In a previous article on writing
for children, I explained the ideas behind some
of my children's books. Over time, I've trained
my brain to be on "alert" for ideas and
I discover a lot more ideas than I have time to
put pen to paper or fingers to laptop.
Not all ideas are equal.
Some ideas work well and become books. Some ideas
fail to develop.
So how do we take an idea and develop it into a
plot for a children's book? How do we work out
what to write once we have the initial idea?
Here's a basic plot outline:
A main character is
The main character's
problem is revealed.
Obstacles stand between
the main character and their goal.
The main character reacts
and new obstacles arise.
The main character reacts
again and new obstacles arise. The
tension is mounting.
All seems lost. But wait!
All is resolved as the
story is brought to a satisfactory
It's important to remember that a
plot is supposed to help the writer and reader.
Don't adhere too closely to the above plot
outline if it hinders your writing.
Some writers prefer to work with a plot outline.
Some writers don't give plot a thought until
they've finished the first draft. Do what works
Let's look at some important elements of plot in
regards to writing for children.
The best plots come from characters. It's a
character's personality, background and
experiences that determine how he or she will
react to certain situations, events or people.
As a writer, you can come up with an idea. Where
your idea goes - the plot - depends on your
characters. Every idea can go off in many
directions. More on this in a minute.
A plot needs conflict or a problem to be
interesting and entertaining. Sure, I can sit
here and tell you the "plot" of my day.
Ho hum! No one cares, other than me, and possibly
However, if I go outside and find a lion in my
backyard, you'd probably become interested in my
day. My day has a conflict or problem. What am I
going to do? How am I doing to solve this
problem? Can I solve this problem? Or will I
become lion lunch?
Okay, back to the character. Me. Imagine I've
been abusing my dogs? Huh! They're asleep on my
bed. Anyway, imagine that I'm abusive to animals.
You'd probably be rooting for the lion, hoping
that I get my just desserts. Or hoping that the
lion gets its just desserts. Me!
Now imagine that I'm a little old lady who takes
in poor orphaned children and cats. Er small,
domestic cats. You'd probably be rooting for me
(and my brood), hoping that the nasty lion goes
The direction this plot takes depends on the main
character - their personality, background and
experiences. Animal abuser or little old lady
with orphans? The animal abuser might feed her
dogs to the lions then try to escape. The little
old lady would probably feed herself to the lions
to save the orphans - as a last resort.
Every character has motivation - a reason to be
in the story. The main character has motivation
that the reader cares about i.e. the little old
lady saving herself and her poor orphans from
being lion lunch.
Sometimes it's the motivation of other characters
that become obstacles to the main character
reaching his or her goal i.e. the next-door
neighbour wants the old lady and orphans to move
out and therefore tries to assist the lion. He
probably put the lion there in the first place.
The best plots have tension. It's the tension
that keeps a reader involved in a story, that
keeps them turning the pages. Most of us have had
the feeling "I need to know what happens
The little old lady is about to be eaten. No,
she's not. Yes, she is. No, she's not.
The tension is building. The main character has a
problem. He/she tries to fix the problem. But the
problem gets worse. He/she tries to fix the
problem. But the problem gets worse. He/she tries
to fix the problem. Yay! They finally solve their
As you can see, every scene in a plotted story
follows logically from the previous one. Plot
makes the scenes appear connected.
A picture book has simpler plots. The above
illustration of a plot may not suit a picture
My plot "map" shows you how I started
with a basic idea. "Tom is afraid of
water" then took that idea off in many
directions. The plot of this children's story
comes from the character - Tom.
How Tom will react to being afraid of water
depends on Tom's personality, background and
experiences. Other characters can become part of
his problem or obstacles to resolving the
I thought about water and related topics. Then I
asked myself questions.
I used my plot "map" to follow each of
these ideas to see what could happen next.
Hopefully, one of these possibilities will appeal
to me and I'll choose that one to work on. I can
use the plot "map" structure to outline
the plot of my chosen idea.
Remember a plot is about a character with a
problem. Make that problem BIG. And if your story
begins to snooze, then give your character more
My plot "map" is a visual of where an
idea can go. As I mentioned earlier, one idea can
go off in many directions. You may prefer to work
with a list. This happens. Then this happens.
Then this happens. You may prefer to work without
a plot. Give your character obstacles, not
yourself. Do what works for you.
CLICK HERE to download my
(This is a PDF file - to download, right-click
your mouse over the link and select "save
target as" - then save the file to your
preferred destination before opening!)