Posted by: nancyisanders | January 21, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book: Plot and Structure

Let’s explore plot and how to shape the plot structure in your nonfiction picture book.

Are you familiar with the 3-act structure?
Basically, it divides every story into a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Over the years, I’ve developed a worksheet that I call:
Basic Plot Worksheet A. It helps me plan out the plot structure of my children’s stories, both fiction and nonfiction.

You can download and print out this worksheet by visiting my site, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Scroll down the page to CHARTS AND WORKSHEETS TO GET ORGANIZED FOR SUCCESS and click on the “Basic Plot Worksheet A.”

As you can see from the worksheet, the beginning takes up about a fourth of the picture book. In the 3-act structure, the beginning is called Act I.

The middle takes up about half of the picture book. In a 3-act structure, the middle is called Act II. There’s a first half of Act II and a second half of Act II.

Then the ending takes up about a fourth of the picture book. In a 3-act structure, the end is called Act III.

In most picture books, nonfiction or fiction, you’ll find this same structure, so if you pattern your story after this structure, it will be stronger from the get-go.

(A note here…if you google the 3-act structure or even read plotting books or articles about the 3-act structure, you’ll find a lot of authors who say they don’t like the 3-act structure and it’s not needed so don’t follow it.)
• HOWEVER!!! And this is a big however!!!!!
• I have yet to meet the EDITOR who says toss out the 3-act structure. Every single editor I’ve ever worked with when it comes to discussing the plot of a children’s story, they say to use the 3-act structure.
• So am I going to listen to those other authors, even if they’re bestselling and popular? Or am I going to listen to the editors?
• You can bet I’m going to listen to the editors. Because that’s who I want to fall in love with my book so much they’ll publish it. Therefore, I use the 3-act structure.)

Let’s look a little bit closer at the Basic Plot Worksheet.
There are 3 significant changes that occur in a story that follows the 3-act structure:
1. You can see that there is a significant change that occurs at the end of the Act I to usher in the middle, or Act II.
2. There’s a significant change that occurs in the middle of Act II and this also occurs in the middle of the entire book.
3. Plus, there’s a significant change that occurs at the end of Act II to usher in the end, or Act III.

And one last element to discuss is the action of the story’s plot. The line shows how the action progresses, starting at the beginning and building up in tension until the end which is the climax of the story.

We’ll talk more about this in my next post.


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