by Rosie J. Pova

Every story has its own way of sneaking into my subconscious. I keep my mind open, and on the lookout, so that, in its tiny kernel form, the idea could find a crack and jump into my precious pool of ideas to draw from.

I’ve noticed that there isn’t just one process for me that works the same way each time and I love that! I can relax, knowing that the muse can tap on my shoulder, whisper in my ear, tug on my pajama pants or even pull my leg, occasionally, to get my attention.  Or I can summon her up with some tricks up my sleeve, too. But one thing’s for sure―she will show up! I can trust that the well will never dry up and my next story may spring at any moment.

It’s a game, and it’s a playful challenge. And it’s always fun to discover the clues leading up to a new inspiration for writing my next piece!

Today, I’d like to share my top three tried-and-true techniques for collecting or retrieving story ideas.

1. A Theme

Sometimes, my starting point for generating ideas is a theme. I have a specific one in mind that I want my story to reflect. My picture book, SARAH’S SONG, is an example of that.

Reading other books with a similar theme, I wanted to write a story about something precious, cherished that is lost or transformed into something different in a way that the character would have to let go, and either find peace with it or adapt to the new and transformed “something precious.” Not in so many words in my mind, just very basic sense for the direction in which to focus.

The story I wrote was about a special tradition a girl and her grandma shared through dance and music, but then it altered when Grandma was no longer able to dance and sing like she used to.

2. A Phrase

Listen! A character might be talking to you. A narrator may be feeding you a phrase to draw your attention. That happens to me often. Usually when I’m driving, washing dishes, taking a shower or when I first wake up.

I’d hear a line of dialogue and my curiosity takes over, leading me on a path to discovery. Who is that character talking? What are they like? What do they want?

Other times, an interesting sentence pops into my mind as was the case recently with this one: “Mule mulled over the idea. . .” I thought it sounded cool and was funny to me. I also knew what he mulled over, but won’t give it away here ;). So, this turned into a new story I wrote.

Initially, I believed that would be my opening line for the story. Well, it turned out it wasn’t. I added a new opening and the mulling mule paragraph moved down. But that’s not all! Later, in revisions, that sentence changed, and Mule no longer mulled. That verb was replaced with another one. So, poof! There went my consonance, too! But I have no regrets! This little phrase worked to get me to write a brand-new story! And here’s what one of my critique partners had to say about it after I polished it and sent it back to her: “It’s spectacular! It’s glamorous and hysterical! Well done!”

I have no clue whether this story would ever become a book, but no doubt, I consider that a win!

Another instance of a story that sprang from a sentence was when this came to my mind: “The school of failure was located in the middle of nowhere, but it was the center of everything.”

Oh, how I admired this opening sentence! Genius! So clever! I was patting myself on the back… for a while. Then the story went through a gazillion revisions. I kept the sentence, even though it was no longer the opening sentence. Then more revisions followed. I still didn’t have the heart to kill my darling, so it stayed, stubbornly and selfishly saved by its author.

Fast-forward a couple of years (at least!) the story sold! Here came a gazillion more revisions after it was acquired. At some point, the editors asked me to get rid of that sentence―they thought it was vague and not kid-friendly and just did not serve the story at all. GASP! What? But that was the one that started this whole story creation! I was attached to it now!

Well, I had to cut it and I knew it. Eventually, I gave it my farewell and showed it the exit.

The journey of that book was long and hard, unlike some of my other books. But here’s the result and I am so happy and excited for it!

3. A Prompt

My upcoming book, SUNDAY RAIN, was born out of a prompt. There was a submission opportunity through 12 x12 to submit to an editor. I wanted to take advantage of this call for submissions, but I had no story that matched the taste of that editor. So, I decided to write a new one, just for them. I looked at their guidelines again and what piqued my interest was a “story that captures a moment.”

I thought about it and brainstormed. I wondered what childhood moment I could reflect in a story.

And then an image of kids playing in the rain popped into my head.

I have a vivid childhood memory of swirling and twirling in delight, soaking wet, in a heavy summer rain. But in my case, I was the only one — all my friends who were there ran for shelter when it started pouring. The rain was so warm, I stayed. I felt happy, adventurous, and carefree at that moment.

So that served as the spark for my story. The words started pouring out of me. I finished a first draft pretty quickly.

Well, long story short, that publisher did not pick the book, but another one loved it and did! So now it’s a book that will soon be out into the world and in the hands of many kids!

Another story I recently wrote was also born from a prompt. This time, it came from a dear critique partner. I wanted to write a story for a specific publisher and when I shared that with her, we tossed around some ideas of general themes that would be a good match for that house. Then my friend suggested I write a story about community coming together. Once I had that prompt, the idea quickly flooded in and I poured it out on paper the same day. Her feedback on it? “It’s AMAZING Love it!!!!”

So, these three methods have proven the most fruitful in sparking story ideas for me lately and I hope you will try them all!

Have any of those worked for you? Let me know how ideas pop up for you most often.

Rosie J. Pova is a multi-published, award-winning children’s author, poet, speaker, and writing coach on a mission to inspire children not only to read and write more, but to use their creativity, follow their passions, dream big and believe in themselves. She is also a Writing Instructor for the Dallas Independent School District through The Writer’s Garret, an instructor with Writing Workshops Dallas, teaching picture book courses to children’s writers, and the founder of two children’s writing contests–KWEST and Haiku Hype–as well as the organizer of The Write Universe Kidlit Writers Workshops in Dallas, TX. She also serves as a judge for Rate Your Story.

Rosie visits schools and shares her inspirational journey as an immigrant from Bulgaria and how she became a published author, encouraging kids to persist, push through obstacles, and hold a high vision of themselves.

Her upcoming picture book, Sunday Rain, celebrates imagination, the love of books, and new friendships. You can pre-order a signed copy. Her latest book, The School of Failure: A Story about Success will be released in spring 2022. Visit Rosie at, on Twitter @RosiePOV,  Instagram @rosiepova and Facebook. 

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