IN A WORD . . . OR THREE
Want to know what separates a story from a picture book? Three words—hook, heart, and action.
HOOK—A picture book must capture attention immediately. The first page, first image, and first words have to do the work of an entire first chapter in a novel. The reader (be it an editor, agent, book buyer, or child) must be immediately engaged, inspired, interested, and/or inquisitive. Get straight to the hook—avoid back story, the overuse of description, and unneeded characters.
HEART—The main character of your picture book has to have heart. That comes from being relatable, intriguing, funny, childlike, engaging, multi-layered, and someone a kid wants to spend time with again and again. To have heart, the main character has to have a wanna-be-likeable quality. In other words, a character with heart is one that the child would like to be.
ACTION—A picture book has to be action-packed. When editors say a story is “too quiet” they usually mean nothing seems to be happening, or that the story is lacking action. Action doesn’t mean exploding chickens on every page, but that a character has to be engaged in solving a problem, the action has to rise and fall, the story has to move from one place to another, and the action has to keep the reader interested and engaged.
There you have it! Plot in three words. Go forth and conquer!