Every year I take part in Storystorm, a challenge to generate 30 ideas in the month of January. At least one a day, or more!
Some ideas are no more than a catchy title, some are emotions, and some are common childhood scenarios I’ve never seen in a picture book. Others are a whole paragraph of questions and what-ifs; another is about fun formats or styles I should try. I even took a photo of a newspaper article. Two ideas were repeated unknowingly, but the second time with a new twist, so I’ve kept them. Sometimes, I just wrote ideas about where to get ideas.
I didn’t filter anything, I didn’t judge, I just wrote them down. The first year I did StoryStorm I came up with 60 ideas.
When I looked down my list and began to evaluate, I noticed something interesting.
The first decent idea I had for a picture book was No.10. It’s one of those, ‘I can’t believe no one has covered this before,’ stories – no one has, I’ve checked.
My second good idea is No.19. It has scope to be more than a PB, a big concept that is current and original and I get a fizz of excitement just thinking about it.
Then I don’t hit on a concept that immediately feels like an original story until No.34 (this is why you shouldn’t stop at 31!)
And then they come thicker (but not faster). In every 10 ideas noted, there are three I immediately feel have strong picture book potential.
These are the six things I’ve learnt from focused idea generation:
- No idea is wasted if you write it down.
- Inspiration isn’t constant. I might have three ideas on one day and none in the days after.
- You can train your mind to be open and look for story ideas everywhere.
- The first ten ideas I have are not necessarily my best (or even the ten after that.)
- With a long list of ideas, it’s much easier to see the ones that shine from the ones that don’t.
- After a while I not only have ideas, some begin to come into my brain more like rounded story plots.
- I’m going to be a lot less precious about rejected stories when I have five more ideas I can’t wait to write.
- I’ve identified my weak spots. Thematically, my ideas centre around scenarios, adventure, action, humorous moments, play on words, original layouts and plot twists. Not so much character and place. I need to find stimulus that helps me idea generate in this area more.
So many picture books are rejected not because the writing isn’t good but because they are too similar to what is already in production or on the shelf.
Agents often ask to see three to five picture book texts from a new author to make sure they are able to consistently generate strong stories as so many get rejected. You need an ideas database to call on. See next post – How to Store and Sort Your Story Ideas…