Ask a Picture Book Editor

How to make your plot pack a punch!

Last month we talked about how to avoid your plot feeling dull and reading like a list. This month we’ve got some tips on how to make sure there’s enough action and adventure in your story.

Why bother?
Action and adventure grip your reader and keep them engaged with your book.

What are the pitfalls?
Too much action - your storyline becomes confused and chaotic. Resist the urge to cram too much into 12 story spreads.

Too little action - the story feels flat, a bit ‘so what?’. It certainly won’t make the reader want to pick your book up again.

One of the biggest comments editors make about picture book submissions is that they lack action and drama. Crafting a fast-paced adventure story in 32 pages is certainly tough, but it can be done!

Dragon Stew by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a witty, high-octane adventure story that takes a bunch of bored Vikings around the world on the hunt for a tasty dragon to put in a stew. (Oh, and it’s also in rhyme!) It’s a cleverly crafted text and it fits neatly into a classic 12-spread structure.
Dragon Stew by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Lee Wildish

Here’s a quick overview:
1 - We meet our cast who are BORED.
2 - They think of some things they could do to pass the time. <which are FUNNY!>

3 - They decide to hunt for a dragon.
4 - They pack their longboat and head off to sea.
5 - There’s a storm. <Oh, no!>
They meet a squelchy squeezy GIANT squid <This is getting bad . . .>
Who they defeat <Hooray!>
6 - They sail on and on until the sandwiches are gone <Shock, horror.>
Then they meet a killer whale. <Golly!>
7 - They trek over beaches, and bogs, and fallen logs. <The going’s getting tough – they’re taking on all sorts of terrain.>
Until they find a gleaming, steaming pile of dragon poo.
8 - They struggle up a steep knobbly, bobbly (suspiciously dragon-y) hill.
9 - They come face to face with the dragon. <He’s terribly friendly. Phew!>
10 - The Vikings ATTACK. <Poor dragon.>
11 - But the dragon expertly sees them off and . . .
12 - The Vikings are left, where they were at the start . . .BORED!

Phew! What a romp! So much happens!

So how can you make sure that your adventure story packs as much of a punch? 

Here are 4 top tips to help you.


What is the core plot line at the centre of your story? In Dragon Stew it’s ‘a bunch of bored Vikings go on a quest to find a dragon’. When you’ve nailed it, DO NOT deviate from it. Keep your eye on it. Make sure your characters are focused on getting to their finale. It’s your job to get your characters (and therefore your reader) from A to B as seamlessly as possible.


12 spreads isn’t much space so don’t get bogged down in side plots, character twists, and other creative tangents. Make each of your action plot points relevant to the central storyline. In Dragon Stew, a lot of the action occurs at sea – the storm, the squid, the killer whale – and the plot points are relevant to the setting. When they reach land they travel over beaches, bogs, logs until they climb the suspiciously dragon-y hill. Each jigsaw piece fits neatly with the overarching quest to find a dragon, it progresses the plot and draws the reader along for the ride.


In picture book writing, flow is key to making an involved narrative enjoyable to read and preventing it from becoming fractured and disjointed. Avoid jumping from moment to moment or spread to spread with no thought as to how your protagonists move from one moment (or place) to another.


Dialogue in picture books is great for developing character and progressing plot, but make sure whatever speech you include isn’t cluttering the action and slowing the pace of your story. It needs to be clear who’s speaking and that what they’re saying is integral to the moment and keeping the plot and storyline MOVING FORWARDS at all times.
They hurried on until they saw a knobbly, bobbly hill.
“Let’s climb it!” Loggi Longsocks said, “We’ll get a better view!”
“Are we there yet?” grumbled Yop as they struggled to the top.
Then they all shouted together,  “OI, DRAGON, WHERE ARE YOU?”
Here’s a good example of where the speech weaves neatly into the story, clarifies the action and moves the story forward.

In summary:
An action-packed plot doesn’t mean a lot of convoluted twists and turns. Remember to keep your eye on the main story, make sure your plot points are exciting, pertinent and segue neatly from one to the next. And keep it simple!

Natascha Biebow is an experienced editor, mentor and coach, who loves working with authors and illustrators at all levels to help them to shape their stories.
Check out the Cook Up a Picture Book Coaching Courses.


  1. Talk about useful! Thanks, Natascha and Ellie!

  2. Talk about useful! Thanks, Natascha and Ellie!

  3. Such a great and informative post! I think if some one want to learn English at home so they should create the environment to improve their English. and they also should speak English in their daily activities summary vs. paraphrase


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