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by Deb Lund

Amplify the Longing

“Amplify the Longing!” That was the first card I randomly pulled from my Fiction Magic card deck for writers on the first day of November. Jan O’Neil and I were hosting about a dozen writers for a PiBoIdMo and NaNoWriMo kickoff at the Diamond Knot Brewery next to the Whidbey Island ferry.

Diamond Knot

Good thing I pulled that card before everyone got there. It didn’t take long for Jan and I to discover the afternoon would be more of a social event than an idea-gathering one. Fortunately, using the Fiction Magic cards got us half way through our 30 ideas in record time so we could be social along with the rest of them!

When Tara asked me to write about using Fiction Magic for a Post-PiBoIdMo post, I said yes, because I always say yes to Tara’s challenges. In this case, though, I knew the cards would work well for generating picture book ideas, but following up on those ideas? My first thought was that it would be challenging. That’s good and bad.

It’s difficult for me to resist a challenge.

Fast forward to the last day of November, with my unfinished PiBoIdMo list. How could I write a Post-PiBoIdMo post if I didn’t complete the challenge myself? With my crazy schedule (and clothes-dryer mind), I hadn’t touched that list since our gathering. There’s nothing like a deadline to make a challenge even more exciting!

I pulled out my cards and completed my list in one short sitting. (Should I be admitting that to Tara?)

And then I heard from Jan:

“I had 30 ideas done in 28 days, with the last 11 ideas coming on day 28. That’s the day I was sitting in line for a ferry, pulled out your cards, and whipped out those last puppies.”

cards and card set

All that is great, but I still had the new challenge from Tara ahead of me.

I did say I like challenges, right?

I decided to keep going with the unknown (always a good thing to do when creating) and randomly drew a different Fiction Magic card to apply to each of the original ideas.

Remember the “Amplify the Longing” card? My PiBoIdMo lists in past years were a few words at the most. Not this year! The original idea from that card was:

Kid is never satisfied, wants more, more, more. Parents get run down, tired of trying to keep up with his demands, and when they can’t give any more, he gives them more and more love.

Jan revealed another similar experience:

“In the previous three Novembers, I finished all of the challenges by the skin of my teeth and came to understand that I am not one of those people for whom ideas come fully formed. Most of my ideas fit on one line of my journal paper. Later they may have notes written in the margins, but not at the time the idea first comes. This year, using the Fiction Magic Cards, my ideas are way more fleshed out. I mean, some even take six lines in my journal!”

So I held my breath, reminded myself that I love challenges, and drew a card as a follow-up to “Amplify the Longing.”


Yes! I could revolt and pick a different card, right? No? But the guidebook has creativity coaching tips following each craft suggestion! Couldn’t “Revolt” be a coaching tip?

Okay, okay…

My first thought was to have the parents go on a strike, but I didn’t want them to have any direct part in solving the problem, so I decided my main character needed to revolt. Maybe he’ll throw a tantrum until he’s all tired out, too. Then he can relate to how they feel and figure out that they all need love.

Don’t we all?

Here are a couple more examples of my PiBoIdMo ideas and how I used Fiction Magic cards to flesh them out:

“Speak the Unspeakable”

Original Idea: This little girl can only say no.

This little girl can only say no. When it’s time to go? No!
This little girl can never say yes. Clean up your mess? No!
This little girl can only say no. Would you like ice cream? No!
This little girl would like to say yes. Does she? No!
Can she still have ice cream? No!

The additional card I selected for this idea was “Take a Break.” I thought the girl could insist that she can’t say yes, but when she gets tired of all the no’s, of not getting all she wants, she stops talking instead of saying yes, and later, when she finally says yes, she saves face by saying the change was because her tongue needed a break. I also decided that I needed to take a break from all the “This little girl…” lines—and maybe a good long break from this idea!

Are you getting the idea that you have to come up with a lot of bad ideas in order to get a good one? Good! That’s one of the reasons Tara does all this work.

Okay, one more…

Risk it All 

Baby learning to walk. It’s a risk for the baby, and the artwork could show the determination and obstacles to walking.

I thought this would be a story from the Baby’s point of view, but then I knew it had to be a sibling watching the baby learn to walk. The sibling, of course, is not happy about the baby getting all the attention until the baby chooses to walk to the sibling.

Well, there might be a little hope for that idea.

The card I chose to follow up on that one was “Provoke a Response.” That’s exactly what the baby does. Naturally, there would have been a response from the sibling, but because of the second card, I’ll make sure it’s big enough. And maybe the baby will even say the sibling’s name as the first word. Hmmm… And that means I will work in a little bit at the beginning about how the baby “can’t even talk” and just “makes noise.”

See how this works? Fiction Magic isn’t magic. It just feels that way because it triggers new ways of seeing and deepens the concept and plot by combining ideas to create what Tara and I call “High Concept Picture Books.”

Will I work on any of these stories? Maybe. Will any of them be published? It doesn’t matter. It’s all practice. You have to mine a lot of rock to get at the gems.

Keep adding to your ideas, keep writing badly (you have to reach your quota!), and go where your magic leads you.


Deb Lund may be best known as the author of All Aboard the Dinotrain and other picture books, but she has taught writing (the focus of her master’s project) to teachers and writers of all ages for 25 years. Deb is also a creativity coach whose mission is to get everyone claiming their creativity. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @DebLund.

Creativity Deb

Fiction Magic: Card Tricks & Tips for Writers is a 3.5” x 5” boxed set of 54 cards with a 60-page guidebook. Fiction Magic card “tricks” help writers raise the stakes in their writing with phrases like “Alienate an Ally” and “Remove the Moral Compass.” The guidebook provides possible interpretations for each of the 54 cards, followed by creativity coaching “tips” to help writers apply the cards’ messages to their writing lives. It’s like having two decks in one!

For a limited time, Fiction Magic is 50% off.



Where do you get your ideas?

As soon as I call on a kid at a school visit and they ask this question, dozens of other hands go down. You’ll hear countless children’s authors say it’s the question they’re asked the most. I get ideas everywhere (yes, that’s a copout statement), and so can you!

But first, you have to get past Miss Midge and her like. Those nasty voices that say miserable things to you. Here she is in my journal (and right now she’s saying “You’re not an artist, what are you doing!?!”)


If you’ve been moaning about being behind in your PiBo count—stop perfectionizing! (Since my dinobooks, I’ve thrown out the dictionary. We are all powerful. We create worlds. We can create our own words.) Write down ALL the ideas you consider. You don’t know what will piggyback on them or what new variation will emerge. Let in the misfits and barefoot ideas that blankly stare at you.

But, back to the coach in me who wants you to stop being so durned critical… Name that beast inside you and move on. Sorry, but you gotta be tough about this one. Stand up for yourself. No self-bullying allowed!

Done exorcising that evil shadow? (Not totally? Okay, we’ll visit this again a little later.) Let’s move on to your hunting training.


Ideas lurk. They hide. They disguise themselves. It’s your job to hunt them down. You develop x-ray vision, you study playground shenanigans and never say Bah Humbug about any holiday that involves kids, chaos, and giddiness. You train your family and friends. You observe like a four year old. You and your trainees share knowing looks. Picture book? Picture book!


I always say writing is part imagination and part memory—it’s just the ratio that changes. Open your eyes with this in mind and you’ll never lack for ideas.

While other four-year-olds were playing in their sandboxes, I sat on my dad’s lap and operated the levers on his backhoe. I helped him “build.” Those experiences inspired MONSTERS ON MACHINES.

I sailed with The Shifty Sailors (the motley crew below) from Seattle to Olympia, and we took the train on the way home… DINOSAILORS and ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN.

You see? Memory and imagination.

Along with memories come emotions. That takes a little deeper mining, but that’s what makes prose sing. What keeps readers engaged, holding their breaths, laughing out loud, shedding tears. Feel as you write. Wring yourself out onto the page. Write the words that pour from that space that aches, that cries for joy. Replace your judgment with curiosity and write as if your words can save the world. Because they can.


Picture book creators must play! Go galumphing! (Says my good friend George Shannon—who is great at accessing his four year old). Twist those ideas, turn them upside down, pack them with surprises and yummy words until you’re clapping and Yay-ing! Be four!

So, little girl or boy inside that big grown-up writer, what do you want? What’s your big dream or wish? Write it. Write whatever “it” becomes. And big outside writer, let that four-year-old go where it’s going to go. Don’t wait for the tantrum. If Miss Midge hears the kicking and yelling, she’ll be all over me.

I promised you another try at quieting your inner critics. Ready?

Raise your write hand and repeat after me…

Note: Did you know some people are so controlled by their inner critic that they can’t even get their hands in the air? RAISE THEM! There. Was that really so tough?

Write badly! Write junk—and lots of it! You gotta dig through lots of rocks to unearth the gems. You clean the mess up later—not before it hits the page.

No excuses, no stopping, no perfectionizing…

Just do it! And may the Fours be with you!

Deb Lund is a picture book author, creativity coach, continuing education instructor, and writing teacher. In her past lives, she’s been a music and classroom teacher, an elementary librarian, and a school founding director. If Deb’s rambling sparked anything for you, check out more on her blog. She lives on Whidbey Island, but if you can’t make it there to hang out with her, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.


Deb is generously giving away one signed copy each of DINOSAILORS and ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN! Just leave a comment to enter. Two winners will be selected in one week. Good luck!

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