Paula Yoo photo courtesy Jennifer Oyama, Audrey Magazine

30 picture book ideas in 30 days?

Are you CRAZY?

Oh wait. You’re a writer. OF COURSE you’re nuts! πŸ™‚

And I’m a writer, too. Which means we’re both in the same boat.

Tara asked me to give you some words of advice as you hunker down for that final idea for Day 30 of the 2009 PiBoldMo–Picture Book Idea Month!

I thought I’d talk a bit about my “other” job to give you some ideal inspiration! In addition to my YA novels and picture books, I am also a TV writer. I’ve written for NBC’s The West Wing, FOX’s Tru Calling, and currently The SyFy Channel’s Eureka.

As a working TV writer in Hollywood, I have to come up with ideas every single day. In fact, I have to come up with DOZENS of ideas every single hour of every single day when I’m working on a TV show.

Here’s how most scripted TV shows work: several writers are hired to literally sit around in a room called “The Writers’ Room” all day long and come up with ideas for episodes. Each show is run differently, but the basic day usually involves the writing staff discussing what storylines should happen in each episode, along with in-depth dialogue about character development and themes. It’s a really fun job when you think about it–you’re getting paid to make up stuff!

At the same time, it’s also a really TOUGH job. You can get burned out very easily when trying to brainstorm episode storylines and figuring out which character does what and why. It’s often like solving a puzzle–there’s a ton of logic and plausibility that you have to consider when pitching ideas.

I’ve learned a lot from having worked in TV about how to brainstorm effectively when it comes to ideas. Of course the sky’s the limit when it comes to brainstorming–anything from a pebble on the beach to a squirrel running across the street to the cranky lady standing in front of you in line at the bank can lead to an amazing story idea for your picture book.

But a cool image, compelling character, or interesting conflict isn’t enough to create a fully-fleshed out idea. You have to combine all three areas–image, character, conflict–into one idea in order to have a viable story for a potential picture book.

As a TV writer, I was constantly told that story equals intention plus obstacle. Memorize this formula!

INTENTION + OBSTACLE = STORY

In other words, your main character has an INTENTION. But there is an OBSTACLE standing in your character’s way. This creates CONFLICT… which is another way of saying STORY! Ah ha! So STORY EQUALS CONFLICT! And how that character overcomes that obstacle reveals his or her journey towards that end goal.

As long as you can make this equation work, you’ve got yourself a viable story idea! It’s actually a fun formula to apply to published books, movies, and TV shows to break down a completed project to its very essence–the idea. Sometimes working backwards and analyzing published books and figuring out their basic idea can help you as you brainstorm your own ideas.

In other words, try this formula on published books or movies etc. as a “warm up” exercise before you begin your own brainstorming. For example…

In Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny, Trixie and her dad go to the laundromat. Trixie accidentally leaves her stuffed toy, Knuffle Bunny, behind. She is unable to speak in full words yet, so complications arise when her father has no idea what she’s talking about when she tries to convince him to take her back to the laundromat to rescue Knuffle Bunny.

So Trixie’s INTENTION is that she wants to return to the laundromat to get her toy!

The OBSTACLE is her inability to speak in words yet to communicate her thoughts!

INTENTION (Trixie wants Knuffle Bunny back) + OBSTACLE (can’t speak inwords yet) = STORY (Trixie must figure out how to communicate to her father that they must return to the laundromat to rescue Knuffle Bunny!)

And how Trixie overcomes this obstacle shows her delightfully feisty personality and inventiveness.

See how that works? Try seeing if you can simplify your favorite picture book down to this formula. It’s a lot of fun and a good warm up exercise to jump start your own imagination!

Then apply this formula to your own original ideas–if you can create a compelling character who has to overcome an obstacle to reach his or her goal, then you’ve got your 30th picture book idea for this year’s PiBoIdMo!

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

And now that you have your 30 ideas, please join me this May 1-8, 2010 for the second annual NaPiboWriWee event sponsored by my website at http://paulayoo.com!

For more information on NaPiBoWriWee, check out this link:

http://paulayoo.com/content/natl-picture-book-writing-week-may-1-7-2009

NaPiBoWriWee is short for National Picture Book Writing Week where I challenge writers to write an entire picture book every day for a whole week–7 picture books in 7 days!

See, I told you we were crazy! πŸ™‚

Best,
Paula Yoo

Paula Yoo is the author of the YA novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins ’08) and the children’s non-fiction picture books SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low ’09) and IRA Notable SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low ’08). She is also a TV writer, whose credits include THE WEST WING, TRU CALLING, and SIDE ORDER OF LIFE. She is currently a co-producer on The SyFy Channel’s series, EUREKA.

 

Tara’s Note:

Thanks, Paula! No one could have summed up PiBoIdMo better.

Everyone, stay tuned tomorrow for the PiBoIdMo pledge.

What’s the PiBoIdMo pledge? It’s your word that you have 30 ideas. I’ll ask you to leave a comment letting me know you’ve completed this month’s challenge. (Please note you do not have to submit your 30 ideas. Those are yours to keep!)

You’ll have until December 3rd to take the pledge, then on December 4th I’ll announce the randomly-selected PiBoIdMo prize winners.

Good luck!