(And other important questions to ask when writing a children’s book)
This sign hangs on the wall by my desk. When I’m writing, it encourages me to stretch my imagination to try to turn an ordinary character or story into something special.
Ask the questions that haven’t been asked, even if they sound incredibly silly. Do elephants like mac and cheese? What would a snake look like with a wig? What would a fox sound like if he could talk…More like Barry White or Adam Sandler? Explore the possibilities.
Think outside the box.
Once you have an idea, play with it. Roll it around in your mind. What can you do to make it amazing? Say you have a story idea about a kid going to the moon in a spaceship. Definitely done before. Definitely overdone. OK, make it better. The kid is a porcupine. Getting warmer. Even better? He loves to chew gum and blow bubbles in space. Now we’re cooking. Step waaaaay outside the box and go for the gusto. He keeps accidentally punching holes in his spacesuit with his quills and has to patch them up with… You see where I’m going with this?
Over the summer, I attended the Children’s Literature Conference at Shenandoah University and had the pleasure of hearing the insanely talented author/illustrator, John Rocco, share his thoughts on coming up with fresh ideas for picture books. (Check out two of my John Rocco favorites, Blackout and Moonpowder, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This guy is good!)
Rocco said that there are “two magical words you can ask yourself before and during writing a story: What if…” He asked himself these questions when writing one of his picture books based on the classic, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
- What if…the story was set in China?
- What if…it was told from the wolf’s point of view?
- What if…the wolf is old and likes vegetables?
Rather odd questions to ask, don’t you think? Well, what became of it was an award winning book titled Wolf! Wolf! Definitely check this one out. The illustrations will blow you away and it can lead to good discussions on fractured tales.
It’s OK to write about a topic that’s been done before, as long as you find a way to make it fresh and unique.
He asked the “what if…” questions and thought outside the box. Brilliant.
My latest picture book idea came to me using John Rocco’s method. The concept of a troll living under a bridge entered my mind. Done before. Ho hum. How could I spice it up? Enter the “what if’s”:
- What if…a troll that lives under the bridge hates his job?
- What if…he actually dreams of becoming an architect/engineer?
- What if…he designs a drawbridge so he doesn’t have to man the bridge?
From there, Troll and the Tea Party was born. It’s still in the rough stages, but I love how it’s coming along. All because I asked those questions.
So, what DOES the fox really say? Hmmm…not sure, but Iylves might be on to something. I think I see the makings of a picture book. Wait…Simon and Schuster thought so too. They bought the rights to release a picture book based on the viral video. Title? The Fox.
Oh well, missed the boat on that one. I’ll just keep thinking outside the box and asking questions. You never know what brilliant idea will turn up.