Written by Samantha Clark
One of the questions I get asked the most is how do I get ideas. I like to answer this question because I thought about the same thing before I started writing my own story. I will read books and think that it is impossible for me to come up with such an interesting or interesting idea. But the amazing thing is that once I figure out how to find ideas, more and more ideas will appear in my mind. How did I go from having no idea to having many ideas? I will tell you.
But first, I want to share with you the biggest secret of getting story ideas: it’s okay to start small.
The more I learn, the more I realize that I don’t have to have an idea as big as Star Wars. I just need to have a spark, the smallest part of an idea. Then as I explore it, I can slowly come up with characters, situations, plot turns, and a complete story. Everything comes from sparks.
Also, not all of my thoughts will turn into stories, which is okay. Sometimes, an idea may inspire better ideas. Here are 5 ways I can provide story ideas for my book and exercises to help you try.
1. Stay curious
You will often hear writers talk about the issue of obtaining “what if?” their stories. Assume that the problem is a good way to inspire. My novel “The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast” started with a hypothetical question. I am walking my dog in a park. There is a lake on one side of the park and a house on the other side. I can’t see anyone around me, I feel a little isolated. This makes me think, if the house is a forest, and someone wakes up in this park, they don’t know who they are or how they got there? I am very interested in this idea. I think about it all the way home. When we come back, the spark has become the beginning of the story.
Suppose the problem starts when we are curious about something and want to know more. This curiosity gives us a spark of thought, and we need to know more to help us explore it to find a bigger story.
Help children exercise: Turn curiosity into a game. Give them a picture and ask them to participate in a competition to see who comes up with the 5 hypothetical questions the fastest, or give them 3 minutes to ask as many questions as possible during this time. Suppose that the problem must start with pictures (limitations can help us start our ideas), but then they can change or fabricate new things to ask the question. These questions can be as stupid or outrageous as they think. This will only make them think.
For example: suppose you show them a photo of a chicken pecking seeds. Your child might think, what if there is a Tyrannosaurus rex behind? What if the seeds become huge bean stalks? What if the chicken is blue? What if the chicken has a tail like a fox? Once they ask questions, they can each choose their favorite one and ask more questions. So, if we ask “What if the chicken is blue?”, we might ask these new questions: How does the chicken become blue? Will other chickens make fun of her? Does she like blue and be different? What good does blue and difference do to her? and many more. The more questions your child asks, the closer they are to a story.
2. To create miracles
When I went for a walk, I got a lot of ideas for stories, like the sparks that led to the boy, the boat, and the beast. But the title of this part is not “go for a walk” but “go for a miracle” for a reason. Many times, when we walk, our minds are filled with what we had to do that day or what we did yesterday. Ideas come from those who think freely and ask questions curiously.
When walking with a clear mind, use all the senses to explore the surrounding environment. Look at the shapes of trees and houses, smell the flowers, listen to sounds, and touch the branches of shrubs. What kind of ideas will these bring? What are you curious about?
Help children exercise: Take the children out for a walk. It can be near you or through a park. Encourage them to tell you what they saw and ask related questions. This will help them get used to the details. Did a squirrel run across the branch? Where is it going? why? That may be the spark of a story. A plane flies overhead? What if it is something else? What could it be? Ask your child to think about what they see, hear, and smell, and ask questions to give them ideas for storytelling.
3. Research your passion
Just as people tell stories to answer their curious questions, they also write stories about things they are passionate about. My latest novel ARROW is about a magical hidden rainforest. I love trees and I am passionate about protecting forests. I have always wanted to write a story featuring trees. One day, an image of a boy with deformed limbs living in a tree suddenly appeared in my mind. I don’t know anything about this boy, but I am curious. So I started to ask questions and conduct research to see if this picture can inspire the idea of a story. I studied the forest and found a TED talk with the famous ecologist Suzanne Simard about mother trees and their communication methods. I want to know, what if a guardian tree uses magic to hide its rainforest to protect it from deforestation? In this way, ARROW was born.
Help children exercise: Ask your child to write down all the things they are passionate about and then choose one for further research. As they conduct their research, ask them to write down all the things they think are the most interesting. Then let them think about other things they want to know, things that make them curious. They can write hypothetical questions and inspire new ideas.
4. Dig into your past
Authors often get story ideas from what happened to them in the past. Before I wrote a novel full-time, I worked as a reporter and editor for several magazines, including a film magazine. On several occasions, I had to interview the actors and directors on the set of the movie.When I was asked to write a proposal for AMERICAN HORSE TALES of Penguin Workshop In the series, about girls and their horses, I thought about when I went to make a movie featuring monkeys. I thought, what if I turn the monkey into a horse and the trainer into a girl? From there, I thought of the American horse story: Hollywood, about a girl going to audition for a TV show on her horse and participating in the show as a stunt rider.
Digging into our past as authors does not necessarily mean that we must accurately write what happened to us, but we can take inspiration from our experiences and change them to create new stories.
Help children exercise: Ask your child to write down an event that happened to them in the past. It may be the happy birthday party they like, or it may be the horrible thing like their first roller coaster ride. When they finish writing their own events, ask them to read it again and think about what they can change to create a different story. What would happen if the dinosaur crashed that birthday party? Or if all birthday gifts are stolen? The use of past experience has laid a good foundation for children to build a new story.
5. Mix and match and turn things around
Another way to inspire new stories is to take different ideas and put them together. For example, this is what the author did when he wrote a fairy tale retelling. They take familiar old stories and modify them with new ideas. For example, the picture book “Good Luck and the Three Pandas”, written by Yan Natasha and painted by Zong Meiyu, rewrites the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears into the story of the Chinese girl Xiaojin and the three pandas. However, the author did not stop there. She asked a question, what if Goldilocks tried to make up for what she did to the bear? Then she answered this question in this interesting picture book.
Using the mashup and flip tool, you can put parts of two stories together to create a new story, turn the classic story upside down, twist the story you like, or even mix and match your own ideas. This tool has many ways to do it Inspire new stories.
Help children exercise: Ask your child to draw a line in the middle of a piece of paper. Ask them to list their favorite characters on one side and their favorite places on the other side, whether they are fictional or real. Now tell them to draw lines to connect characters to positions. For example, they may eventually get Rumplestiltskin in the Grand Canyon. Then encourage them to ask questions. Why is there Rumplestiltskin in the Grand Canyon? How did he get there? How is he going out? This is how many fan fictions begin, and can lead to new and very original stories.
With all these tools, you will soon be full of story ideas. What are you going to do next? Collect them all so that you don’t forget them, and choose the one that interests you the most (I like to say, the one with the most conversations with me). Grab the shining spark of an idea and start building on it. Not every idea will turn into a complete story, but that’s okay, because once you start inviting ideas, they will keep coming up, begging to be explored.
About Samantha M. Clark
Samantha M. Clark He is an award-winning author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and ARROW published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster and American Horse Story: Hollywood published by Penguin Studio/Penguin Random House. In her past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and executive editor of newspapers and magazines. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two funny dogs, where she helps other writers as a regional consultant for the Austin Chapter of the Association of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.Sign up for news and giveaways at www.SamanthaMClark.com. Follow her Twitter @samclarkwrites, Instagram @samanthamclarkbooks, Samantha McClack’s Facebook Author, with Pinterest by SamClarkWrites.