Still looking for an idea for NANOWRIMO or just want to brainstorm your next book? Here are four additional ideas. (See the first two in previous posts.) I promise to get the next four up over the weekend.
If you know more examples of these techniques (including your own book) or if you have other favorite ways to brainstorm, please write in the comments section before October 31, 2014. You’ll be thrown into a raffle to win a free critique of the first ten pages of your novel or picture book (ten pages or less) or a necklace that says, The Word is Waiting to Hear Your Story.
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#3 What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
The title speaks for itself. Think of a worst-case scenario and run with it. Movies do it all the time with films like Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, Deep Impact, and every other movie where an asteroid is headed toward us. This is also your basic dystopia situation, but there are other worst-case scenarios besides a totalitarian future. Check these out below.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz:
With a movie in theaters now and a sequel to the picture book just out, Viorst’s enduring story proves both kids and adults can relate to other people in terrible, horrible situations. There’s no asteroid heading toward Alexander, but for a kid, a day where everything goes wrong can be just as bad.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems:
If you’ve ever driven miles out of your way to figure out where a child has left a raggedy teddy bear or a well-worn doll, you know how awful it is for a kid (and the adult driving) to lose that favorite toy.
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins:
Need I say more?
The Maze Runner by James Dashner:
Like The Hunger Games, this book has also spun into a wildly popular series of books and movies. It’s about a boy who wakes up in a strange place with other kids. They don’t know how they got there—or how to get out.
Trapped by Michael Northrop:
When a snowstorm hits, seven kids get trapped in school for a week. As problems escalate, so does the suspense in this fast-paced novel.
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix:
In a society where couples can have only two children, Luke is a third child who must live in hiding. This is the first in the very popular Shadow Children series.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman:
When a child is between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of that child through a process called “unwinding.” This book is the first in an acclaimed and thought-provoking series.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver:
This is the first of a trilogy about a future where love is a disease. And at eighteen, you must take the cure. Oliver, who is both prolific and insightful, definitely knows her YA audience!
Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman:
The narrator is completely disabled—can’t move or speak—and thinks his father is planning on killing him. Trueman also wrote Cruise Control, a companion novel to this Printz Honor book.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman:
A girl hovering between life and death after a car accident must decide whether to live or die. This well-loved book was recently made into a movie. Forman has also written a companion novel to this one called Where She Went.
#4 Look at the Irrational Fears and Phobias of People Around You
Google irrational fears and you’ll get lots of ideas. But if you have trouble sleeping at night, maybe you better not. Classic examples include Jaws (maybe not so irrational), Snakes on a Plane, Chucky, and lots of other horror movies.
Kids and teens have their own specific irrational fears. (So do adults. When I took a break from writing this blog post, I found a millipede in my study. I killed it and then imagined all its fellow millipedes coming after me in my sleep.)
Take a look at these great books, but do it at your own risk.
The Tub People by Pam Conrad, illustrated by Richard Egielski:
I love this series about plastic Tub People. The first is about how the youngest almost goes down the drain, but is saved. Have you ever known children who were afraid that would happen to them?
The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard
and The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen:
These are two examples of how authors used the common fear of the dark to create excellent and original books.
Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley:
My kids loved this empowering book that taps into another common fear that toddlers have: all kinds of monsters.
The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli:
When a crocodile swallows a watermelon seed, he imagines horrible things happening to him. Don’t tell me this never happened to you when you were a kid. No? Really? Just me?
Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix:
This one presents a common fear about doubting your own perception. Do you really know what you think you know? (Spoiler alert!) In this intriguing novel, a girl believes she’s living a normal life in 1840, but it’s really 1996 outside her town.
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright:
Dolls that move around by themselves. Anyone creeped out by old dolls will love this one.
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson:
This book and the rest in the series tap into the fear that everyone close to you might be lying about something. The books raise important questions about biomedical ethics and what makes us human.
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney:
This popular series, which was also made into a movie, brings to light a common adolescent fear regarding identity. Are you the person you think you are?
#5 Tell the Story From an Unusual or Original Point of View
These books often promote critical thinking and discussion by offering readers the opportunity to see life from another perspective. One popular example is the movie Forrest Gump.
Sometimes these types of stories are told from unreliable narrators. Some famous examples include Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
These wonderful books below offer unique narrators, sometimes unreliable, sometimes just plain fun.
That New Animal by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pierre Pratt:
One of my all-time favorite picture books tells a classic sibling rivalry story, but from the point of view of the household dog.
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith:
A popular tale, told from the point of view of the wolf. Love this!
I Stink! by Kate and Jim McMullan:
This award-winning book is told from the point of view of a garbage truck. Who would have thought?
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper:
This fifth-grade narrator can’t walk, speak, or write but still has a rich interior life as evidenced by her narration of the story. Draper’s acclaimed novel highlights the disparity between mind and body for those with similar disabilities.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine:
Because of her Aspergers, this narrator has an unusual perspective on the death of her brother in a school shooting. This National Book Award winner is sure to give readers insight into classmates who are differently abled.
Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn:
Books about abuse are usually told from the victim’s point of view. This highly acclaimed book about dating abuse broke new ground by telling the story from the point of view of the abuser.
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch:
Similarly, this book, a National Book Award finalist, tells about date rape from the point of view of the rapist.
#6 Borrow from Myths, Fairy Tales, Songs, and Urban Legends
There is no end to the possibilities open when using existing sources as inspiration. The tale of Cinderella has generated an industry all its own. And, amazingly, many authors continue to give the fairy tale a fresh take. Look at how these exceptionally creative authors have been inspired by other sources.
Waking Beauty and Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox, both illustrated by Lydia Monks:
These two books are hilarious fractured fairy tales. The first is about a prince who ignores advice to kiss Sleeping Beauty and instead tries everything from jumping on her bed to shooting a cannon. In the second book, Rapunzel can’t hear what the prince is saying, so when he asks her for her curly locks, she throws out dirty socks.
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems:
The always-entertaining Willems changes things up when Goldilocks ventures into the house of three diabolical dinosaurs, one of whom is from Norway. Really, Norway.
One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small:
I heard Toni Buzzeo speak at our Florida SCBWI conference and she told us the story was inspired by an urban legend she heard about a boy who steals a penguin on a school trip. After kids read this fabulous Caldecott Honor book, field trips will never be the same!
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix:
In this fun and feminist take on Cinderella, Ella realizes life in the palace isn’t what its cracked up to be—especially if your crush is someone other than the prince.
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
In the first book, The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson finds out he’s the son of Poseidon. This fresh spin on Greek mythology is the basis for a series of mega-popular books and movies.
Impossible by Nancy Werlin:
Inspired by the ballad “Scarborough Fair,” award-winning author, Nancy Werlin, created a best-selling fantasy novel about faeries and a family curse.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han:
Who would have thought a song about former girlfriends, sung by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson, could inspire a YA novel? But the fabulously creative Jenny Han did it with this novel about a girl whose letters to the boys she’s loved accidentally get mailed.
Beastly by Alex Flinn:
Alex Flinn’s retellings of fairy tales have a huge and loyal following. This best-selling novel, told from the point of view of the beast in Beauty and the Beast, was made into a popular film.
Ash by Malinda Lo:
This one’s a highly creative take on the Cinderella story. It involves a same sex relationship twist.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer:
In this unique spin on Cinderella, Cinder is a cyborg. This book is the first in the hugely popular Lunar Chronicles series. Subsequent books also use fairy tales as source material.
Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs:
Take your typical contemporary new girl in school story and set it in Greece, where all her classmates, descendants of Greek gods, have special powers and you have the makings of a well-loved series with a fresh twist on mythology.