Posted by: nancyisanders | April 3, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 7 Act 1

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 10.00.38 AM

As I mentioned in my previous post, my brain started coming up with opening lines, ending lines, cliffhangers, and other tidbits. I started jotting down anything my brain wanted to work on and I encourage you to do the same.

But right from the get go, I also plotted out my story arc following the 3-Act structure I always like to use.

Act 1 is the Beginning of the story
Act 2 is the Middle (It has a first half and a second half)
Act 3 is the Ending of the story

And then I became very intentional about writing my story’s beginning.

When I write a picture book like this, I like to write it in 4 different sittings. Even if I’ve been jotting down actual text my brain is coming up with, I’ve found that my story arc is stronger and my plot is stronger and each different part of my story is much stronger and fresh if I separate it into at least 4 different sittings.

So for this first sitting, I worked on my beginning. At this point, I didn’t worry about word count. But do the math. If you want to write a 500 word picture book, the beginning should only be about 175 words. If you’re gearing for 800 words, the beginning should only be about 200 words. If you’re gearing for 1000 words, the beginning should only be about 250 words long. I wouldn’t aim for anything longer than that for today’s picture book market with a breakthrough topic.

But again, I didn’t worry about the word count. I just wanted to get the first draft down. As it turns out, my beginning was probably about 300 words for my first draft. But I had to get it all down before I could trim it to be what it should be. I encourage you to do the same.

Just sit down and write the first draft of your beginning.

Now…since most of my “mentor” texts are still sitting there at the library waiting until the library opens, I did some digging around in my own book stashes and discovered the perfect mentor text for a breakthrough topic about a woman picture book biography!

ALABAMA SPITFIRE is the biography of Harper Lee, the author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

The great thing is that you can look up this picture book. CLICK HERE to see it on Amazon. Then click on the feature: LOOK INSIDE THE BOOK. You can read the first several spreads of this picture book…it’s a great mentor text for the beginning or Act 1 of your own biography!

I encourage you to type this out, word for word, as much as you can read of it. And while you’re at it, type out the Author’s Note at the end. And take a screen shot of the bibliography, too.

You see, even though I own this book, I typed it out word for word. And I typed out the Author’s Note, too. Why? You may ask? Because typing out mentor texts of published books trains our brains for the pacing and word count in a way that’s simply irreplaceable. I do it all the time! I encourage you to do it too. Have fun!


  1. Does every Breakout book have a high word count?

    • No, but a lot of the nonfiction does. When I worked with the editor on my newest nonfiction THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE at one point she asked me to not worry about the word count but just add in the additions she was asking for. Then we trimmed it during the illustration process to 1100 words.

  2. “Type it out” – great advice. Makes a lot of sense! Thanks Nancy.

    • Glad this makes sense. When I get my 30+ books from the library when they open back up I plan to type out every one.

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