JesseKlausmeierPicby Jesse Klausmeier

It’s Day 24 and I don’t know about you, but at this point, I’m thinking I’ll never have a good idea again. How can there still be a whole week left?

Before you start looking for inspiration at the bottom of that can of pumpkin pie filling (not that I ever do this), take heart! I have a solution for these moments of doubt, exhaustion and brain-fog. What is this magical cure of which I speak?


That’s right, notecards to the rescue!

I’ve loved notecards ever since elementary school. Making them feels productive and like I’m accomplishing something. Our notecards will cover the four essential ingredients for a story:

  1. Character
  2. Setting
  3. Goal
  4. Obstacle

Make at least five notecards for each ingredient, and give yourself a range within each category, from general to specific.

The character category can include a generic boy, or something super specific like, the world’s loudest burper.

Setting can be a precise place, like Beth’s Toy Shop, or it can be an entire season, like winter.

The goal cards are what our characters want to achieve, and the obstacles are what stand in their way. A goal could be putting the star on top of the Christmas tree, or something universal, like acceptance. Obstacles could be grand, like fear, or explicit, like Uncle Frank.

Here are some examples for each category:


Making these notecards is a fantastic exercise in and of itself, and will get your creative juices flowing. Keep your notebook handy while you’re making them so you can jot down the story ideas that come to you throughout.

Once you have your four piles of notecards, pick a card (any card) from each. This is your story recipe.


For example, girl + beach + make a friend + time.

Let the ingredients simmer in your imagination until a story sizzles to the surface. One story that could come from these ingredients is about a girl and the friend she makes on vacation in San Diego. Though their time together is fleeting, it is no less special.

The beautiful thing about this exercise is that you don’t have to stick with the cards you choose. If your cards spark an entirely different premise, go with that one! If they bring up a memory, explore it!

There are many variations to this exercise, like only choosing two cards. If you choose a character and goal card, tailor the obstacle and setting to fit. The obstacle you make up should create as much tension as possible, and the setting should enhance the story.

For example, if you chose magician + eat the cake, an obstacle could be that the magician doesn’t have enough information, and doesn’t know the spell. Or the obstacle could be that his/her rabbit keeps eating every cake the magician whips up. The setting of the story could be a castle or talent show.

The more notecards you make for each category, the more story possibilities you’ll have.

So write on, dear PiBoIdMo-ers! Make those notecards and behold the tasty smorgasbord of stories you cook up!


Jesse Klausmeier’s acclaimed debut picture book, OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK, won a 2013 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor for Excellence in Children’s Literature. She has worked at Nickelodeon Animation Studios and Penguin’s Dial Books for Young Readers, where she was an assistant editor. Jesse lives in Madison, WI where she writes and edits children’s books, cheers for the Packers, and eats way, way, WAY too many cheese curds. Visit her online at and on Twitter @JesseKlausmeier.

PrizeDetails (2)

OTLB CoverJesse is giving away a copy of OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!