by Vicky Fang

Every single one of my books came from a mix-up of ideas. So here are some exercises to help you mix it up, mash it up, and make something new.

Exercise 1: The Content Mix-up

I keep a running list of ideas on my phone. Just little snippets of words to remind me of things I’ve thought about. Every once in a while, I’ll browse through the ideas and boom! Two ideas will mix together like peanut butter and chocolate and I’ll savor my delicious new story idea. I often find that mixing two different book ideas gives a story the depth it needed to make it stand up. My debut picture book INVENT-A-PET came from these two separate idea snippets smushed together: “Magnificent mixing machine” and “Mixed-up animals.”

So try it out!

  • Find your list of ideas or spend a few minutes brainstorming a new one (these could be character ideas, story ideas, title ideas, etc.)
  • Read through the list and let your brain spark at combination possibilities.
  • For even more ideas, try picking two at random and sit with the combination for a moment to spark new ideas!

Exercise 2: The Format Mix-up

This is perhaps the more unusual mix-up approach, and yet one that has been very fruitful for me. I started out writing picture books, but as I learned more about other formats, those formats mixed with my existing picture book ideas and grew into new stories. After writing and selling Invent-a-Pet, I wrote a chapter book series, a board book series, and a graphic novel series—all based on ideas that were originally picture books!

Here’s how I recommend doing a format mix-up:

  • Start with a new-to-you format that’s fairly close to your comfort zone. (You can always expand from there!) Research and read several books in this category.
  • Notice the differences in story and theme from picture books. What are the advantages of the format? What types of stories work well in the format? What kind of voice works well?
  • Mix it up with your list of picture book ideas! Think about how those format differences might make a lackluster picture book idea shine.

For example, when my agent suggested I try out an early chapter book format, I read a number of Scholastic Branches books to familiarize myself. This new-to-me fully illustrated format allowed for a slightly longer word count, allowing for a more complex plot and cast of characters—which was just what I needed to evolve an old picture book idea about collaborative robots. With a little format mixing, the idea became the LAYLA AND THE BOTS series!

I can share similar stories for my I CAN CODE board books (a picture book concept turned board book by an SCBWI workshop and a wonderful critique partner) and my upcoming early graphic novel FRIENDBOTS (a picture book concept turned comic book sparked by books like Ben Clanton’s NARWHAL AND JELLY.)

So I hope you’ll try some mixing and mashing of content and formats, and find yourself some new stories in the mix!

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author of nine new and upcoming STEAM books for kids, including INVENT-A-PET, I CAN CODE, LAYLA AND THE BOTS, and her author-illustrator debut, FRIENDBOTS.

Find out more about Vicky by following her on Twitter at @fangmous and if you’d like to stay up to date on Vicky’s book news, giveaways, and activities, sign up for her newsletter at

Vicky is giving away a copy of INVENT-A-PET and a copy of LAYLA AND THE BOTS: HAPPY PAWS.

Two separate winners will be randomly selected.

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