Week of July 31—Picture Book Trends—I. C. E. Q.
Wednesday, August 3—E—Event Driven
Not every book is driven by the main character or the interactive nature of the book. Some books are driven by the event(s) of the story. This is also known as plot-driven. In an event-driven story, the character is reacting to an event and the circumstances around him/her. What kind of event? It could be anything—picture day at school, a new baby, the dark, a thunderstorm, tryouts for the baseball team, ballet lessons, and on and on and on. The character isn’t causing the event, but is being moved forward because of the event and reacting to the event.
Now I have to admit that in the last few years I’ve never heard an editor or agent say they were looking for event-driven books. But those books are on the market and are a viable means of telling a story, so don’t feel that you are limited to two or three kinds of books styles. Write the story you have to write. As you do so, you can see if the story is about the character or if the story is about an event in which the character finds himself/herself.
Let’s look at some examples of event-driven books.
By Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat
Tammi is a friend of this blog and we have lots of Sauer-ettes who follow Picture This! Who doesn’t love Chicken Dance? So fun, so imaginative, so chicken-y. Lola and Marge are great characters and are so well developed. I can imagine their voices, their walks, their individual personalities. If I were surrounded by a flock of chickens I could pick out Lola and Marge, that’s how well developed they are. So it’s interesting that this is an event-driven book and not a character-driven one. What is the event driving the story? Dan’s illustration on the first two-page spread tells us—the Barnyard Talent Show! Marge and Lola have to win that talent show in order to win their Elvis Poultry Concert tickets. Everything the two old hens do is driven by that one event—they try out various talents (all failures), they show up at the show and are disheartened by the other talent they see, they are so angry at the ducks’ rude quacks, or cracks, that they get all riled up and start chicken dancing. And who is in the balcony watching the talent show? Well, I won’t give the surprise away, but you can see that everything in the story revolves around the event of the talent show.
By Lester L. Laminack and Adam Gustavson
Do you know Lester Laminack’s writing? He’s popular in teacher/educational/librarian circles and I love his writing. I highly recommend you check out his books. Snow Day! Is an event-driven book based on the event of anticipating a snowfall that could cancel school the following day. The father and the children imagine all the things they could do on a snow day—drink hot cocoa, build snowmen, sled. The family hurries to bed waiting for the fun day only to awake and find there is no snow and they have to rush to school. You’ll be surprised at the end of the book to learn who is most upset about not having a day. I grew up in Missouri and had snowy winters. In Florida, we have the same kind of event anticipation, but we call them hurricane days. Lester’s book is definitely an event-driven book. Without the anticipated snow day, there is no story. All of the characters’ actions and reactions revolve around the event.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
By Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Yes, it’s a golden-oldy, a classic. But it’s also an event-driven book. Everything in the book is driven by the event of the bear hunt. Climbing through the grass, crossing the river, sticking in mud, trudging through the forest, wading through a snowstorm, going in a cave, and finally seeing the bear—all part of the bear hunt event. And then we get to experience the family's journey in reverse as they run back home, it's still part of the event. This is classic, event-driven story telling.
I am so inspired by these (and other) event-driven stories. This type of storytelling is at the heart of what I write and how I write. If you are new to picture book writing, I think an event-driven structure would help you develop plot, characters, setting, etc. To me event-driven stories seem to come inherently with their own structure. But I’ve always been a sucker for a fun event!
It’s Your Turn!
1. Discover more about event-driven picture books by reading one of the books listed below.
s A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead
s Pirates Don’t Change Diapers by Melinda Long and David Shannon
s Click, Clack, Moo—Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
s The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend and John Manders