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by Tammi Sauer

Most of my pbs begin with character.

Occasionally, however, I go in a different direction and start with setting.

Some of the settings I have used in my books include the following:

  • Cowboy Camp
  • Barnyard
  • Monster Academy
  • Pond
  • Prehistoric Times
  • Royal Kingdom
  • Zoo
  • Concert Tour
  • Oklahoma
  • Sea

As much as I loved setting books in these places, I know I should come up with something fresh for the next manuscript. This calls for some brainstorming. I push myself to come up with at least ten new setting possibilities.


  • Outer Space
  • Rodeo
  • Petting Zoo
  • Parade
  • School Science Fair
  • Family Reunion
  • Fish Tank
  • Library
  • Road Trip
  • County Fair

Once I have a list, I take each place into consideration. Then I ask myself the big question:

What can go wrong here?

If I come up with an answer that is irresistible, I know I am well on my way to developing that next manuscript.

Your turn:

Consider the settings I’ve already listed. Brainstorm a list of ten additional settings. Then ask yourself, “What can go wrong here?” for each one.

Extra credit:

Go to the library or bookstore and grab a stack of picture books. Jot down each book’s primary setting. Who knows? Maybe one of those settings is the perfect fit for your next manuscript.

Tammi Sauer has sold 12 picture books to a number of major publishing houses: Bloomsbury, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. One of her latest books, Mostly Monsterly, illustrated by Scott Magoon, was named a Scholastic Parent & Child Best Book of 2010 and won the 2011 Oklahoma Book Award and the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. To learn more about Tammi and her books, please visit her online at

Tammi’s next book, Me Want Pet!—illustrated by Bob Shea—hits shelves March 2012. OOGA! Leave a comment for a chance to win a first edition signed copy when it’s released!

by Tammi Sauer

One of the ways I come up with picture book ideas is to push myself to put a twist on the familiar. This technique worked out well for me with my latest book MOSTLY MONSTERLY (Simon & Schuster, 2010) and my upcoming book ME WANT PET (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

The initial seed for MOSTLY MONSTERLY came from my editor wanting a young, funny Valentine’s Day book about friendship. She encouraged me to try to write one. Oh, the thrill! Oh, the pressure. I went to the library and read Every Valentine’s Day Picture Book Ever Written.

I discovered that most of those books were about cutesy things like kittens and puppies and mice. I knew my story had to be different, so I thought as un-cutesy as possible. And came up with monsters. Bernadette is an ordinary monster on the outside, but, underneath her fangs and fur, she has a deep, dark secret. She—gasp!—has a sweet side.

Even though my editor and I eventually decided to tweak out the Valentine’s Day references and make the book marketable year-round, the story is still very much the same. But it never would have come about if I wasn’t trying to find a way to make my story stand out from the competition.

ME WANT PET sprang from my desire to write a book about a kid who really wanted a pet. There was only one problem. Every publishing house already had a pet book. Once again, I knew my story had to be unique if I wanted any chance of selling it. So I brainstormed. And read, read, read, read, read, read. And thunked my head on the keyboard.

One day, it hit me. My pet story wasn’t going to be about a typical kid who wanted a typical pet. Mine would star a cave boy in pursuit of the perfect prehistoric pet. Ooga!

So give it a try. Come up with a basic topic (Valentine’s Day, pets, siblings, pirates, first day of school, etc.). See what else is already out there. Then brainstorm a way that sets your story apart.

Tammi Sauer spends the bulk of her free time hanging out with cowboys, chickens, monsters, ducks, princesses, three disgruntled chipmunks, and the occasional cave boy. Her next book, MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS (Simon & Schuster, 2011), debuts in January. To learn more about Tammi, please visit her at

Tammi will be giving away a signed copy of MOSTLY MONSTERLY at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo.

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