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by Diana Murray

My 13-year-old daughter must be an imposter. That’s the only explanation for her neatness and love of cleaning. How could she possibly be my offspring?

I sure wish I had some of her tidying tendencies. But even though I’m very messy (GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH is basically my autobiography), I do like to keep things in categories. Categories are important. Categories keep the chaos contained. My messy piles of papers are sorted by categories.

And my bookshelf is organized in categories like this:

  1. Humorous picture books
  2. Lyrical picture books
  3. Non-fiction picture books
  4. Early readers
  5. Chapter books
  6. Board books
  7. Novelty, game and joke books
  8. Signed books (can’t mix these treasures in with everything else!)

So you might imagine my horror, when my well-meaning, impressively talented and patient daughter began to rearrange my bookshelf…by color! *gasp*

Yes, it looked beautiful and Instagram-worthy. But I could not find anything! After all, I would never think to myself, Hmmm, I could really go for a “blue” book right about now.

Anyway, the point is, I like categories. One reason I like writing in rhyming metrical verse is that there is a lot of built-in structure. I find it comforting when compared to the cavernous open spaces of free verse and prose.

I sometimes feel the same way about inspiration. Although inspiration can come from many places, starting with something as simple as a title, at least for me, is a little less overwhelming than “sky’s the limit”. When I wrote SOMEDAY, MAYBE (illustrated by Jessica Gibson, Holt/Macmillan, March 2023), I began with the title. While stirring up ideas one day, I gave myself the task of coming up with a phrase that would begin a sentence. I imagined it would be a phrase that would repeat throughout the book. I mucked around with a list of different options and didn’t really love anything. But I kept coming back to that file anytime I was looking for inspiration for a new project. About a year or two later, something struck me about “Someday, maybe…”. I guess I just had to be in the right mood to be “feeling” it. I began to write “Someday, maybe cars will fly.” Finally, I liked the direction it was going in! I’ve always been a sci-fi fan so the rest of the manuscript sort of rolled out after that.

Back to categories. Have you ever noticed that there are different kinds of titles? I recently saw a fun post on Twitter called “Title Tryouts” (by Nancy Sanders, via @BrittanyPomales, via @jencowanwriter). I started thinking more about titles and decided to try to nail some down. You will notice that some of the categories overlap. Also, it’s important to remember that even though the title can be a starting point for inspiration, that doesn’t mean that you’re forcing it up. You just write down the title and then you see if it sparks something. The passion will come from a memory or an association. The title is just the jumping off point.

Remember how I mentioned the “novelty, jokes and games” section on my bookshelf? Well, sitting on that shelf is a small collection of Mad Libs. I used to love doing those as a kid and I continue to enjoy them. All you have to do is fill in the blanks, and voila! You can surprise yourself with your own unique story. The following exercise is a bit like a titles-only Mad Libs. For added inspiration, I’m also including examples of published books from me, Tara, and others.

Types of Titles
[fill in the blanks to make your own]

The Meta title:

a. The [_______] Book
b. This Book is [______]

Published Examples: I Thought This Was a Bear Book (by Tara); The Book of Rules; The Quiet Book; The Monster at the End of This Book; Don’t Push the Button; This Book Just Ate My Dog!; What Would You Do in a Book About You?; Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)

 The Negation Title:

a. Don’t [_____]!
b. Never [verb] a [noun]!
c. No More [plural noun]!

Published Examples: Nope!; No, David!; You Don’t Want a Unicorn; It’s Not Hansel and Gretel; If You Ever Want To Bring a Piano to the Beach, DON’T!; I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato; I Don’t Want to Be a Frog!; I Dare You Not to Yawn; Hey, You’re Not Santa!; I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!; No Nibbling!; Not a Box

The Celebratory Title:

a. “Hooray for [_____]!”
b. “[______] Party!”
c. “Let’s go [____]!”

Published Examples: Unicorn Day and Mermaid Day (by me); Rah, Rah, Radishes!; Hooray for Hat!; The Great Big Poop Party; Where’s the Party?; Go, Girls, Go!

The One Word Title (often with an exclamation point):

a. [plural noun]!
b. [action verb]!
c. [adjective]!
d. [quiet word]

Published Examples: Bloop (by Tara); Nope!; Ducks!; Dude!; Square; Brave! Found; Stuck; Kaleidoscope

The Lyrical Musing Title (which often repeats throughout the book):

a. When You [verb]
b. Tomorrow is [____]
c. Once Upon a [____]
d. On a [adjective] Day
e. If I Had a [noun]

Published Examples: Someday, Maybe (by me); I Wish You More; This Could Be You!;  Wherever You Go; The Wonderful Things You Will Be; On The Night You Were Born; Once Upon Another Time; My Love For You; Whatever Comes Tomorrow

The Question or Instruction Title

a. How to [verb] a [noun]
b. Where’s My [noun]?
c. Can You [verb] a [noun]?
d. Who Do You [verb]?

Published Examples: Help Mom Work From Home! (by me); What Do You Do With an Idea?; Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus; How to Catch a Unicorn; How to Meet a Mermaid; Where’s the Party? Where’s My Butt?; Where is My Balloon?; How to Babysit a Grandma

The Popular Song or Fairytale with a Twist Title

a. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little [noun]
b. Hush Little [noun]
c. Rock-a-bye [noun]
d. Old MacDonald had a [noun]
e. The Three Little [plural noun]

Published Examples: Little Red Gliding Hood (by Tara); Mary Had a Little Glam; Cock-a-doodle-OOPS!; There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car; Moldylocks and the Three Scares; It’s Not the Three Little Pigs; The Three Ninja Pigs; Hush, Little Monster; It’s Raining Bats and Frogs

The Unexpected or Opposite Word Pairing Title

a. [adjective], [opposite adjective]!
b. I Love [unpleasant plural noun]!

Published Examples: Love Stinks! (by me); Yummy Yucky; Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!; Duck, Duck, Moose; Z Is for Moose; P is for Pterodactyl; Digestion the Musical; Good Night Baddies; Creepy Carrots; Mushroom Rain; Bad Apple’s Perfect Day; The Obstinate Pen; The Crab Ballet; I Got a Chicken for my Birthday; Animals in Pants; Vegetables in Underwear; Goodnight, Veggies (by me)

The Rhyming Title

a. [noun] in a [noun]!
b. [adjective] [noun that rhymes]

Published Examples: Doris the Bookasaurus (by me); Don’t Be Silly Miss Millie!; Sheep in a Jeep; The Cat in the Hat; Fancy Nancy; Here’s What you Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe; How To Train Your Pet Brain; Wordy Birdy; Green as a Bean

The Alliterative Title

a. [adjective] [noun beginning with same letter]
b. [any holiday][noun beginning with same letter]

Published Examples: Sleepy Snuggles (by me); Creepy Carrots; Horton Hears a Who; Bee-Bim Bop!; Penguin and Pinecone; Battle of the Butts; The Bold, Brave Bunny; Sam’s Super Seats; Jabari Jumps; Larry’s Latkes; Normal Norman (by Tara)

The Onomatopoeia Title

a. [sound], [sound], [sound]!
b. [sound]!
c. [sound]?
d. The [sound adjective] [noun]

Published Examples: Boo! Hiss!; Bump in the Night!; Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type; Eek, You Reek!; Splish, Splash, Splat!

The Silly, Nonsense or Made-up Word Title

a. [made up word]
b. [silly/unique proper name]

Published Examples: The Thingity-Jig; Hogwash!; Nerp!; Du Iz Tak? Best Frints in the Whole Universe; My Name is Wakawakaloch; The Red Ear Blows Its Nose

The Character Title

a. [character name] the [adjective] [noun]
b. [adjective][rhyming name]

Published Examples: Bloop (by Tara); Ned the Knitting Pirate (by me); Grimelda the Very Messy Witch (by me); Doris the Bookasaurus (by me); Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast; Tiny T-Rex and the Impossible Hug; Henny; Fancy Nancy; Crankenstein; Stellaluna; The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend; Oona; Warren and Dragon; A History of Underwear with Professor Chicken; Groggle’s Monster Valentine (by me)

The Counting or Quantifying Title

a. One [adjective] [noun]
b. Too Many [plural noun]!
c. Ten Little [plural noun]
d. Too [adjective]!

Published Examples: Double the Dinosaurs (by me); One Snowy Day (by me); Five Fuzzy Chicks (by me); Dozens of Doughnuts; Millions of Cats; Counting Kisses; One Hundred Shoes; One Big Pair of Underwear

The Clever Wordplay or Pun Title

a. [literally any pun]

Published Examples: 7 Ate 9 (by Tara); The Monstore (by Tara), Happy Llamakkah!: A Hanukkah Story; Wondering Around; Pirasaurs; Hey, Hey, Hay!; The Friend Ship; Nerdycorn; Not Yeti; Kung Pow Chicken; Un-BEE-lievables; Shampoodle; Mice Skating; Brainstorm!

This is far from an exhaustive list. And as I mentioned, there is A LOT of crossover between the groups. Why not a #6 (question) #8 (unexpected) and #9 (rhyming) combo, for example: “How Do You Hug a Bug?” Or perhaps you’re tempted to get in touch with your inner 8-year-old and fill in “butt” or “burp” for all the blanks. Well guess what? I didn’t add it here, but there could honestly be a whole category just for titles that feature butts, burps, poop, underwear and farts! So go right ahead.

Are there any other categories you would add? Have I missed any of your favorite books? I’m sure I’ve left out some of my own and I’ll be kicking myself later. But hopefully, filling in these blanks and perusing the other existing titles will give your inspiration a jolt! Have fun! And feel free to use this as an excuse to procrastinate on your cleaning chores. I know I will!

Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children, including the bestselling UNICORN DAY series, an ILA/CBC Children’s Choice Book, a 2019 Goodreads Choice Finalist, and 2022 Amazon Best Book of the Year (UNICORN NIGHT board book edition). Some of her recent and forthcoming titles include LOVE STINKS! (Step-into-Reading/Random House), SOMEDAY, MAYBE (Holt/Macmillan), FIREHOUSE RAINBOW (Little Golden Books), and MERMAID DAY (Sourcebooks). She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two children, and a dancing dog. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @DianaMWrites.

Diana is giving away a picture book critique.

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.

by Diana Murray, who picks the freshest ideas

Congratulations! You made it through Storystorm. Instead of simply waiting for ideas to come to you, you went out there and actively churned them up, sought them out, and grabbed them! An idea may just be a word or short phrase. It may not seem like much, but really, it’s the beginning of everything! An overwhelming thought. Which idea do you choose? How do you proceed?

First, Marinate!
I urge you to proceed slowly and let your ideas fully develop. While you’re going about your usual business of walking the dog, running errands, or even sleeping, your brain is actually hard at work, with creative juices flowing. Feel free to jot a few notes down to keep track of things, but don’t rush into committing to a story. This marination phase has already been happening all through Storystorm and there’s no need to stop the process quite yet. For example, my book “Unicorn Day” sprouted from the idea of dolphins having a party in the ocean. I got the seed of the idea while observing dolphins down in Florida. But I didn’t start writing as soon as I had the idea. I let the idea sit around in my mind for a few weeks. I kept thinking about how majestic dolphins seemed, as if they were unicorns of the sea. Eventually, “Dolphin Party” evolved into “Unicorn Day”. If I had started writing the story immediately, I may have never made that mental leap.

What’s fresh?
If you had to choose between limp, out-of-season asparagus and crisp zucchini fresh from the farm, which would you choose? Probably the latter. If there have been a million books about a particular idea lately (especially bestsellers), and it seems the topic has been done to death, maybe now is not the time. Maybe you put that idea aside, at least temporarily, and work on a “fresher” one instead. Aside from what other books are out there, it’s also a matter of what feels fresh to YOU. For example, when I was brainstorming “Goodnight” books, I had many ideas that seemed like they had been done quite often, but when I wrote “Goodnight, Veggies” on my list of options, it made me chuckle a bit to myself. I thought it sounded a little odd and unexpected. That’s why it stood out to me. It should be noted that “Goodnight” books in general have been done a million times. So I’m not saying you should rule out everything that’s already been done. I mean, chefs aren’t going to stop making spaghetti with tomato sauce. There’s a reason people like that dish. But chefs who want to get noticed will put a unique twist on this old favorite. And most importantly, choosing something that feels fresh to YOU will help keep YOU interested and having fun. When the writer is having fun, it comes across on the page.

What are you in the mood for?
How do you decide what to make for dinner? Often, it’s just about what you’re in the mood for. Perhaps you’ve been craving tacos all day long. Why fight it? It’s the same with ideas. There is often one idea that is constantly calling to you. If it’s constantly popping in your head, no matter how hard you try to wait or to think about another idea on your list, then that’s it. That’s the one you should go with. Tacos it is! And that’s another good reason to try to wait and marinate in the beginning. It makes it easier to notice which idea is screaming for your attention more than all the others. This also comes down to personal preferences and experiences. No matter how fresh it is, you probably aren’t going to cook with zucchini if zucchini just isn’t your thing. On the other hand…

Try something new
If you’ve been eating nothing but tacos day after day, maybe it’s time to expand your horizons. On cooking shows, the judges always praise the contestants who reach past their comfort zone. And I can see why. Even the best chefs are always growing and learning and trying new things, even if that means they’re taking more risks. Trying something new is another way to keep things fresh and fun for yourself. Do you have a non-fiction idea but that’s not what you usually write? Give it a shot. Never wrote a concept book? Maybe now’s the time. When I wrote HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, I specifically wrote it in second person because I had never tried that before and I thought it would be fun. So when you’re choosing an idea from your list, maybe you try something different. Zucchini pizza, anyone?

Once you’ve chosen your well-marinated main ingredient, the idea, it’s time to start cooking! Don’t forget to taste often, add spices as needed, and have some other tasters (i.e., critique partners) on hand, too. Enjoy!

I also want to take a moment to thank Tara. I have been a huge fan of Storystorm since it first began and I’m so grateful for the feast of inspiration!

Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children (board books, early readers, and picture books), both published and forthcoming. Her books include the National IndieBound Bestseller UNICORN DAY and its sequels, UNICORN NIGHT and UNICORN CHRISTMAS, as well as HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, GOODNIGHT VEGGIES, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, and PIZZA PIG. Diana’s poems have appeared in many children’s magazines and anthologies. She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two children, and a dancing dog. To learn more, you can visit her website at or follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @dianamurrayauthor, or Twitter: @DianaMWrites.

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