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DAY ONE - BRAINSTORMING
Chapters Five of How to Write a Children's Book: a 7-day Workshop in a Book
Brainstorm even if you think you already know what you’re going to write.
For years, I walked around with “story ideas” in my head, but they never came out. I find this is true for most writers. We walk around with these funny and adventurous children’s stories in our heads, but we can’t seem to get them onto the page.
There are several reasons why we do this to ourselves: self-doubt, the internet, video games. But the only real reason, the only one that isn’t an excuse, is that we don’t have a story idea at all. No. We have a story concept.
STORY IDEA VS STORY CONCEPT
Most of us think we have a great story idea, but what we actually have is a story concept.
Let’s say you have a “story idea” about a cat that wants to go to a flea circus (Fernando Learns About Helping). When you sit down to put it on the page, what will you write? All you know is there’s a cat that wants to see a tiny, flea circus. You don’t know anything else, because what you have is not a story idea. It is a story concept.
To keep it simple, let’s use these basic definitions for the remainder of the book:
Story idea/idea - when the beginning, middle, and end of the story are clear.
Story concept/concept - a piece of a potential story; a vignette; a single scene, character, or character attribute.
USING THE SAME EXAMPLE, let’s turn it into a story idea by giving this concept a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Let’s say the cat wants to go to a flea circus, but his friends need help. Despite wanting to see the circus, he stops to help his friends. This makes him miss the circus, but his friends put together a circus of their own as a thank you/surprise for his help (Fernando Learns About Helping).
The concept and idea are similar, but the difference is the idea has a clear path for the reader to follow.
Brainstorming will help you see your concepts in words on the page instead of pictures in your mind.
This is the brainstorming technique that I recommend.
THE SIMPLEST AND most effective way to brainstorm is the brain dump. You do exactly what the name implies. You take every concept you’ve been keeping in your “I’ll write this someday” folder and put it down on the page.
You will also need to restrict the time you spend on this activity. Parkinson’s Law states, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” With that in mind, we will be using a ten-minute timer for this section.
Let me show you how I did during my brainstorming session.
I SET my timer for ten minutes and composed my list in Pages for Mac. Inside Pages, I set my font to 14-point to make it easier to read as I typed. I also set Pages to numbered list, so I wouldn’t have to number each line manually.
A NOTE about composing on the computer vs. on paper - you must exercise discipline when working on your computer. No clicking away to check the Face-y Pages. Turn off WIFI if you cannot be trusted.
WITH MY WIFI OFF (I clearly cannot be trusted) and a ten-minute timer on my phone ticking away, I made this list:
NOTICE that some of the items are story titles, single words, or character ideas. Most of these existed in my head before I sat down to make the list.
I’m going to go over the first three items on the list, so you can better understand what was going on in my head.
Ode to a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich This is a poem that I wrote a little while ago as part of a collection of poems for kids. It made it to the list because it often crosses my mind when I think about writing another children’s book. It reminds me to write more poetry for the collection, and I would like to revisit this particular poem
and clean it up.
Kid learning to share food with his toy dinosaur - toy dinosaur standing in the middle of a garden
This picture came to me while I was hiking a few years
ago. I took out my phone and recorded a poem about a little boy who did not want to share his broccoli with his toy dinosaur.
By the end of the hike, I had a twenty-minute poem that made little to no sense, but it was a blast to compose in the woods. I have meant to revisit this concept for a while.
Kid on an airplane
There is a magic to flying, and I imagine that getting on a plane for the first time as a kid could hold some wonder and adventure. I’m inches away from 40 years of age, and I still feel like I’ve answered adventure’s call every time I board a plane. There might be a book in this somewhere.
As you can see from these examples, you are just emptying the story spaces in your mind. I cleaned out two old ideas (#1 and #2), and immediately got a fresh image (#3). It went on and on like this as I was listing.
The good stuff tends to come after number ten.
Typically, the first few ideas on your list are a little stale.
They’ve been with you the longest, and they may need to live on the page a bit longer to grow legs.
I’ve had a few people tell me that the concepts that came after numbers eight, nine, or ten on the list, end up being the seed for their first story.
For me, it is almost always true that items listed after ten make the best material for building a story.
Note that I said ‘almost.’
1️⃣DAY ONE SESSION
It’s your turn to brainstorm.
Ready your writing implements
Set a timer for 10 minutes
List all of the concepts and ideas in your head as quickly as possible.
TIP: Number your document 1 to 20.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from “How To Write A Children’s Book: A 7-Day Workshop In A Book”.
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