by Carrie Finison

It’s hard to make something from nothing and yet, we writers do that every day, don’t we? A blank sheet of paper or computer screen fills with our words or pictures and becomes a story. Something from nothing.

But what if you could start with just a little something. Like a title. Making something from something else feels just a little bit easier.

I’m a sucker for all things alliterative, and catchy titles tend to stick in my head. That’s what happened when my friend and fellow rhymer Diana Murray posted a story called DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS in our online critique group, Poets’ Garage, back in 2012. Isn’t that an engaging, memorable title? That double-D rolls off the tongue and the phrase has a bouncy rhythm—you know the story is going to be fun.

That title sunk into the depths of my brain. It emerged again during the next Storystorm (then called PiBoIdMo), on a day when I was reaching for an idea. But, instead of “dinosaurs,” my brain substituted another word that’s never far from my thoughts—“doughnuts.”


DOUBLE THE DOUGHNUTS. Yum! I thought about that idea for a while, but the storylines I came up with to go with that title all seemed too similar to Diana’s. After more thinking (and probably a few doughnuts) my brain swapped out another word. DOUBLE became DOZENS (which makes sense since doughnuts are frequently bought by the dozen), and a new title was born. DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS! It’s catchy and alliterative, not to mention delicious!

This isn’t the only time that I’ve come up with a picture book title by tinkering with someone else’s successful title. In fact, this has become one of my favorite methods for coming up with new story ideas. I love looking at existing titles and changing one or two words to turn it into a new idea. This process works especially well at the library, because there the shelves are filled with titles and stories I’m not familiar with. In fact, it’s best not even to look at the covers of the books, just the titles alone.

Let’s give it a try!

(Note, since I write picture books, I’ve only tried this method for picture book ideas. If someone who writes novels wants to give it a try, I’d love to hear if it works!)

Here’s a shelf in my library’s picture book section:

Shall we take a close look at some of the titles?

TURTLE IN THE SEA catches my eye. What if we change the word “sea”? Where else could a turtle character go?

How about TURTLE IN TOWN? Or maybe TURTLE GOES TO TOWN. That has some nice alliteration to it and sounds a little unexpected and intriguing. Why would a turtle go to town and what would it do there? Or maybe our turtle doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe it’s a TURTLE IN TROUBLE. That could be fiction, or even nonfiction focusing on the plight of sea turtles encountering plastic in the ocean. Or, perhaps our character isn’t a turtle. Maybe it’s a TURKEY or a TOUCAN or a TARANTULA. Or maybe it doesn’t start with T at all—there’s a whole alphabet of other letters waiting to jump in on this game!

Let’s look at another one. I’ve never read PANCAKES IN PAJAMAS but it sounds hilarious. That could spark some fun ideas. What else could be in pajamas, and what would they do? How about POTATOES? PANGOLINS? PODIATRISTS? Well…some ideas have more kid appeal than others.

Here are a couple of stacks of books I pulled off the shelves at random. Tinker around with these titles and see if they spark any new ideas for you.

Of course, a title is just a start. For me, it took a lot of brainstorming, 3 years, and 89 drafts to a finished product. I’m happy to report that DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS is being released in July, 2020, by Putnam. And I’m DOUBLY happy to report that Diana Murray’s book, DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS, is being released in Fall, 2020, as an early reader from Random House.


You never know where your title tinkering can take you, until you try it!

Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. She has been writing off and on ever since, though she has (somewhat regretfully) traded in the typewriter for a laptop. Her debut picture book, DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, illustrated by Brianne Farley, will be published in July, 2020, by Putnam, with a second book, DON’T HUG DOUG, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman, coming in 2021. She lives outside Boston with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats who permit her to write in their cozy attic office. For updates, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Carrie is giving away a fiction picture book critique, either in rhyme or prose.

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Good luck!