Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Woo-hoo! We have now passed the halfway point for the Top Ten Story Elements. Today's topic focuses on the pacing of picture books. Pacing is tricky to master, especially in picture books. Just as in running, you have to pace yourself. First, you have the story that needs to be paced just right. Then, you have the page turns that you have to at least think about. 

How to pace a picture book || story elements | writing craft | how to write for children | what is pacing

The easiest way to learn pacing is to read lots of picture books (or novels) and practice writing in your chosen genre. The best way I have found to study pacing is to summarize the entire book section by section.

For picture books, write a phrase or sentence for each two-page spread. For novels, summarize the book chapter by chapter by writing a couple sentences for each. I often use my Template for Studying (and Writing) Picture Books to jot down the main idea for each two-page spread. You can do it in list format too, but it's not the same as seeing the spreads laid out before you. Doing this will help with both the story's overall pacing of the plot arc, as well as the page turns.

Remember, editors, art designers and illustrators will make the final call for the book's pagination, but you have to make it work in at least one way so you know it's possible.

Writer's Digest has a great 6-minute video tutorial titled "Pacing Picture Books: Verbal Editing Tools - Part 1" that discusses the first 5 of 20 tools that help achieve a well-paced picture book. They are:

  1. words
  2. repetition
  3. rhythm
  4. rhyme
  5. questions
On the write4kids website, the editors of the Children's Book Insider newsletter share four methods that get readers to turn pages
  1. anticipation and surprise
  2. flow
  3. rhyming verse
  4. cause and effect

Words are like feet donned with running shoes. Paragraphs are the legs. When runners pace themselves, they focus on time, distance, how the body feels, breathing, and sometimes even the scenery. The legs supported by powerful feet are able to move forward during a paced training run, a race, a long slow run, or even to a halt. Like runners, writers can use paragraphs supported by powerful words to move a story forward and control the pace, whether it be fast or slow - all the way to the story's end where the pacing must come to a final halt.

So what is pace? In running, pace is a combination of speed and distance. If I run 6 miles per hour for 10 minutes, then I am running a pace of 10 minutes per mile. In writing, you have typing paces too, like 20 or 65 words per minute, but that's not the same thing. I like to think of pacing as a combination of word choice and sentence length. What the words say and mean also play into it.

According to Denise Leograndis in her book, Fluent Writing: How to Teach the Art of Pacing, she says, "Fluent writing reads fluently because it is paced well." In chapter 6, she says this:

"We know when music sounds good, when colors look right on a canvas, and when writing reads well. Good writing has a flow, a balance, a rhythm that our brains appreciate. Writing reads well when it’s paced well."
So, pacing is what gives your writing flow, balance, and rhythm. Or are flow, balance, and rhythm what give your book a good pace? Pacing is the combination of flow, balance, and rhythm. The fluency. Without it, your story won't be stellar. It might be okay or even entertaining, but not stellar. Let's delve deeper with the model below.

An in-depth look at word choice and sentence structure would include quotes of actual sentences. Writers, after much practice, inherently know how to tell the story they want to tell using word choice and sentence structure to match the feelings and mood they want to convey merely by writing. Sometimes when a story isn't working, we'll play around with it and try to figure out what's wrong. Maybe it's an urgent, suspenseful story that needs to have shorter sentences with simpler words. Or maybe the quiet, reflective story needs to have longer sentences with softer words instead of short, punchy sentences and words. 

Today's model is Dav Pilkey's The Hallo-Wiener. I'll probably use this book again for a future word play element, but for today we'll focus on pacing. Remember, for each spread I am summarizing what is happening. This study is more for plot pacing and page turn pacing, for the overall story-arc, the big picture window, not the smaller window to individual words and phrases. [My comments in brackets are to explain what is going on and how it affects pacing.]

Title: The Hallo-Wiener
Author: Dav Pilkey
Illustrator: Dav Pilkey
Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
Year: 1995
Word Count: 621

1st half spread: The spread is actually a two-page picture, but the copyright info is on one side and the story begins on the right side: [It's a short description of the main character. Sorry, no pun intended by the use of the word 'short'.]
"There once was a dog named Oscar who was half-a-dog tall and one-and-a-half dogs long."
Spread 1: The other dogs made fun of him and Oscar didn't like it. [talks about other characters and Oscar's feelings]
Spread 2: Oscar's mother made it worse by using his nicknames. [problem gets worse]
Spread 3: Usually, Oscar was upset, but today was Halloween so he spent all day daydreaming. [how today is different and what Oscar does differently]
Spread 4: He went home to work on a scary costume, but his mother had already made him a very special costume that wasn't scary at all. [He acts on his goal, but runs into a problem with the costume his mom made. Notice how big-picture pacing works closely with plot.]
Spread 5: To avoid hurting his mother's feelings, he would wear the hot-dog bun costume. [short text to keep you turning the pages - what will he look like?]
Spread 6: That night, all the other dogs had scary costumes. [another short text - turn the page to see what happens next and Oscar's reaction]
Spread 7: The other dogs laughed at him. Oscar tried to keep up with them, but his costume made him slow. [filled with emotion]
Spread 8: The other dogs got to all the houses first and left Oscar with no treats to get. [as we see Oscar face more problems, we feel an even stronger emotional connection]
Spread 9: When trick-or-treating was over, the dogs heard a scary sound and ran for their lives, leaving their treats behind. [a turn in the plot - bad things happen to Oscar's "enemies"]
Spread 10: The monster moved closer scaring the dogs even more. [short text to up the suspense level]
Spread 11: Oscar showed up and tried to expose the monster. [a feeling that Oscar will save the day]
Spread 12: The monster costume ripped and showed two cats, who promptly ran away screaming. [getting to the resolution]
Spread 13: Now the dogs are embarrassed. Oscar was still a friend and rescued them. [getting into the emotion of the antagonist and how Oscar reacts to their embarrassment]
Spread 14: Then they shared all their treats with Oscar and changed his nickname from something negative to something positive. [a funny and cute resolution - all are happy]
Final half spread: "Happy Halloween!" with a very cute picture.

Soooo!!! That's my long, wordy, round-a-bout lesson on pacing. The next time I do a pacing "lesson", I'll probably just share the model with the breakdown spreads and maybe quote a few passages to talk about tone and mood, etc. Hope it was helpful, or at least insightful and informational. 

Story Element #1: Character
Story Element #2: Conflict
Story Element #3: Plot
Story Element #4: Dialogue

Story Element #5: Theme
Story Element #6: Pacing
Story Element #7: Word Play (my favorite!)

Story Element #8: Patterns
Story Element #9: Rhyme
Story Element #10: Beginnings and Endings

Keep on keepin' on...


  1. This whole series is really helpful. I'm bookmarking all of these and will link to the series on my blog when you are done. Just great stuff! Thanks.

  2. Wow! Thanks! Glad you find them helpful.

  3. Thanks for the link to my Writer's Digest Tutorial. I've been studying picture book pacing for years, and there are 20 tools that allow children's writers lift their writing to Wow. Here's the link to the first of three tutorials on this topic.

    More information can be found on my website at, or my agent site at

    Thanks for the mention, Christie!


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