Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Outline a picture book? You've got to be kidding!

I've never been an outliner, not for novels, and certainly not for picture books. Who has ever heard of outlining a picture book? That's just weird, right?

Maybe not.

I tried for years to write picture books and never had success (or a plot, or character development - just ask my former critique groups). I worked through revision after revision and story after story (and so did my wonderful critique groups). I vowed I would NEVER write another picture book ... I was only going to write novels. (Remember that? Ha!)

Recently, I've been rethinking my stance on outlines for novels. I've also been working on my picture book portfolio, which is a little scary, because the requests I get are usually for images that don't have a story behind them. Going forward, all the picture book images in my portfolio need to have a story attached to them, whether it's one of my stories or a retelling (3 Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.). So now I have to write picture books again.

Which brings me back to outlines. If I'm going to write PBs, even if they are just for my art portfolio, I'd like them to be good, or at least not embarrassing. How do I make sure my PBs have a plot, character development, and all that other cool stuff? By outlining.

Really? Yes. I'm going to outline my picture books.

Maybe it will be easier if I start with one of my old picture book ideas. I wrote an outline! The story has a shiny new plot! There are new characters! Action that builds; it's not just episodic! There are lots of illustration possibilities (even more than before)! Hooray!

Outlines for picture books ROCK!

Now I just have to write it ... that's the easy part, right?


  1. A young lady in my critique group outlines everything...she writes PB's and she will also have 4 pages of family tree and other character details...she says it is what works for her...she showed me one of her was short and sweet, and when I read her story it followed the outline pretty close...

    I'm at the totally opposite end...I have a MG that I've been writing and have had no outline...I sat down one day and out came the words...I did write a list of top 10 things I want to make sure I have the MC do before the book ends...Does that count? grin...

  2. I was just getting ready to write a couple of picture books . . . so what a great post!

    I've written a bunch of notes. Does that count?

    I am not a big fan of outlines, in the formal sense, for my novels. I write. I stop and plan. I write some more. I revise. It's a little chaotic (just like me).

  3. This is funny that you posted this, because I've written a few picture story books and did not use an outline, it just flowed. BUT just yesterday I was stuck on a brand new one (I've written the first paragraph and a page from the middle of the story so far!), and thought to myself, I'd better outline this first!

  4. Brenda, sounds like the lady in your crit group has a system that works for her, and your no outline seems to work for you, too. I'm still trying to find what works for me :)

    Elise, notes totally count, especially if there's a plot in them somewhere. My process is a bit chaotic too, but I'm trying to get more organized.

    Thanks Christy!

    Kelly, great minds think alike :) Good luck with your new PB. I hope the outline helps.

  5. Gosh, i never thought of this. But it does make sense. I've always outlined my novels and the better the outline, the easier the first draft so it makes sense.

  6. I like this idea. When I've had ideas for picture books, most of the story came to me at once. There are always elements missing, though. I have some I need to revise - I think I'll start with an outline.

  7. I always outline my picture books. I write them first. Then I outline them, making a small dummy, even though I don't illustrate. Then I write them again. Have fun!

  8. My first novel was not outlined, at least not formally. I had the beginning and ending set, and a list of things that needed to happen on a sticky note on the computer. Does that count?

  9. Christina, I never thought of it before either. Hope it works!

    Adrienne, good luck with your revisions - I hope outlining your PBs helps with your revision!

    Jacqui, you're way ahead of me on outlining PBs! I've always done tons of revision and rewriting, but it never occurred to me to outline them before.

    Nora, that totally counts. My outline isn't formal either. :)