SESSION ONE: CRACKING CONCEPTS
There is no such thing as a bad idea. A standout picture book is more about the ‘approach’ to an idea, rather than the actual subject itself. With that in mind, find out how to make your picture book concepts stronger and more marketable. Also learn out about types of picture books and things to avoid.
Finding the right idea is key. Writing is a skill, and skills can be learned. But without that unique, clever idea your story is unlikely to standout to industry professionals, who are inundated with texts every day.
But let’s take the pressure off a little.
Ideas are all around us. Any tiny thing can spark inspiration. Snippets of conversation could lead to a title. Something on the news could give you a setting or plot. Interesting people, words and phrases could inspire a character. If you struggle finding ideas and haven’t yet heard of StoryStorm, please do consider participating. It pushes you to collect an idea a day in January and you can subscribe to some thought-provoking blog posts. I’ve yet to manage to collect 30 whole ideas. But it is a good way of training yourself to keep your eyes and ears open. Be curious about the world around you and you’ll never be short of book matter!
This StoryStorm post from Katie Davies was particularly helpful, I thought: ‘30 Days of Picture Book Inspiration’ – https://taralazar.com/2013/11/04/piboidmo-day-4-katie-davis/
I liked this countdown-style post, too, from Samantha Berger:
10. Go play. Build a sandcastle, bust out the Legos, doodle all over a cardboard box. Play with no stakes, no intended audience, and with nothing precious. Just PLAY. You wanna tell stories and connect with kids – go play like one. Pronto!
9. Make a list of words you love: hassenpfeffer, canoodle, gallop! Jam out a list of words and rediscover your love of language. Cue the heavenly choir and behold…LANGUAGE!
8. Give yourself a short, fun warmup to do every day. Again, pick one that’s FUN and not a pain in the butt, and hold yourself to it. Make up a new nail polish color name. Give yourself a new pseudonym: Samantha Berger aka Samdemic, aka Bergé, aka Bergermeister MeisterBerger aka The Impossible Berger, etc. Write a daily Postcard from the Pandemic: “Well, this still sucks. xox, me.” Whatever! Nothing stinks more than having to write something you dread. So write something you LOVE and you’ll be inspired to do it.
7. Shift your perspective. I mean literally. Find a way to look at the room like you never have before. This perspecto-shift does something GOOD to your brain.
6. Pick an inanimate object in your home, personify it, and write a paragraph from its point of view.
5. Pretend there is a five-year-old in the room, and tell them a story.
4. Think about one incident that happened when you were a kid, that helped inform who you are today. Write that down.
3. Pick one song you LOVE to sing, and sing it reeeeeally loudly. This literally opens up your VOICE and opening your voice, gets you open to your VOICE! Duh.
2. Make up a reeeeeally dramatic telenovela about the squirrels and pigeons you see every day.
And the number one way to tap ideas and stay inspired is…
1.Truth bomb: your Inner Editor is a total bummer. They second-guess every choice you make, always wondering if things could be better, or if you’re choosing the right word, action, character. Sooo, park them in a corner, lock them in a box, send them out for pizza. They can always come in later with their red pens and harsh judgements, but not now!
Other ways of finding fresh ideas could include:
– Using puns or interesting word play e.g. panda-monium, li-bear-ian
– Using quotes, idioms, sayings e.g. Many hands make light work
– Retelling a classic with a twist e.g traditional tales, fables
– Writing about a true story, character, event, invention
– Writing down memories from your childhood. Is there potential for a story there?
– Also, try taking a look at apps such as ‘The Ideas Machine’ or plot-generating websites, including https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/story/ and Pictionary Generator (randomwordgenerator.com)
If you’re still stuck, write a list of all the things that interest you. Then write a list of all the things that don’t. Mix and match one thing from each column and see where it leads. For example, history and chocolate. Perhaps, there’s potential for a non-fiction picture book here?
This is a particularly important point. Potential. At the idea-gathering stage, we are looking for potential, as opposed to fully-formed, perfect plots. The story jewels we are hunting for often need digging up, washing and polishing before we truly see them shine. Once you begin writing, your original idea will probably shift and change quite considerably. But that’s ok. All you need is a nugget of something that will interest a child (and you), then let it evolve.
(If you’re still, still stuck. Take a break. Go for a walk. Do some exercise. Do something creative. Go to the library. Inspiration strikes when you least expect it!)