Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week’s guest blogger is Alison Hertz, another lovely author I met through Tara Lazar’s Storystorm years ago…
Weathering the Brainstorm: Tips for Creating a List of Picture Book Concepts
By: Alison Hertz
First of all, Donna, thank you for having me on your blog.
For those who don’t know me, I write and illustrate books for children. While I dabble in chapter books and mid grade novels, I write mostly picture books – a lot of them. I am often asked by writer friends and non writer friends how I come up with soo many different ideas for picture books and my answer is simple. Brainstorm.
Okay, I know that brainstorming can even be intimidating for some. You may be thinking, brainstorm what? People tell me that they enjoy writing for kids but they simply don’t know what to write about when starting to work on a new manuscript. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to sit down and come up with a list of 25 picture book story concepts off the top of your head. Here are my tips:
1. Go to a playground or Chuck E Cheese or the play area at McDonalds and other places that children like to hang out. Go sit in the waiting area of a children’s dentist or pediatrician. Go to a children’s museum, an aquarium, or a planetarium. Watch how children behave, listen to what they are interested in or worried about. Just don’t take pictures of anyone or they might think you are some kind of creep. Take your own kids with you or your nieces or nephews or grandchildren – watch and listen.
2. Now that you are thinking about those places that children go (they don’t have to like all of these places), make a list of as many as you can think of. Here, I’ll start it for you:
A friend’s house
Their own backyard
(Now you add at least ten more places.)
3. Now make a separate list of events in a child’s life. Think about the age you want to write for 0-3, 3-5, 5-8 and what events are specific to that age. Write down as many events as you can. I’ll start it for you:
Losing a tooth
Getting a pet
First sleep over
Taking the bus to school for the first time
Making his or her own breakfast or lunch
(Now you add at least ten more events.)
4. Here comes the fun part, combine your lists. Take an event from list 2 and have it occur at a place on list 1. There are no wrong answers here. Kids can have nearly anything happen anywhere. Make a list of combinations. For this step, I’m going to add “What If” to the beginning. Here are a few to start you off:
What if a child lost his/her tooth at a museum?
What if a child has his/her birthday party at Grandma’s house?
What if a child has a play date at the beach?
5. You might think that you have a list of picture book concepts and we are done. You have weathered the brainstorm. Sorry but, right now, your list of story ideas are not yet picture book worthy. To turn this list into fun, page turners, we need to throw a wrench in the machine (so to speak). Next to your list of ideas, write something devastating or amazing that could happen during that event. Remember to think of what would be great or horrible for a child (not an adult). For example:
What if a child lost his/her a tooth at a museum – and the tooth dropped into an exhibit?
What if a child had his/her birthday party at Grandma’s house and Grandma drops the cake?
What if a child has a play date at the beach and they find a hermit crab together – who will get to bring it home?
These additions to your events and locations turn your idea into a story. Now, go weather the brainstorm and have fun coming up with ideas.
(Weaving Dreams Publishing 2012)
When Max and Katie decide to teach their little sister to fly, they quickly learn that telling her to flap, just isn’t enough.
Page by page, the siblings get more and more inventive in an effort to help their little sister soar through the air.
Alison Hertz is a writer, illustrator, teacher, toy designer, juggler, and former summer camp director. Her picture book, FLAP, released in November of 2012 and is available in stores and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, and her website.