PICTURE BOOK FOCUS: Don't Skip the Scenes (Part 1): WRITING ACTION

The Picture Book Storyshaper: Expert Advice From An Experienced Editor

  In this three-part blogNatascha Biebow suggests key ways to
write your picture book scenes so they have more impact

In many picture book manuscripts, the author summarizes the action so that it moves to the next bit too quickly. Picture books need to have a short word count after all. Plus it's easier to say "The friends had a fight" and carry on rather than to describe it using SPECIFIC action, dialogue and body-language.

So what's the problem?

The best picture books are those where the reader responds emotionally to what is happening in the story, where they are right there in the shoes of the characters. If an author skips over key scenes and instead summarizes the all action, the result is a feeling of disconnectedness and distance from the characters and the plot. A kind of unsatisfactory ‘so what?’ feeling. Readers don’t really care what is going on in this book.

So, when should you use narrative summary and when should you write a scene?

Each scene MUST:

Everything else can more or less be narrative that advances the reader from one scene to the next. Remember: you as the author can control the action, so that you are in the driving seat, deciding what you want the reader to see as the story unfolds.

Be there in the NOW, in the moment, with your characters. Don’t be tempted to rush to the end of the book. SLOW down your writing.


Readers need to feel each scene physically and emotionally.

HOW can you get ideas for doing this? Act it out. Literally, put yourself in characters’ skin, in their point of view. Try it. Pretend to be angry from the point of view of a:

Stroppy and hungry toddler . . .

Grumpy mum . . .

Teenager in a hurry . . .The unopened fairy tale on the bookshelf . . .
Elderly Grandpa who is ill . . .
Did you do it? See how every character will be angry in a different way? Their action, body-language and dialogue matches who they are and what motivates them.

To summarize, scene ACTION should be written moment by moment without summary.

If you’re summarizing and being vague, STOP!

SLOW DOWN . . . and look for the SPECIFIC.

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 storieswww.blueelephantstoryshaping.com
She has been awarded an MBE for her services to children's book writers and illustrators as Regional Advisor of SCBWI British Isles.


  1. I really enjoyed enlarging the images and learning through these examples. What a fantastic article.

    1. Thanks Georgina, it's always nice to hear feedback. I'll be posting two follow-up articles in the next couple of months. Good luck with your writing!

  2. I loved this article! The examples were especially helpful.


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