SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Favorite resources for building a plot around a character?

Discussion started on

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region austin
Hello again everyone,

First I would just like to thank you all.  I have spent so much time on these boards and if/when! one of my manuscripts makes it to publication I will owe many of you a big thanks.

Anyhow, I have noticed I struggle particularly with forming a plot for character-based picture books.  I have read several books on writing picture books that I love, but I’m wondering if anyone can recommend additional resources- be it a blog post, book, or just your process- to help construct a plot for a character-based book.  The character can be so alive in my mind, but the story arc...  I just stare at the page wondering “What is my character’s problem in this book?”  I would love something to help me with this stage.  (Note: if I first think of a plot and not a character, it’s much less of a struggle.  My issue is with choosing a place to start for a character who I imagine first)

Thanks,
Sarah
#1 - April 14, 2019, 07:26 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region carolinas
Sarah, for me the plot and character are inextricably linked because most of my stories begin with a character in a pickle. How he or she got there is fun and once the character becomes chatty, then I have the voice and the most crucial element: desire.
What does your character want?
Who or what stands in his or her way?
Will he or she get what she wants? How? There's the classic rule of 3--3 tries before the final epiphany.
How does the character grow as he or she pursues the goal?
And along the way, I'm asking why, why, why and so what? It helps to know the motivation, the stakes (if they're big enough for a book), and why anybody should even care.
So that's my process in a nutshell. When I teach, I try to get my students to begin the story close to the climax where all the action is.

One tip: type out some of your favorite PBs in manuscript format to see visually how short they can be, what the flow of the words is like without the pictures. It's very instructive.

I recommend subscribing to picture book builders because you get a sneak peek of the new books coming out and very useful commentary from the authors and illustrators: https://picturebookbuilders.com/ 
I also like the craft books by Ann Whitford Paul, Anastasia Suen, and Linda Ashman

Happy reading and writing!
#2 - April 14, 2019, 09:55 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region austin
Thanks Vijaya!  I will check those out.  Ann Whitford Paul’s book is my favorite I’ve found so far.  :)
#3 - April 14, 2019, 10:11 AM

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region austin
And to elaborate more, if a certain “pickle” immediately comes to mind with the character in it, great.  I can start writing.  But if instead I can imagine the character first in a million everyday situations, but don’t have a specific “pickle” in mind, choosing where to start is my pickle LOL.  Right now I’m working on listing situations that would cause instant conflict between a personality trait of the character and the situation (as I read that somewhere and have found it most useful so far), but would love more ideas to get started. 
#4 - April 14, 2019, 10:17 AM

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region ksmo
Sarah,

Vijaya is spot on with all her advice.

Prompted by your questions, I googled "picture book conflict generator" or something similar, and came up with this, which might be useful: https://storytoolz.com/generator/conflict. You can generate new conflicts by clicking the blue button. And this is kind of fun, too: http://www.whatifworldpodcast.com/question-generator. I've not used either of these, but they might spur something in you.

Tara Lazar's blog is fun for getting ideas. Specifically, her lists of "things kids like" and "don't like" might help.

My main character, his/her voice, or a book title usually comes to me first. Then I need to discover the story problem and plot. I record several ways the story could go, and then I back off and think about them. I try not to rush this part.

I also find it useful to fill in this statement as I go along: This is a story about X who wants ______, but ______ is preventing her, until she ________ [the solution which is both surprising and totally logical]. Notice how X solves her own problem!

Have fun!

Jody
#5 - April 14, 2019, 10:58 AM
PRUDENCE, THE PART-TIME COW, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK, BUSY BUS series, EMERGENCY KITTENS, and more!
Twitter @jodywrites4kids

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region austin
So much fun stuff Jody!!!  Thank you
#6 - April 14, 2019, 11:14 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
I think a key for me is getting to know the character really well. I might use a character questionaire. There are a bunch online. Once I know the character well enough to be sure I want to spend a year hanging with them like a good friend, I know what major thing (major to the character) would present them with the strongest conflict.

So a character who loves her stuffed bunny and can't sleep without that cozy smell would have a tough time if it were left somewhere. (Knuffle Bunny by Moe Willems) The better you know the characters, the more obvious the plot they belong in is. This is even true for books for adults.

I hope this helps.
#7 - April 14, 2019, 06:36 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region carolinas
Sarah, you're getting to know your character through the vignettes so it's great. When the pickle arises, you'll know! Keep at it.
#8 - April 15, 2019, 06:14 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

Members:

0 Members and 2 Guests are viewing this topic.