum of 50,000 words, tens of thousands of words over the typical children’s book length.

But surprisingly, many consider writing children’s books a more challenging effort. Books written for kids contain all the same story elements as adult stories, but a children’s book plot has to be more compact. Every word must be impactful to create a well-developed plot that will appeal to a child. The most important factor in plotting a children’s story is to think about how all of the parts of the story will get and hold the audience’s attention.

Planning a Children’s Book: Reaching Your Audience

Authors writing for middle-grade readers, young adults, or even adult readers can expect that their audience will already have a pretty good idea of what to expect when they pick up a book. Not only will these more mature readers be able to anticipate the themes and plot revelations in a book based on the genre and even to some extent the title or the cover of the book, but they will also be very familiar with the structure of a book in general.

Experienced readers understand typical plot structure and have enough reading endurance to stick with a story through the inciting incident that kicks off the plot leading up to the rising action and ultimately an exciting climax and resolution of the story. But authors trying to reach young readers with little or no experience with plot structure are faced with some specific challenges.

  • Young readers may have little or no reading expectations about how a story unfolds, so authors must plot their books to hold their reader’s attention through to the end of the story.
  • Creating a children’s book plot entails making every word and every action count. Authors must keep word choices on level for their readers, make every word and phrase impactful to fit a shorter overall story length, and choose plot elements that keep the story moving along while keeping the young reader engaged.

1. Create Your Pitch

Before you begin writing or thinking about the content of your children’s book, the first step is to distill the concept of your book into a brief statement. Often called an “elevator pitch,” the focus of the book you are going to plot out should be refined into a purpose statement that you can use during the whole plotting process.

2. Brainstorm Potential Story Content

Next, authors should work on identifying all potential plot directions for their stories. The goal of this exercise is to deeply think through all of the ways that the story can be told. Brainstorming helps writers to uncover potential plot directions and character arcs that might be developed into the final story.

3. Focus on the Theme

Using the story pitch and the chosen plot content as a guide, authors should turn their focus on how the theme will play out in the story. Authors can bring in a variety of elements to focus the story thematically, but it’s always best to think about how the characters and actions will be viewed by the reader.

Since children are the target audience, the theme of the story should not only be age-appropriate, but also familiar to younger readers for it to make sense to them. Consider plotting your story to include small details throughout the whole story that support the theme of the book.

Remember that with the shorter word count necessary for a children’s book, including one well-developed theme rather than including several themes that may only be partially cultivated, will be easier for young readers to grasp and easier for you to write.

4. Ask for Feedback

Authors working on a children’s book plot should test out their concept before finalizing the writing for the project. Three feedback loop options can be used to see if your book in progress is appealing and will be an engaging, well-liked book for younger readers.

  • Beta Readers: Seek out some first readers for your book by sending out a request on social media using a genre hashtag or by connecting with those who already follow you and your author platforms.
  • Other Authors: Ask for feedback from other writers by connecting with a writing partner or joining a writer’s circle of authors who support each other through their writing processes.
  • Target Audience: Seek out friends and family who have children that might be in the target audience’s age and ask them to review your book. Obtaining feedback from a potential reader can help you see where plot holes and missing information might be a stumbling block to other young readers.

5. Follow Plot Structure Conventions

Even though the book you are plotting is for younger readers, that doesn’t mean that the story doesn’t follow traditional plot conventions. It does mean, however, that your book will move more rapidly through the stages of the story to reach the conclusion.

Children’s books often cover less ground in a story than a young adult or middle-grade book does because young readers enjoy reading lots of details about the characters, what they say, how they act, and what they see.

Focusing the children’s book plot to include more details and less generalized descriptions can help you follow the plot structure conventions while still making your book appealing to children. A children’s book plot should include the same three elements of any story: a beginning, middle, and end, but the pacing of a book for kids is different from a book for older readers.

Beginning: Inciting incidents may not be as involved in children’s books. Every book needs an activity or event to kick off the action, but for a children’s book, the event can be simple and commonplace like a family sitting down to dinner.

Middle: Since young readers are not as familiar with rising action leading to the climax of the story, children’s book authors include plenty of engaging details and reminders to readers about the challenge or problem the main characters are facing to keep them interested in the plot and excited to keep reading.

End: When plotting children’s book resolutions, authors have to keep in mind that a young reader may not understand how the resolution solved the problem or conflicts in the book. So clear explanations that show and tell the young reader what they just experienced are a must in a children’s book.

Children’s Book Printing

Watching your overall word count is also part of plotting children’s book action because authors who attempt to include too many events and characters can easily create an overage of pages, pushing their book out of the intended reader category.

Since kid’s books can range from 500-600 words for picture books to up to 20,000 words for early reader books, narrowing or expanding your plot points is dependent on the type of book you are writing.

But when you are ready for children’s book printing, partner with a printing company that has worked with authors for decades to help them bring stories to life for the youngest of readers. Publishing Xpress has printed picture books, early readers, middle-grade books, and young adult books for writers who started their writing journey plotting children’s book ideas out in hopes of becoming published authors, just like you.

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