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by Kirsten Pendreigh

It’s Day 27, Storystormers! Phew! Feeling over-ideated? Need a breather?

Today, let’s forget about trying to cook up one big, delicious IDEA and instead  focus on the tasty tidbits that, when mixed into idea bowls, make ideas deliciously irresistible to write.

I’m talking about Ideagrients™, a totally real, and not-made-up term for the specific details that move our ideas from Maybes to compelling concepts we can’t wait to begin writing!

Ideagrients™: distinctive fragments and descriptive sparks that elevate ideas. May include—but not limited to—gorgeous words, evocative images, sensory details, original names, and clever language devices. According to experts at PBIU (Picture Book Idea University), good ideas require a minimum of five Ideagrients before story writing can begin.

Look at your 27 ideas. Which ones have promise but are still kind of obscure? Maybe they feel predictable? Too similar to books that already exist? Could these ideas use a pinch of sensory salt, a sprinkle of funny sugar, or a splash of surprise food coloring to make them more intriguing?

Great ideas, just like great writing, are full of specificity. Readers struggle to connect to vague concepts; they love clear, evocative descriptions that surprise and delight. Writers do, too! Trust me, it’s a struggle to create a compelling picture book if you start with a half-baked, surface-level idea. I’ve learned the hard way, meandering from a generic concept, wasting my time, and ending up with unmarketable, unwieldy, and unoriginal stories.

More and more, especially now that I run ideas past my agent, I seek specificity and detail before I commit writing time. Setting, weather, foods I love, names I love, phrases I love, metaphors I love, etc. Assembling these Ideagrients™ beforehand—even as a mental checklist—ensures a more compelling pitch, a smoother writing process and a better end product. Ideally, a story that delights readers AND reflects my unique voice and style.

Let’s use my debut picture book, LUNA’S GREEN PET, as an example.

My initial idea was sparked by a photo of a girl “walking” a plant. I wrote: “A child wants a plant for a pet.” Hmmm, an okay concept, different from a dog or cat story, (and walking your plant is SO cute!) but it still felt flat.

It was time to raid my Ideagrient™ pantry. I looked for words and expressions to make this story idea unique and uniquely mine. I scanned my Brain Rolodex (every professional picture book writer has one!) and my notes app for details and images I’ve stashed away, hoping to find tidbits to take my idea from “Cute, but do I want to spend years with this concept?” to “Oh! I absolutely must write this!”

Here are 5 Ideagrients™ I brainstormed BEFORE writing.

  • Humor:
    My kids and I love deadpan humor. What if I went all in and talked about the plant pet using animal terms? Animalpomorphizing . That way we are quickly on board with Luna’s perspective. A plant pot could be a cage or crate. Soil could be bedding. And of course, Luna’s plant should have a name! I love nicknames and clever abbreviations.

  • Vocabulary:
    Words set the tone for stories, especially for picture books which are read aloud. I looked at a list of my favorite funny words. First up, rambunctious! To me, rambunctious sets a playful tone. It’s fun and it’s funny to read aloud. A key part of pet ownership is behavioral training. While a plant can’t bark or misbehave, it can grow! It can be rambunctious! This Ideagrient led to Stephanie getting a trim. That later led to Carmen’s brilliant idea—shaping Stephanie into a recognizable pet. Win, win!

  • Heart:
    I already had Luna walking her plant, but what other sweet ways could Luna nurture her pet? What about reading a bedtime story? Jack and the Beanstalk? Haha. Perfect tie-in with rambunctious! (And, sorry, not sorry about the dog pee, Stephanie, it was an Ideagrient™ I had to keep!)

  • A Top Ten List:
    I LOVE fun backmatter and I LOVE top ten lists. Could I use one to convince people houseplants really are great pets? “Plants are good listeners” was a key Ideagrient™!

  • A parade!
    What’s a pet story without a parade? And of course, Stephanie must win something! Parade was mixed into my idea bowl. “Best in Scent” came later. Chef’s kiss!

Of course, other details were later mixed into LUNA’S GREEN PET. But having at least five Ideagrients™ assembled beforehand reassured me this idea was absolutely worth pursuing. I was now excited to commit time and energy to writing it, knowing I could bring fresh, unique, fun elements to layer around a central theme of marching to the beat of your own drum. LUNA helped secure my agent and sold in our first round of submissions! Now, I look back and realize that initial photo was only an Ideagrient . You might realize that with some of your ideas. But that’s fine! Mix them with other tasty Ideagrients to make a compelling, layered idea!

What five Ideagrients™ can you come up with today?

Some suggestions:

  • A word. Consult Tara’s amazing book, ABSURD WORDS if you need inspiration!
  • A phrase or metaphor. Maybe a family saying, something funny your kid says, a line from a song, a regional expression.
  • A sensory description only you could write. How does snow feel on your skin? What does dinner smell like to you?
  • A striking image. A photo of yours or something you see online or in a book.
  • An example of a writing device you admire. A rhyme scheme, a clever alliteration, a type of humor.

Jot them down, organize your pantry in your own inimitable way, and soon, you’ll have plenty of Ideagrients on hand for a signature idea bake! Share one with us in the comments!

Thanks for reading! Please support all the guest bloggers (and Tara!) by buying, preordering, reviewing, and asking your library to order our books!

Now, after all those baking references, enjoy an imaginary slice of this beautiful and delicious cake, made by my funny, talented CP, Lisa Tolin (Author of HOW TO BE A ROCK STAR).


Kirsten Pendreigh’s debut picture book LUNA’S GREEN PET, illustrated by Carmen Mok, is available wherever books are sold. MAYBE A WHALE, a lyrical story of healing in nature, illustrated by Crystal Smith, publishes in August with Groundwood Books and is available for preorders. WHEN A TREE FALLS, a nonfiction book about nurse logs in the forest, illustrated by Matthew Cruikshank, publishes with Chronicle Books in 2025. (Kirsten wrote about this story in a previous Storystorm post ). Kirsten is represented by Natalie Lakosil at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Visit Kirsten online and follow her on Twitter @kpiependreigh and Instagram @kirsten.pendreigh.

Kirsten is offering one picture book critique, or a virtual classroom visit to read LUNA’S GREEN PET.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

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