Monday, May 7, 2012

Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books

The writing craft takes years to master. And even then, we are constantly learning and improving and trying to make our latest idea work for us. I have recently been thinking about my blog and how little I have posted about the actual craft of writing in the last several months.

Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books || novel writing elements | the craft of writing | how to write a book

Today I'm writing about something that will hopefully help each of you (and myself) learn to write better, even novelists. The craft of writing. The writer's craft. Let's look at some books that model those writing elements. Specifically, picture books. Don't get me wrong though. Just because we'll be looking at picture books does not mean that they can't help writers of other audiences too.

The top 10 story elements for picture books (and the top 5 story elements for novels) are as follows:
  1. character
  2. conflict
  3. plot
  4. dialogue
  5. theme
  6. pacing
  7. word play
  8. patterns
  9. rhyme
  10. beginnings and endings

Now, these elements of story I didn't just pull out of a hat. I thought long and hard about each of them. The first five apply to novels as well as picture books, even short stories. I even put them in the best possible order of importance I could manage. Of course, they are all important. But you really do have to have a character. The last five are mostly for picture books, although some can be for novels. And of course, rhyme is not for all picture books, but it is an important element in many of them.

Teaching with picture books is becoming more and more common in schools, from grade 2 through grade 12. I aim to teach with picture books too. To help writers use picture books to learn writing techniques for their own writer's craft. Using picture books to teach writing will hopefully be just as much fun for you as it will be for me. Note that there may be an occasional spoiler, especially when dealing with #10 (Beginnings and Endings). 

In the coming weeks, I'll go into more depth using the examples listed below and give more in depth definitions of the top ten story elements for writing picture books. The words in (parentheses) list other similar elements that are included in the category.
  1. Character (point of view)
    • Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
  2. Conflict (action)
    • The Science Project that Almost Ate the School by Judy Sierra
  3. Plot (rising action, falling action)
    • The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane and Herm Auch
  4. Dialogue (voice)
    • Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler
  5. Theme (emotions, premise)
    • Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
  6. Pacing (page turns, book dummies, template)
    • Halloweiner by Dav Pilkey
  7. Word Play (metaphors, puns, word play, verbs, synonyms, alliteration, vocabulary, etc.)
    • The Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy
  8. Patterns (rules of 3, cycles, repetition, etc.)
    • Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski and Henry Cole
  9. Rhyme (rhythm, meter, song)
    • Because You Are My Baby by Sherry North and Marcellus Hall
  10. Beginnings and Endings (duh! starts and finishes...)
    • I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse

There you have it, folks! The goal is to share a new book that features one of these crafts on the 14th of every month. Just click on the links above to take you to the main page for each craft. It'll list MORE than just the book shown here. And over time, each list will grow. Hope to see you there!

Keep on keepin' on...


  1. Cool Christie. I like Story Elements too.

  2. I agree...'Story Elements'. Looking forward to them, Christie!

  3. I agree with Story Elements!

    Donna L Martin

  4. This is going to be exciting! My vote is for "Story Elements."

  5. I agree...story elements. I like your list!

  6. Or do a combo and go with either Story Craft or Writing Elements. I think I'm just being difficult. Love the idea, though.

  7. I guess I'll go with the consensus. My gut was telling me to go with Story Elements. I'm glad everyone else agrees (though I was quite willing and prepared to change it).

    Missed Periods, I was actually being difficult in the beginning. You should have seen all the different possible combinations I created for myself to choose from.

    One more question, for #7, should I go with 'WORDS' or 'LANGUAGE'?

  8. I'm late to vote, but I agree with the others. :)

  9. I like Story Elements, too! And I think Language might be a bit more you play with words is so huge in addition to just the words alone.

  10. Great new feature Christie - I look forward to reading mroe!

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Definitely Story Elements. Very much looking forward to this series, Christie, thank you.

  13. Thanks, everyone! I hope I can do it justice. We'll see how it turns out.

    I changed #7: WORDS, not to "Language", but to WORD PLAY. Carter, thanks for the "language" suggestion and thanks for validating my feeling that "words" wasn't the best possible word. Oh, but word play! Picture books have to have word play!

  14. I've always used "picture book" when referring to the elements of this genre so it doesn't get confused with short stories, chapter books, or even novels. There are so many unique formats to picture books, and they deserve their own list.

    Your list is very similar to mine, and I've had good luck using this type of list when teaching others (which you're doing here!). And you've included examples, too, which makes it easy to "piggyback" for aspiring authors. I'll be spreading this post around... ; )

    Thanks for telling me about this Christie!

  15. I would love your template, Christie. Saw your post today on Julie Hedlund's blog. Here is my email address:
    Thanks so much!

  16. I'd love your template too! Just discovered your blog. Great information about the picture book. Thank you!

  17. I would love to get your template. My email is
    Thank you.


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