Paying Attention to Page Turns

By Kate Carroll

I don’t know about you, but if I get a plan for a picture book, I zero in on it immediately, get it out of my head and onto paper, my phone, my computer – OK – maybe a dinner napkin or grocery receipt.  I don’t think about page turns until I've written a draft or two. But when reading what the experts have to say about pagination of picture book manuscripts, it should be a priority.

In picture book creation, a page break has to have purpose.  It has to evoke interest to make the reader want to keep turning the page. With that in mind, a page turn should have a rhythm to accompany that purpose. The words on a page reflect the mood of the scene. Longer sentence patterns, full of imagery may work in one scene of your story, but not in another. Consider being at a place of tension in the story. Short, punchy sentences may be the rhythm. The words in each scene should invite the reader to want something more, or desire to go to the next page. Page turns have just the right amount of lure for the reader. Have you ever read aloud to a child who is trying to get a sneak peek at the next page? Compliments to the author!

Here are some things to consider when breaking your manuscript into spreads or page turns. In Writing Picture Books, Anne Whitford Paul tells us that the hooks found at the end of each chapter in longer books are the page turns in a picture book. They represent moments of wonder for the main character, moments of curiosity, doubt or even discomfort. it is vital that the page turns contain some element of motivation for the reader.

In an article on the Writers’ Rumpus Blog, Kim Chafee states, “Some page turns happen because it’s the end of a scene or a moment. Some happen to provide a break in the tension. But a purposeful page turn is different. It can be a cliffhanger, a set-up, to add surprise and engage the reader toward a satisfying payoff.”

Suffice it to say, pagination requires our imagination!

Think about books with questions. They automatically lead to a page turn. Rhyming stories tend to have a natural page turn element. Repeat lines often indicate a page turn as well. Check out these examples of stories with great page turns below.

Some agents even prefer paginated manuscript submissions. As always, it’s best to refer to the sub requirements of every agent and editor beforehand.

As an effort to become more fluent with this particular writing task, I encourage you to take the time to paginate your manuscript as you write. Study the craft. Devise a dummy. Find ways to incorporate elements of motivation. Who knows? Someday there may be a kid trying to sneak a peek at your next page!


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