There are many methods of developing a plot for a children’s story. I’ve tried dozens. If you don’t count cramping in the
lotus position and waiting for the muse to strike, most of these have worked to a degree. But not one gave me the
consistent technique I wanted. I finally came up with a visualisation that works for me – a plotting path. It’s straightforward,
simple and makes me laugh, which is desperately needed at the plotting stage of my writing.
The plotting path is based on one specific premise: your relationship with your main character. It will not always be sunny,
but love him, respect him and, above all, challenge him. The objective is to make him work for the dubious honour of
playing the main role in your story.
Feel free to adjust this plotting path to make it fit into your own style of creating
• Create your main character. Make sure he is three-dimensional, likeable and not too perfect. A young
reader may have trouble identifying with a main character with perfect hair, clear skin and the fitness of an Olympian. He
won’t really understand a kid who refuses to swipe a finger through the chocolate frosting. Let’s face it; we all swipe the
frosting at times.
• Give him a goal. Often, if you develop your character well enough, one of his less-than-perfect character traits will
point you in the right direction. The critical thing here is to give your main character a goal that is personally important
and easily defined.
Maybe he’s overweight but wants to try out for the part of a scarecrow in the school play.
He could be obsessed with soccer but is afraid to try out for the team as he is constantly tripping over his feet.
He has an oral presentation coming up in front of the whole school and he feels physically ill at the thought of speaking in
Your main character and his goal will change with every story but your plotting path – your visualisation – is the main
character’s journey toward this goal. Visualise the goal as something tangible: a star, a soccer ball or a Ferrari if you like.
• Throw an obstacle at him. Once your character’s goal is clear and definable, send him along the wooded path to
achieve it. Make sure you perch on a comfortable branch above him with your bag of tricks. As he spots the shining star
through the trees and strides toward his goal, toss a banana skin under his feet.
• Throw him another one. When he regains his footing and catches a glimpse of the star in the distance, race
ahead of him and push over a massive tree, blocking his path.
• Throw him a third (this is optional). The star still beckons. As he’s climbing over the trunk or finding another
way around the tree, clamber back into the highest branches and scramble along the canopy. Pull a cleverly situated
chain that releases a pack of dogs, trained to block the path. You can now allow your maniacal laughter to escape as he
won’t hear it over the growling canines.
• Throw him your biggest and best. After he’s distracted the dogs using his courage and ingenuity, the star is
brighter than ever. It’s time to throw him his final and seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Pull your magic powder from
your bag of tricks and sprinkle it on the path. Watch with glee as it sparkles and grows and becomes a large body of
water shimmering between your main character and his goal.
• Allow him to wallow. Your character wants to give up. He shakes a fist at you and nearly turns back. He’s tired of
you and your sadistic ways.
• Let him succeed in spite of you. He decides to give it one more try. The star shines like the sun and, after all,
success is the best revenge. With pleasant visions of sprinkling itching powder in your underwear and mutiny on his
mind, he builds a raft and paddles across the sea. He grabs his star, reaching his goal.
At this stage, it’s up to you whether you throw a couple of great whites or piranhas into the water, but it may be time to
give the kid a break. He had a goal, overcame many obstacles and achieved his aim using unique and unexplored skills.
You were no help at all.
• Allow your character to grow. As your character curses you and struggles to reach his goal, make sure that he
is learning. External conflict can be riveting – the ground slippery, the path blocked and the dogs mean. But internal
conflict is where your readers will find the satisfaction. Your main character can fight laziness, boredom, fear of failure,
lack of confidence or a difficult relationship. If you have the stomach to throw angry Rottweilers at him, you will have no
trouble giving him a debilitating character trait.
If the plotting path doesn’t strike a chord with you and you’d rather try waiting for inspiration in the lotus position, it can’t
hurt. (Oops! Wrong, it can hurt but your main character will love you for it.) But if you decide to use this plotting path, just
remember to challenge your main character and give him enough untapped ingenuity or strength to succeed in spite of
your evil ways