Winter Conference Illustration_Website subpage - blank.png

Unlocking Your Picture Book - Understanding the Key Components of Storytelling to Write Your Manuscript with Kandace Coston

Creative Lab Syllabus



In this guided journey through the basics of picture book writing, we’ll take a close look at the key elements of storytelling—character, voice, setting, plot, message—to unlock your picture book's potential and build an outline or rough draft of your manuscript.

Prerequisites and Advanced Preparation

Attendees who will gain the most from this intensive are beginners to picture book writing—those who either have an idea for a picture book story or a draft of their picture book manuscript. Please bring your idea or draft written on paper or typed out on your laptop. You should also bring note-taking materials (pens/pencils, a notebook, or your laptop.)  


1. Quick introduction and overview (5 minutes)

2. What is a picture book and what are the elements of a picture book story? (15 minutes)

      a. Character, voice, setting, plot & pacing, message

3. Creating Compelling Characters (25 minutes)

      a. Why are characters important in picture book storytelling?

      b. How can your main character make a strong first impression? (show examples)

      c. Writing exercise + sharing

4. Voice: Invisible but Everywhere (25 minutes)

      a. What is voice?

      b. How can you tell when voice is working? (show examples)

      c. Writing exercise + sharing

5. Setting (20 minutes)

      a. What role does setting play in visual storytelling?

      b. Grounding your story in time and place with few details (show examples)

6. First Q&A (10 minutes)

7. Coffee/snack/stretch/bathroom break (10 minutes)

8. Plot & Pacing (25 minutes)

      a. Unfolding plot and the importance of pacing (show examples)

      b. What are the major plot points in your story? What is your story about?

      c. Writing exercise + sharing

9. Message / Takeaway (25 minutes)

      a. What is the heart of a story? (show examples)

      b. What is your story about?

      c. Writing exercise + sharing

10. Revist your notes and create your post-conference to-do list (10 minutes)

11. Final Q&A (10 minutes)



Participants will:

  • Learn how characters, voice, setting, plot, pacing, and message work together to create a cohesive and entertaining story.
  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each component in their manuscript or story idea.
  • Revise each element of their story to make their manuscript stronger or build on their initial story idea.
  • Create either an outline or rough draft of their manuscript.
  • Explore how small changes can have a big impact in picture book writing (for example, how word choice can affect voice.)
  • Identify the message or heart of their story and figure out how to share that message with young readers without being didactic or preachy.
  • Review examples from published picture books for fresh inspiration.
  • Share their work with colleagues for new perspectives and additional feedback.
  • Create a post-conference to-do list with actionable tasks and next steps.
spot 1.png

Don't Miss Out!