Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Trolling for Ideas (or, “Darn! Why Didn’t I Write That?!”)

The ideas for our children’s books are often inspired by my kids. Dumpy the Dump Truck was directly inspired by my son Sam’s love of trucks, and The Very Fairy Princess was inspired by my very fairy princess daughter, Hope.  But we have often pulled ideas from other sources as well. Here are a few examples:

Simeon’s Gift – a story we wrote together when I was a child

The Great American Mousical – A mouse in my mother’s dressing room once in a Broadway theatre, plus countless mice in the theatre I ran for many years

Dragon: Hound of Honor – an entry found in a Reader’s Encyclopedia

Little Bo series – a ship’s cat we encountered once on vacation when I was a child

Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies – a trusted editor

The point is, children’s book authors pull ideas from any number of areas. You can mine for story fodder from your own kids, kids you know, or from your own childhood. Try going through childhood photo albums and journals, looking at mementos, thinking about childhood friends, toys you loved, activities you used to engage in, hurdles you faced or challenges you overcame.  Home movies or scrapbooks are great resources for ideas. Often it takes just one hook – one ticket stub, one photo – to spark an idea for a story.

Other people’s children can provide great material as well – grandkids, cousins, nieces, nephews, students, neighbors – even a child you see in a restaurant or on the street.  Get in the habit of kid-watching whenever you’re out and about (try to be discreet – “I’m a children’s book writer!” only goes so far when confronted with the glares of suspicious parents or policemen…) It’s hugely important to spend time with or observing kids on a regular basis so as to stay current with how they think and talk, and what their interests and concerns are. If you don’t have ready access to kids of the age you are writing for, find a way to connect with them, perhaps by joining a Big Brother/Big Sister program or volunteering to read at a local library or school.

As you troll for ideas, don’t be daunted by whether or not the subject has already been tackled by another author. Very few ideas are truly unique. While there are hundreds of children’s books about bunnies, pigs, ducklings and princesses, the more important question is, what distinguishes yours from the others? It’s all about your unique perspective, your take on the subject.


3 Responses to “Trolling for Ideas (or, “Darn! Why Didn’t I Write That?!”)”
  1. Suzie says:

    What a great post, Emma! Even though I am not a children’s book author, I think that your advice can apply to anything one sets out to write. I know I am guilty of abandoning ideas because I think “it’s already been done.” But I guess there is always a way to make a subject fresh and new, and the secret is to find that particular way. Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Joanna says:

    My friend is without a car this week and phoned me this morning to ask if I could take her to go pick up her young girls from Infant school. Lou, age 5, jumped into my car and thrust an awesome picture she had just drawn into my lap. A T-rex with measles!!! (you guessed what’s going round the school ;)). Since Emma’s prompts to jot down all ideas however small, this one was duly noted in my journal. 🙂

  3. Diane says:

    On the radio one morning, listening to an announcement an idea for a story came to light. My husband and I have been extensive travellers and looking back over some photos of the place that was mentioned on the radio, the backdrop of the story was formed. It is amazing where ideas seem to come from. It is the capturing of it that is exciting and empowering.

    Another time my husbands niece visiting from Australia enjoying her holiday with us was reading a story and asked me to write her one. Sure I said, if she would draw me a tree with a little girl in it to help form part of the story. You can imagine my supprise when she asked after some thought and crayon poised…”what emotion does the tree have”. Oh my, I had never given it any thought.
    The wonder of the young mind that looks for ALL the details.

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