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Books without a plot - what are they called?

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Earlier I posted a question about concept books, which I now know are books like ABC, 123, colors, etc.

My question now is, is there a special term for a book without a plot? For example, I just read Laura Numeroff's book What Sisters Do Best/What Brothers Do Best. It's really just a rhyme that talks about the various, nice things that brothers and sisters do for each other. Some of the characters are used in multiple illustrations, but there isn't really any story told through the illustrations either. Does that kind of book have a name? Is it also a concept book, or something else?

Thanks!

Carrie
#1 - February 12, 2011, 08:15 AM
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Well...that sounds sorta like NF. ??

I think nonfiction is less cut-and-dried divided when it comes to picture books. ?? I mean, there are the ones that get shelved in the NF section that kids use for school reports. But there are books about sisters, or books about gardens, or whatever. And often those end up shelved with the regular picture books.

I'm interested in the answer, too!
#2 - February 12, 2011, 08:25 AM

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I'm not exactly sure about Numeroff's book as I haven't read it, but you might be thinking of vignette. They paint a picture about an aspect of life without having a plotted story.
#3 - February 12, 2011, 08:48 AM
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I have heard these referred to as "slice-of-life" books. They don't really have a story arc. I put the original Olivia book in this category. Here is Olivia, and here is who she is and what she does during the day.
#4 - February 12, 2011, 08:54 AM
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I think they're called concept books.
#5 - February 12, 2011, 08:55 AM
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Yes... I agree with Betsy. I call them concept books.

Books about shapes, numbers, colors, etc, are called, "early concept books." 
#6 - February 12, 2011, 09:00 AM

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Yes, they're still concept books. This time, the concept isn't numbers, letters or colors -- more concrete or measurable things -- but family relationships.
#7 - February 12, 2011, 09:17 AM
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My question now is, is there a special term for a book without a plot?

...'Twilight"? 

(Sorry, the opening was irresistible.   :nanana: )
#8 - February 12, 2011, 10:48 AM

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Don't feel bad EricJ- I was going to say "Literary." :dr
#9 - February 12, 2011, 08:01 PM
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My question now is, is there a special term for a book without a plot?
Both "concept books" (covering concepts such as colors, numbers, words)  and "slice of life books" are two possible correct designations of picture books without plots, depending on the book.
When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant is a great example of a "slice of life" book.
There is a variation, which in some cases is a cross between a concept book and slice of life, which I designate "slice of time" books: books that deal with seasons, the day, or other aspects of time.
There are "also cumulative books (which don't always have a plot) and these have been around for centuries. The accumulation can also be created with the illustrations.
There is another category which I call "cause and effect" books. (Remy Charlip's Fortunately is an excellent example.)

It is common for picture books to use more than one category in the text.

I did a lot of research into atypical narrative arcs in picture books during my picture book semester of my MFA program (at Vermont College). I found 11 significant categories of picture books without plot. I have presented my findings at both Vermont College and in other venues, as part of a writing workshop.

Basically, not all books have plots. Awareness of other types of narrative arcs, opens up a world of possibilities for the picture book author.
#10 - February 14, 2011, 04:41 AM
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I was going to say, "unsaleable"--for most of us anyway. ;-)
#11 - February 14, 2011, 09:03 AM
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Three things immediately came to my mind when I read this topic line:

Anecdotes.

Plotless books.

Unpublishable.

(Sorry. I just couldn't resist!)  And KatyD... looks like we were on the same wavelength. :snork
#12 - February 14, 2011, 01:04 PM
Verla Kay

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I agree with Ellen--the example given was a concept book. Especially if written for older readers, it might ALSO be something else.

And as Verla said, much of the time, especially for someone just getting started, they might also be called "unpublishable."
#13 - February 14, 2011, 06:25 PM
Harold Underdown

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I've heard books for younger kids called "Incident" stories. A day at the beach, going shopping with Dad, etc.
#14 - February 14, 2011, 07:23 PM

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Thanks for all the replies. Sarah, your research sounds interesting. I'm also finding it interesting to hear that it would be hard to break in with a book like that...though clearly if you are Laura Numeroff or Cynthia Rylant, it's acceptable to not have a plot. I wonder why that is.

I have four "works in progress" going right now. One is a collection of poems (I know, crazy), one is a longer concept poem that focuses on brother/sister relationships, one is a "slice of life" story, and one is a traditional picture book story with a plot. I guess what I am hearing is that I should be focusing more on that form for now. Anyone have anecdotal evidence on how many authors break in with something other than the traditional form?

Carrie
#15 - February 15, 2011, 09:34 AM
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...though clearly if you are Laura Numeroff or Cynthia Rylant, it's acceptable to not have a plot. I wonder why that is.
Carrie
Carrie, is that a rhetorical question? If you're really wondering, it's because reputation matters. A parent or librarian or teacher (or an editor, for that matter) will take a chance on a manuscript that breaks some rules from someone they know.
#16 - February 15, 2011, 05:50 PM
Harold Underdown

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Sounds like it would be called "plotless" or "slice of life", but I wouldn't refer to it that way in a query. Just focus on what the manuscript DOES have. If your manuscript has real commercial appeal, a unique twist, distinctive voice, etc., then it can still work. It's also worth mentioning that most "plotless" books still have some kind of an arc.

In a thread on the SCBWI boards a few years ago, someone mentioned that books like "Goodnight Moon" are called "Now books". But again, I'd stay away from labeling it in a way that might sound negative to an editor or agent.

In terms of which project to focus on, I say just focus on the one you think is the strongest, and keep writing!
#17 - February 16, 2011, 07:03 AM
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Carrie, is that a rhetorical question? If you're really wondering, it's because reputation matters. A parent or librarian or teacher (or an editor, for that matter) will take a chance on a manuscript that breaks some rules from someone they know.

No, I really am wondering why. Do books with plots have better sales than those that don't? Reputation will always sell books, but all things being equal are people simply more drawn to a book with a plot -- which would make it more "risky" to publish one that doesn't?
#18 - February 16, 2011, 09:25 AM
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All other things being equal, a picture book with a plot would be the safer risk. Every book acquired is a financial risk for the publisher. They will invest, by the time it's printed, tens of thousands of dollars in it. In that context, editors will look for books that seem more likely to earn back the investment.
#19 - February 16, 2011, 06:17 PM
Harold Underdown

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