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#7 Borrow From Movies, Plays, or Other Books
This is somewhat like #6 but involves taking your inspiration from even more existing stories. I’m always amazed when an author is able to take a movie, play, or book and change it up so much that it’s entirely different from its source material.
Here are some great books that have been inspired by other stories. (Amazing how influential the Bard continues to be after all these years.) All of these authors followed Ezra Pound’s dictum to “make it new” and created highly original works.
That’s Good! That’s Bad! by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by David Catrow:
Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack:
The conceit in these two books is similar to that of a book called Fortunately by Remy Charlip. In all of the books, something bad happens on one page and then something good happens as a result. And the pattern continues. Each of these books is different, and each displays its own cleverness. Cuyler’s book inspired three sequels: That’s Good! That’s Bad! In the Grand Canyon, That’s Good! That’s Bad! In Washington, D.C., and That’s Good! That’s Bad! On Santa’s Journey. The last two were illustrated by Michael Garland.
The Dumb Bunnies series by Dav Pilkey:
In this hilarious series, the bunnies do dumb things like watching the toilet bowl instead of the Super Bowl. This bunny family seems to have taken its cue from The Stupids series by Harry G. Allard Jr., illustrated by James Marshall, which was made into a movie, starring Tom Arnold.
The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander:
This is the first of a fun series about a middle-school boy who fixes other kids’ problems. The book is described as a Godfather-like tale of crime and betrayal. And if you compare the covers of Rylander’s books with Mario Puzo’s you’ll see a similarity. It’s a pretty genius concept.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead:
This is one of my favorite books of all time. While the story itself doesn’t bear too much similarity to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, the intertexuality makes it seem as if the two stories are talking to each other within the novel.
Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg:
Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard:
These are only two of the many YA novels based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. And not surprisingly, readers have loved these books.
Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper:
When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle:
Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay:
YA authors have given Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, several spins. Draper has her characters meet in an Internet chat room and gives the tale a happy ending.
Serle tells a contemporary story in which a not-so-nice Juliet breaks up the relationship between Rob and Rosaline. I love the tagline on the cover: What if the greatest love story ever told was the wrong one?
Jay turns the classic story into a paranormal tale in which Romeo kills Juliet to ensure his own mortality, not realizing, she too will become immortal. Jay also wrote a sequel called Romeo Redeemed.
Shut Out by Kody Keplinger:
This one’s a funny retelling of the Greek play Lysistrata, by Aristophanes, about women withholding sex from men until they stop fighting. Keplinger’s version takes place in high school, and the fighting involves football teams.
A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger:
Keplinger does it great again with a new take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Ten by Gretchen McNeill:
McNeill gives Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None a teen twist in this suspenseful novel.
Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike:
Pike takes The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, a work far less known than Shakespeare’s and Austen’s and gives it her own spin.
#8 Fictionalize Real-Life Stories and Events
Here’s where spending your time reading random articles on the Internet can actually work for you, instead of against you. Like Law & Order SVU, these stories were ripped from the headlines.
10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle:
Ocean Commotion: Caught in the Currents by Janeen Mason:
Both of these books were inspired by a 1992 event in which a cargo ship dropped a container of toys, including lots of rubber ducks, into the Pacific. I’d seen this article in the newspaper and cut it out but never did anything with the idea. But I’m glad Carle and Mason did.
Pluto Visits Earth by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Jared Lee:
This one came out shortly after Jupiter was declared not to be a planet anymore. In the book, Pluto is angry that he’s been demoted and comes to earth to reclaim planetary status. Recently some scientists have said Jupiter should be a planet after all. I smell a sequel ☺.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate:
This award-winning book was based on a real-life story about a gorilla that has grown up in a cage at a mall. Applegate’s picture book based on the same story was just released.
Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson:
Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler:
(Spoiler Ahead!) Both of these novels bear resemblance to a news article in which a teen with a peanut allergy died after kissing her boyfriend. In Henderson’s novel (the first of her Scarlett Wakefield series) a girl leaves school after a boy collapses dead after their kiss. She later gets a note telling her it may not have been an accident. In Gurtler’s novel, the main character becomes a school pariah when she accidentally kills a boy after kissing him.
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway:
Indigo Blues by Danielle Joseph:
Both books take their cue from a real-life incident in the news about the Plain White Tees and their song, “Hey There, Delilah.” The singer/songwriter crooned about a girl he’d met somewhere, and although she wasn’t an ex-girlfriend as in the two fabulous novels mentioned, the attention was equally unwanted by the girl.
After by Amy Efaw:
This acclaimed novel was no doubt inspired by several unfortunate news stories in which teens, who didn’t know they were pregnant, suddenly went into labor and abandoned their babies in the trash.
#9 Tap Into the Zeitgeist
Ask yourself: what are people talking about? What’s in the forefront of the American imagination and will be for a while? Social issues like child abduction and child slavery? Diseases such eating disorders, drug addiction, cutting, bipolar disorder? And how about technology: what part does that play? All these books seem to have been sparked by the intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of our era.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein:
This Caldecott-winning picture book is about Frenchman Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Published two years after 9/11, the story had great significance for our era.
Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat:
This very funny picture book and its sequel, Bawk and Roll, no doubt took inspiration from the popularity of contemporary reality shows like “American Idol.”
As If Being 12¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President by Donna Gephart:
Published at the beginning of 2008, when it was conceivable that we could have a female president, Gephart’s award-winning novel tapped into that possibility. This book is still highly relevant in our contemporary political climate.
Death By Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart:
In her newest novel, Gephart taps into cultural issues of our era once again. This one addresses issues of the current economy with humor and heart.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio:
Bullying has been on everyone’s mind for quite a while. While not necessarily written as an anti-bullying book, this best-selling novel is all about promoting kindness to each other.
Sold by Patricia McCormick:
This National Book Award finalist is about a poor thirteen-year-old girl in Nepal being sold into slavery and prostitution, an unfortunate reality of our times.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins:
Hopkins writes wildly popular novels in verse. This one’s about meth addiction. Subsequent novels deal with such issues as prostitution, depression, abuse, etc.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson:
Anderson, a best-selling and award-winning author, often writes about contemporary issues of our era. This one is about eating disorders.
Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick:
This lyrical novel, written in verse, is about an addiction to cutting.
Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski:
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler:
The constant technological advances of our era continue to inspire writers. Mlynowski’s book is about a girl who drops her cell in a fountain and starts talking to her future self. Asher and Mackler write about a girl and boy who use an AOL CD and discover themselves on Facebook fifteen years into the future.
#10 X meets Y: Combine Two Popular and/or Unlikely Books, Movies, Ideas, Places, Etc.
When teaching, I’ve had students make two separate lists of various TV shows, movies, plays, places, etc. I then have them combine one from Column A and one from Column B. You should see the ideas they come up with.
Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort:
Two things extremely popular with the picture book set are dinosaurs and underpants. Wish I’d thought of this!
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin:
Farm animals meet collective bargaining in this enduring picture book. This one’s a first in a series about these belligerent bovines.
Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown:
I think you could describe this as Peter Rabbit meets Night of the Living Dead. Love it!
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri:
Take dragons, a popular picture book subject, combine them with tacos and salsa, and you’ve got one hot picture book.
Cowboy Christmas by Rob Sanders, illustrated by John Manders:
Combining cowboys with Christmas cacti makes for a great holiday book.
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan:
This series is often described as Classical Mythology meets Harry Potter.
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood:
One reviewer described this award-winning novel as The Help meets To Kill a Mockingbird.
I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter:
This novel and the rest of the beloved Gallagher Girls series could be described as Girls Boarding School novel meets CIA.
Beauty Queen by Libba Bray:
This funny send-up combines the Miss America Pageant with the TV show Lost.
Well, that’s it for the ten ways to generate ideas series. I hope they sparked a story concept for you!