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by Laurie Wallmark

When I talk to kids, I tell them books have origin stories just like superheroes do. Nothing like mentioning Wonder Woman or Black Panther to get kids excited. Once I have their attention, and now that I have yours, I talk about four methods of coming up with ideas for a story. Most of the time, my story ideas come from a combination of these approaches.

My first method is follow your passion. As many of you know, I write picture book biographies of [dead] women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Just to be clear, the dead part isn’t my passion, just my preference in choosing a subject. I do, though, love science and math. It’s also important to me that children know that no matter their sex, race, ethnicity, gender identity etc., anyone can enter these fields. I choose to highlight the accomplishments of women, an underrepresented minority in STEM professions.

STEM not your thing? That’s okay. Although if truth be told, it’s beyond me how anyone couldn’t love science and math.

Anyway, moving on. How do you like sports? Music or dance? Working with your hands? Animals? Books? (Of course you like books—what am I saying?!) Following your passion leads to a treasure trove of ideas.

Still nothing? Okay, let’s move on to method two—gathering ideas. Here are some ways and places to find them…

The easiest method is to keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you’ll see a picture or overhear something that will produce a kernel of an idea. Another way is to try thinking silly.

Kids love silly. What’s the craziest thing you can think of? Family stories are always a goldmine of ideas. You can reach back to your childhood or think about things that your children did. These humorous anecdotes can definitely form the basis of a story.

How about travels? Have you visited any unusual places that might be of interest to kids? Even a museum visit can spark an idea. It did for me.

Current events, whether tragic or triumphant, often translate into great books. Kids want to understand the world we’re living in today, and you can help them. On the other hand, you can look back in time to historical people and eras. Understanding the past will also help kids understand today’s world.

One final idea for method two—mashups. Take two or more seemingly unrelated ideas, say dinos and a dance party. Put them together and who knows what will happen. (Actually, I do. MY DINO PAJAMA PARTY picture book is coming out next year.)

Neither of the above methods work for you? Don’t worry. I have two more. Method three involves starting with a story part. Maybe you’ve thought of a great character, full of life and spunk. From there, brainstorm situations she might find herself in. Or you might only have a title. I sat on the perfect title for years before figuring out the story that matched it. Another idea is start with a setting. Maybe you can use one from one of your travels above?

My fourth method was already mentioned by Kate Garchinsky in an earlier Storystorm post—I wonder. Here’s how I like to use this method. If this happens, then what? If someone does something, then what happens? And then? And then? And then?

So there you have it—four different methods. Mix and match them to come up with your next story idea.


Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s most recent book, NUMBERS IN MOTION: SOPHIE KOWALEVSKI, QUEEN OF MATHEMATICS, releases March 3, 2020. Her previous picture book biographies of women in STEM (ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, and HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE) have earned multiple starred trade reviews and national awards. She has an MFA from VCFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Find her online at lauriewallmark.com, Facebook, Twitter @lauriewallmark and Pinterest.


Laurie is giving away a copy of NUMBERS IN MOTION: SOPHIE KOWALEVSKI, QUEEN OF MATHEMATICS.

Enter one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

 

by Laurie Wallmark

When I teach classes on writing for children, I tell my students there are only three necessary traits for being a writer. They raise their pens, ready to record the insider tricks I’m about to share that will pave their road to publication. Unfortunately, there are no magic incantations or secret handshakes to initiate you into the world of writers. All you need are three things:

  • a modicum of talent;
  • a willingness to learn and improve your craft;
  • and perseverance.

When I say “modicum of talent,” I mean exactly that. You don’t need to be the next Maya Angelou or Ernest Hemingway. You do, though, need a little something. As a child, were you the one who enthralled your classmates on the playground with your stories? Did you write love poems or protest songs? Do you make up fairy tales for your children every night? Are you a journal writer or blogger? Do people turn to you when they need someone to write up an account about an event? Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? Excellent. You obviously have a “modicum of talent.” You’re a writer.

But that’s only the first step. You need to be willing to learn and improve your craft. I’ve met too many people who, once they’ve gotten an agent or that first book contract, feel that they are now a “Writer,” with a capital W. They think that now they’ve made it up the first rung of success, there’s nothing else for them to learn about writing. They couldn’t be more wrong. No, you don’t need to go out and earn an MFA in Writing for Children or a PhD in Children’s Literature (not that those are bad things), but you can always learn more about writing. Attend conferences and take workshops. Read craft books and blog posts. Have your manuscripts critiqued and return the favor for other writers. But the most important way to improve your craft is to read mindfully in your genre. Read. Read. Read. Analyze the books you read. What works and what doesn’t work? Learn new techniques from the positive and learn what to avoid from the negative. Read!

The last, and most important writerly trait, is perseverance. Becoming a professional writer is not the easiest of career goals. It takes a long time to hone your craft to the needed level. Along the way, you’ll encounter many barriers. I knew most of my published writer friends long before they had their first book contract. They kept writing in spite of the many rejections they received along the way. To state the obvious, if you stop writing, you’ll never be published.

When I was in high school we had to choose a class motto. (Stay with me. This is related.) The administration thought our choice wasn’t appropriate and cleaned it up to “Always Persevere,” translated into Latin as “Semper Perservere.” I prefer our motto in its original form, though. Here it is as my final piece of advice:

Keep on Truckin’!

keepontruckin


Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and to students in prison. The picture book biography, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.

PrizeDetails (2)

Laurie is giving away a copy of her debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE.

Leave a comment below to enter for your chance to win.

Ada cover 72dpi

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

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
January 7, 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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