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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.

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

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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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