Picture Books and the Protagonist

© 2016 Alice Faye Duncan

I write pictures books. It is the genre that has chosen me. 33b2b6a2-bd81-4575-a6b5-f954090dc897My first book was published in 1995 when I was a young adult in graduate school. Over the last twenty years, I have learned a thing or two about writing. However, my greatest lesson learned is this—the protagonist in a picture book must solve her own dilemma.

Let me say that again. It cannot be overstated. The main character in your picture book must solve the urgent problem. No parent, no friend, no neighbor, and no sweet-faced puppy can skip to the rescue to save the main character’s plight. The most successful picture books have this one thing in common. Whether the main character is a boy, girl, elephant, tiger, or squirrel (you get my point), as the protagonist, each character must charge forward to face the challenge and bring the book to a pleasant resolution.

Every rule is made to be broken, and there are super-successful picture books that do not follow this pattern. However, most times the main character “extinguishes the fire” to bring readers to a happy ending. The conclusion of the story feels so good because the protagonist by his or her own might conquered the formidable foe.

Consider the following questions:

  • Who saved the Three Little Pigs from the wolf? They did!
  • Who satiated the Little Red Hen in her hunger? She did!
  • Who encouraged the Little Engine to overcome his mountain? He did!

See my point? The protagonists saved the day. These are just three examples of picture books that have served joy to countless generations of readers. When we are in heaven singing with the angels, readers will continue to hold these stories dear. And in the words of my grandmother, Fannie Duncan, “It would behoove you to pay attention.”

You can plan your main character’s personal steps to a shining victory by plotting your picture book in an outline. Know the story ending before the beginning to avoid a quick-fix resolution from outside forces. Do not send a savior to the rescue. Remember, your protagonist is the savior.
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Alice Faye Duncan is a librarian who writes books for children and adults.6f14840a-0fce-44c8-a485-84ca3ab1314b Her children’s book, Honey Baby Sugar Child, is a mother’s love song to her young child. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. This book is presently in its seventh printing. Honey Baby Sugar Child is a popular birthday gift for babies and a popular shower gift for brand new mothers. Alice is also the author of Hello, Sunshine: 5 Habits to Uncloud Your Day, her first book for adult readers.


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