Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 5, 2021

Plotting v plotzing for illustrators

Many writers and illustrators might feel confused or left out of the plot game, thinking that there’s only one way to write a plot or that illustrators don’t create or expand plots or create visual structures. You may “plotz” when you are asked about plot or structure (from a Yiddish word meaning to explode, it usually refers to being super aggravated). But The Children’s Book Academy is here to rescue you.

There are 6 kinds of picture book plots or structures:

  • Traditional 7 point arc
  • Character Arc
  • Geographic
  • Chronologic
  • Seasonal
  • Cumulative
  • Circular

Both writers and illustrators can bring these in and we’ll be exploring them all in the upcoming Craft and Business of Illustrating (and Writing) Children’s Books. And while the primary focus is on illustrating, there’s tons to learn for writers who may also discover a wonderful long-dormant part of themselves and become illustrators as well (remember you no longer have to be able to draw like Michelangelo to illustrate a kid’s book these days).

These 6 structures form the underlying foundation of how you get your reader/viewer from the beginning to the end while keeping them engaged. I’m only going to speak to the first two right now, so let’s start with the 7-point or three-act plot structure and the character arc structure.

Start off by figuring out what your main story elements are. What do you want to have happen in the beginning and how do you want it to end? These narratives, whether true or imagined, all follow the same structure of a beginning, a middle, and an end. But in order to make the plot really exciting, we need conflict and resolution. Another way to think of it is in terms of an equation of CHARACTER + GOAL + OBSTACLES = CONFLICT. Or as I like to say, get the drama out of your life and on to the page. Here’s a visual:

So, to tease out and develop this, write, or sketch, some ideas about the following questions, using as few words as possible.

  • Who is/are your main characters and why do we care about them? Create some loose character poses that show emotion (as always, it’s absolutely fine to start with stick figures). Consider costume, color palette, etc. Or make a character map that gives you as much backstory as possible so you really know your character, which will help you move your story forward. Here’s an example:

Or make your own

  • Setting/backstory. Do some setting sketches or studies to understand the space and perspective. If you are writing, having a specific and unique setting can influence so many things to make any universe you create so much more vibrant and believable and allow you to play with language in really fun ways.
  • What is/are your characters goals/motivation
  • What are your character’s main flaws or fears and 3 obstacles?
  • How might your main character (MC) fail to overcome each of these obstacles and ultimately triumph?
  • How does this triumph show in the ending? What single panel in a dummy or set of thumbnails best communicates this moment?
  • What style, color palette, shapes, symbols, techniques, etc work best to convey the underlying mood, tone, action, emotion, etc?
  • What about composition? Where are your page turns? Composition for illustrators is where you place the elements on the page to make it pleasing or to convey emotion or to create pacing as well as how you use scale and point of view. For writers, it’s where you break your story into sentences and paragraphs and sometimes even page breaks, although often it’s the illustrator who will do the page breaks.
  • What brings your story to life visually? Which of the elements above can you use to bring your story and language alive? What little or large details, differences, quirkinesses make your work stand out?

Whew! That was fun. Now I’d like to share a little about creating a plot using a character arc. Not all books are structured with big moment 7-point plots. Some are much quieter with character arcs full of smaller moments as when a character goes through their day and during the course of the day learns something or changes from the beginning of the story till the end. Often, these kinds of books are also known as concept books and use one of the foundational structures mentioned earlier. These kinds of books are refefrred to as “quiet books” and tend to be a harder sell than exciting plot-driven stories but they still sell and sometimes even well, especially when they receive awards because of the depth of emotion, their originality, or the exquisite language used in stories where we really care about the character(s).

Whether you’re a writer or an illustrator, we’d love to help you illustrate, write, or both, the children’s book of your dreams. To find out more, check out our homepage and information about the upcoming session of Craft & Business of Illustrating (and Writing) Children’s Books. You’ll have the option of one-on-one-critiques with expert co-teachers, and a slew of instant access bonuses, as well as one-of-a-kind submission opportunities. If you remember the promo code:  ARTLOVE – you’ll even get $100 off your registration for a limited time!

Meanwhile, happy plotting, with little to no plotzing,

Love – Mira & the CBA gang

Scholarship info here:

Course info here:


Mira, thank you for sharing this with everyone. Good one to keep.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This is golden!


  2. This is a great post. I started a children’s book last year and abandoned feeling I was missing too much technical know how! Thank you!


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