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I’m assuming that you’re all deep into your brainstorming about story ideas at this point and already have a meaty list after all the inspiring posts you’ve been reading during Storystorm. Good for you!
I sometimes equate this stage of story brainstorming to experimenting with a recipe for a cake. Why cake? Because cake is one of my favorite things in the world. And suppose it’s a recipe entry for a baking contest in which you can submit ONE entry.
After Storystorm, I advise you to browse your list of ideas and choose the one that appeals to you the most. Maybe you’ll be so excited about this particular idea that you won’t be able to wait. Maybe you’ve already started working on expanding the story, plotting an outline and/or doodling rough sketches. Maybe you’ve just expanded the idea a wee bit, perhaps into a paragraph or a few pages of notes.
Excellent! Now put that story away and DON’T LOOK AT IT for a while. “A while” is up to you. For me, it’s at least two weeks but sometimes several months.
In our baking analogy: it means tweaking your cake recipe and then putting that experimental cake in the oven:
RESIST THE URGE TO TAKE IT OUT OF THE OVEN BEFORE IT’S READY.
Because if you take it out too soon, it’ll look pretty much the same as when you put it in. What you want: to give it enough time to settle, to bake, to reach a state where you can taste it objectively and see whether it’s really THE cake recipe you want to submit to the contest.
Sometimes when you take it out of the oven, it’ll look like this:
Though of course we all hope for this:
But back to when your cake story looks like this:
At this point, you may realize that it’s not worth salvaging, and you may want to just toss it. Sometimes your instinct will be right.
However, there may still be SOMETHING about it that you just can’t let go of:
In that case, try experimenting some more. Maybe combine it with another idea, find a different spin, rework it in a different genre or format. Turn it upside down or reverse it, add an unexpected twist. You never know what will happen. Read this Veronica Bartles Storystorm post about how she substitutes story ingredients to familiar recipes to make them uniquely delicious. (Mmm, plus her Cranberry Sage Cookies With Almonds recipe sounds yummy….)
Then put it in the oven again to let it bake:
As before, no matter how excited you are, force yourself to work on something else and NOT take your new creation out too soon. While you’re waiting, take a look at your other recipe ideas, start experimenting for another recipe.
And so on. Ok, I’ll drop the baking analogy…you get the message, right?
Sometimes I may feel SUPER excited with a new story idea and have the urge to IMMEDIATELY dive into the writing and editing and revision process. Sometimes the first draft of the story pours out onto the paper; I love when this happens. However, I have learned to let an idea or first draft sit for a while before coming back to it. If I’m still excited about it, then I go to the next stage. After another round of writing or sketching or revising, I let it sit again and then re-evaluate.
The danger of letting yourself dive into developing a story idea too soon is that you’ll get so caught up with the “ooo shiny toy” honeymoon phase that you won’t be objective. You’re going to be pouring a lot of time and effort into this project, after all, as well as inevitably getting emotionally invested. It’s in your best interest to take your time before you commit.
So stick with the rest of the Storystorm month! Keep reading Storystorm blog posts and coming up with ideas. By the end of the month, you’ll be able to look at your earlier ideas more objectively.
This is pretty much my story brainstorming process, by the way. I currently keep a notebook where I constantly jot down story ideas, fragments, bits of conversations and synopses for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I used to use a digital notebook but I currently prefer a paper notebook where I can doodle as well as scribble ideas PLUS I like being able to physically browse earlier ideas to see if they still excite me.
Whatever the method you use to keep track of your story ideas, I encourage you to GIVE THEM TIME to develop and before sending them out into the world.
Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster), a book that began as an idea generated during PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm). Her illustrations appear in books by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume, among others. Upcoming books in 2017 include Debbie’s second solo picture book, Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster), Sea Monkey & Bob (Simon & Schuster, author Aaron Reynolds), Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in The Secret Ingredient (Random House, author Lauren McLaughlin), and Ruby Rose, Big Bravos (HarperCollins, author Rob Sanders). Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.
Debbie is giving away one of her original found object doodles, using a crumpled Lindor wrapper and drawn with a fountain pen. It’s about 5.7″ x 7″, and will be mailed in a protective cellophane wrapper with a cardboard backing.
Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.