Category Archives: Inspiration

GENERATING IDEAS FOR NOVELS AND PICTURE BOOKS #3-6

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.

So you don’t miss any posts or chances to win a critique, sign up to receive the blog in your email. See the sign-me-up box to the right.

#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.

PICTURE BOOKS

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.

MIDDLE GRADE

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.

YOUNG ADULT

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.

PICTURE BOOKS

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?

MIDDLE GRADE

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.

YOUNG ADULT

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.

PICTURE BOOKS

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?

MIDDLE GRADE

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.

YOUNG ADULT

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.

PICTURE BOOKS

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!

MIDDLE GRADE

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.

YOUNG ADULT

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.


GENERATING IDEAS FOR NOVELS AND PICTURE BOOKS #2

#2 Odd Coupling: Put Dissimilar Characters Into Unlikely Relationships

 This is a technique that has made for great stories in the past. Think The Odd Couple, (of course), but also: Analyze This, The Breakfast Club, Will and Grace, etc. These stories often have themes of friendship, loyalty, trust, respect for diversity, etc. In addition, the differences in characters often produce humorous results.

This technique has been used to great effect in YA, MG, and Picture Books. Here are some wonderful examples to check out:

PICTURE BOOKS

Jasper & Joop by Olivier Dunrea:

 In this Odd Couple with goslings, Jasper is a neat freak, while Joop likes a messy nest and rumpled feathers. They find common ground when Joop sticks his beak in a beehive and needs help.

Nugget & Fang by Tammi Sauer

Nugget, a minnow, and Fang, a shark, are buddies until Nugget goes to school and learns he’s supposed to be afraid of Fang.

Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon

The title says it all. The touching and popular picture book is about an unlikely friendship between a Penguin and a Pinecone.

MIDDLE GRADE

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

 Three very different characters—homeschooled Ally, aspiring model Bree, and introverted Jack—forge a friendship when they meet at a campground to watch an eclipse.

 Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

 Who can forget the unique friendship between Wilbur, the pig, and Charlotte, the spider?

 Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

 A teenage giant, who’s a slow learner, has a unique friendship with a tiny genius in leg braces. This was made into the film, The Mighty.

YOUNG ADULT

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Two very different boys with the same name meet and change each other’s lives.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor is the overweight, bullied new girl and Park is the half-Korean outsider, who has lived in Nebraska his whole life but still feels like he doesn’t belong.

The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

 Soccer-playing preppy, Lainey, has just been dumped. So has Micah, her tattooed, punk rocker co-worker. Using tips from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, they pair up to make their exes jealous.

If you have any favorite examples of Odd Coupling, please don’t hesitate to share in the comments section.


Welcome to my blog!

The World is Waiting JewelryI’m well aware that the universe does not need another blog that discusses the craft of writing. There are so many excellent ones out there already. I also know that I’m way behind on the trend. That’s nothing new for me. (I still have a VCR.) However, along with writing itself, learning and talking about writing is pretty much the thing that keeps me from going crazy. So, for the sake of my sanity and for those around me, I’m adding my voice (and yours in the comments section) to the chorus.

In the next several weeks, I’ll be talking about how to generate ideas, how to begin your story, how to pump up your character’s emotional journey, and many other topics on the craft of writing. I hope you’ll join me.

Those who join the conversation in the comments section and those who subscribe to the blog will be entered in a raffle. Every couple of weeks, I’ll choose a winner at random. I have three of these necklaces (above), a mug that says I’m a Writer … Everything You Say and Do May End Up in My Novel, some autographed MG and YA novels, and other prizes to choose from, if you win. So here goes the first post …

Where do you get your ideas?

It’s a question writers always get. A while back when I first started writing, I had no problem answering that question. Ideas were everywhere. But the more I learned about how difficult it was to execute those ideas in a creative and unique way, the more I panicked. Just as soon as I got a new idea, I tossed it away, worrying that it had already been done.

I’d heard the aphorism: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” And I knew Ezra Pound’s advice was: “Make it New.” But I was stuck.

After awhile, I began studying strategies to generate ideas and realized that even if an idea is similar to something that’s been done, old Ezra was right: you can make it new.

Of course, getting the idea is just the beginning. The hard work happens after you nail down the premise. But if you’re like I was, and you’re having trouble coming up with a concept, the next several blog posts will demonstrate some strategies to help you brainstorm. Here’s the first one:

#1 Switch Up the Genre

One of my favorite genre switches was Mel Brooks’s take on the iconic science fiction novel, Frankenstein. Once he turned it into the hilarious film,Young Frankenstein, it became a classic all on its own. Another great example of a successful genre switch involves the humorous movie called Multiplicity, which was about cloning. Retooled as a thriller, it has become the critically acclaimed BBC America TV show Orphan Black.

Below are some great books for children and teens that demonstrate how you, too, can switch up a genre. Take a look at these books, study them, and find out how these authors “make it new.”

Paranormal to Humor

The Twilight books inspired many more vampire novels, but these three authors switched up the genre and made readers laugh.

Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst
Sucks to Be Me (and two more in the series) by Kimberly Pauley
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Classic Animal Tale to Ghost Story

Neil Gaiman has said that the inspiration for his award-winning The Graveyard Book came from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Contemporary Series to Historical Series

The very popular Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar, which centered on Manhattan’s teen social scene time traveled to the 1800’s and became The Luxe books, by Anna Godbersen, another very successful series.

Contemporary Friendship Series to Murder Mystery Friendship Series

Take the trials and tribulations of four best friends (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares), give them some threatening texts and a few murders to solve, and you have Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard.

Nursery Tale to Picture Book Noir

Humpty Dumpty and other nursery tales get a fresh twist when a hardboiled detective begins investigating the truth in Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries by David Levinthal, illustrated by John Nickle.

Adventure/Buddy Movie to Humorous Teen Novel

Agent Jill Corcoran in her first fabulous Plotwrimo video talks about how Robin Mellom’s Ditched was pitched as The Hangover for teens. Brilliant idea!

If you’ve been inspired by another work and changed the genre to write your own picture book or novel or can think of other examples, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.