Writing Lesson Week Two: More Cohesive Story Structure Elements

Welcome to Week Two! This week we will cover more cohesive story structures. I think these structures are very helpful in creating strong, succinct picture books. Take your time and run your ideas through each structure to see new ways of looking at your story.


This week includes:

• The question and answer of a story and it's usefulness.   

• Typical three phase story structure of a picture book.

• A Storyclock Diagram: How to use it and storyclock analyzed samples.

• Examples of cohesive story structures:

      1) the journey

      2) circular story structure

      3) parallel story structure

      4) comparison story structure

• Your assignment

The Picture Book's Question and Answer

Picture books are so short and concise that each page and each word (and each illustration) in your story needs to move your story forward. Defining the the story for yourself can help you stay focused. One way to do that is to ask yourself "what is the underlying question?" and "what is the answer to that question?" in your picture book. Keeping that in mind might help in structuring, editing, and staying on point in your story. The question and answer could be asked and answered in different ways. The book we looked at last week, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Tapback, might address the question: What happens to our things when they are worn out? or What do you do when you are left with nothing? The answer might be: If you bring your heart, soul, and creativity; you can always make something out of whatever you have. For There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly: What happens when you eat more and more? Answer: You die. Even concept books (which are books that explore a subject more than tell a story) have a question and answer.  Moving forward, I'll add my interpretation of what the question and answer is for some of the stories exampled in this lesson. 

The Three Act Picture Book Structure

The three acts are a beginning, middle, and an end.

1) Act One is the set up; the character and the conflict are introduced. Usually, a picture book starts on page four-five. You will notice the main character is often introduced on page four-five. The problem is often introduced on page six-seven. Act One moves the story into Act Two.

2) In Act Two, the character attempts to solve the problem and often runs into difficulties. The character again attempts to solve the problem—and then again. This moves the story into Act Three.

3) Act Three is the resolution. Usually the problem is finally solved on page thirty-thirty one. Page thirty two then ties up any loose ends. I call page thirty-two the Ba-bump. It's the last page that clinches the book and seals it up nice and tight. You may not want to use that term while meeting with an editor... it's just how I like to think of it. 

4) Just a note... before page four-five is the front matter. The front matter includes the front end-papers, the title page, and the copyright dedication page. You can refer to the layout page from the last lesson. The front matter adds up to a lot of real estate. Use that space to support your book. You can set the mood or tone, or use maps that show the world of your book. In one of my books, The Ghost Catcher, I used the endpapers to introduce the cast of characters. It is one of my favorite spreads from the book. Sometimes your best work for the book doesn't actually fit into the book but it could be considered for endpapers or a title page.

So, now I want to show you this nifty little thing: The Storyclock Diagram. 

The Storyclock Method

I found this method works nicely for children's books to brain-dump your themes, characters, and actions so that you can start to organize your storyplot. Often ideas come rushing in and it's hard to capture all the ideas at one time. If you use this method, you can get all your ideas out of your head and onto a page. Then, when your ideas have abandoned you, you have some material to work with. Setting your actions page by page around the clock will clue you in to where there are gaps in your story. You can strategically adjust your story to bring balance to the actions. It's also useful to plot your favorite stories for analysis. I've noticed the length of Act One and Act Three combined are often equal to the length of Act Two. 

Cohesive Story Structures Examples

So, last week you were introduced to examples of cumulative and de-cumulative story structure. Here are other interesting organizing structures that can help bring cohesion to a story. Sometimes stories use more than one of these structures at a time.


1) The Journey


2) Parallel Stories (Sometimes added to the illustration only)


3) Comparison


4) Circular Story Structure

5) Cumulative (from last week)

Here is an example of a circular journey in Along a Long Road. It mentions under the dedication that it was illustrated with one thirty-five foot long illustration created in Adobe Illustrator. The front and back meet up as well, creating a circular path. I chose this example and the next example to show how simple and playful a text can be.

Along a long road

Going up

Around a small town and down

Into a tunnel

And out

Over a bridge

One, two, three

Along a long road going fast

Hitting a bump in the way

Stopped by the side of the road

Up again back on track

Along a long road gaining speed

Again and again and again

Along a long road going fast

Around a round bend near the end

And start all over again

More Glue

Along with the Journey, Parallel Stories, Comparison, Circular Story Structure, and last week's Cumulative / De-Cumulative structure, here are a few other concepts that could add cohesion to your story themes:

 1)  Time of the Day

 2)  Days of the Week

 3)  Months of the Year

 4)  Seasons

 5)  A Repetitive Phrase

 6)  Counting

 7)  Alphabet

 8)  Question and Answer—As in "Not a Box" by Antoinette Portis.

     (Not to be confused with a question and answer that I have suggested you

     ask yourself to keep your story focused.)

 9)  Point of View 

10)  Companions (Could be in the illustrations)

k@kristenbalouch.com | Brooklyn, NY 

© 2018 by Kristen Balouch

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