“Where do you get ideas for stories?” It’s probably the most frequently asked author question. The easy answer is “from my head.” Yeah, we writers make stuff up. But that head is constantly churning, receiving input from our daily lives: the shiny yellow lemons in the produce aisle, the kids playing four-square at the school, the muffler-less van rumbling down the street, the funny discussion overheard at the coffeeshop, and the striped sock from the laundry missing its mate.
I like to think that writers are more observant than other people. We can take the mundane and twist it into the extraordinary. An idea can come from anywhere and strike at any time. My theory is that we must remain open to receive the lightning. I don’t mean to sound new-age—I just want you to be ready for possibilities. Climb a tree in a thunderstorm. Take a chance. (My lawyer would like me to remind you I don’t mean this literally.)
The best way I know to “remain open” is to get in the habit of jotting down ideas. Find the sparkle in everyday life. Grab a journal. Keep it with you. When something strikes your fancy, write it down. Capture those little seeds that may some day sprout into a story.
Daily idea generation is the concept behind my November blog event: Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). During PiBoIdMo, I ask authors and illustrators to blog about the little tricks they use to jog their brains and create new ideas. I’ll share some of my favorites:
- Keep a treasure box. Pick up stray items—a swatch of fabric, a ring without a stone, a piece of sea glass, an old photograph. Put them in a box. Take that box out every once in a while, pick an object and try to imagine the story behind it. Who did it belong to? How did they lose it?
- Change your daily routine. Take a different route to the store. Heck, take public transportation instead. Enjoy the new view.
- Be punny. Play with words. Combine two words together to form a new one. Give it a definition. Change words in a common idiom to make a new phrase.
- Try a music exercise. Go to Pandora.com and tune into a random station. While listening to a song, jot down a character description, supporting players, an emotion, a conflict, a scene, and a resolution. How do these story elements morph when the music changes?
- Explore the Flickr “interestingness” link. You’ll find images to stir your imagination. (http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days/)
- Get Story Cubes (http://www.storycubes.com/)! It’s a fun game to play by yourself or with your family.
- Try Storybird (http://storybird.com). The trick is unlocking the story buried in the illustrations. There’s thousands of images to choose from and you can put them together any way you choose.
- Unplug for a day. Or two. Or more. Our daily lives with computers, social media and mobile devices interrupts thoughts and distracts too easily.
My most important tip is to remember your childhood. Even relive it. When you take your kids to the park, go on the swings. Ride the rocking horse. Spin on the merry-go-round. Go to the circus. Eat cotton candy. Create a secret fort in your backyard. Draw with sidewalk chalk. Be silly. Recall the emotions you used to feel when you didn’t have to worry about mortgages, calories and bosses.
And remember, the ideas are in your head already—those story seeds just need some help branching out.
Tara Lazar is the author of The Monstore (Aladdin, 2013) and I Thought This Was A Bear Book (Aladdin, 2014), both picture books. She’s also the creator of PiBoIdMo, which occurs every November. You can find Tara at taralazar.wordpress.com.