by Tara Lazar
When I first began writing picture books, I’d get hit with an idea—BAM! KAPOW!—and then immediately sit down and start banging it out.
NO. Just NO.
I didn’t stop to think—is this a good idea? Will it make a worthwhile story? I thought the idea would be my only flash and I had to grab it while it was glowing.
Now, I write the idea down. And then I PAUSE.
I let the idea sit in my brain for a while. I might not be actively thinking about it, but I know it’s in there, jiggling around. Bouncing off brain cells, colliding with other unused ideas.
After the initial incubation period, the first thing I consciously imagine is what might go on the cover. Will that cover stand out in the book store? Will a child make a beeline to my book? I think about the OTHER covers that are also calling to that kid—with race cars and ballerinas and pandas and monsters. Is what I’ve chosen strong enough to compete? If the images that come to mind aren’t appealing enough, I let the idea jiggle ‘round some more. I know I need to add something else.
Eventually, something tells me it’s time to sit down to write. It may be a few days, weeks or even months after the initial strike of lightning. But there’s a gut instinct that kicks in—you can do it now. You’re ready.
I know I already have one piece of the ginormous puzzle that is a picture book.
And what I do is put that puzzle together. Where do I start? Not necessarily at the beginning.
When you’re putting a jigsaw puzzle together, you start where you recognize the image. You find a couple pieces that together make up the balloon in the puzzle. Or the elephant’s trunk. Or the birthday cake. You see something you know is SOMETHING and you work outwards from there.
I do this with my story idea. I begin writing where I recognize that I have SOMETHING SPECIAL.
I may begin jotting down a repetitive refrain that I want to be after certain page turns. I may go straight to the climactic scene. Sometimes, I even begin at the end. I don’t necessarily write chronologically, from opening line to “the end”.
For instance, with LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, the primary puzzle piece was the title. The next piece? I wanted the story to include multiple fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I envisioned the mashiest of mash-ups.
Then a scene came to mind. I imagined RED uttering the wolf’s line from The Three Little Pigs: “Little pigs, little pigs, let me in!” Then I saw the wolf tapping her on the shoulder with, “Excuse me, I think that’s my line.” I thought that was hilarious.
So I worked from there.
I had to get RED to the pigs’ brick house. But how? And why? These were the puzzle pieces I had yet to find.
But as the few pieces I did have clicked together, the full vision of the story began taking shape.
This is just something that often works for me. My real advice is not everything you read above but rather this: find what works for you. You can only discover it by seeking out ideas, examining them and, finally, writing. It may take months and years to find what grooves for you. It’s not going to be what necessarily works for me or for anyone else. Your voice is uniquely you and so is the method you employ to get that voice out there.
So you’ve sought your ideas. Now it’s time to examine. And then, write. Like a bottle of shampoo, rinse and repeat (even though you don’t know anyone who washes their hair twice in one shower).
Hopefully the idea-generating will continue beyond this month to become a regular habit. You need the ideas to flow like a bottomless shampoo bottle in order to have something to write, in order to discover who you are as a writer.
Thank you for participating in PiBoIdMo 2015!
The PiBo-Pledge is now closed and next week I will begin picking winners. In the meantime, we’ll have a post from the participating agents and a writer’s holiday gift guide as well. Stay tuned!
Until then, if you enjoyed PiBoIdMo, would you please consider nominating this blog for WritetoDone.com’s annual list of the best blogs for writers? Please be aware that you must nominate an actual blog POST written this year for the nomination to count. Go to writetodone.com/top-10-blogs-for-writers-2016 for instructions on how to nominate. And THANK YOU!