By Lindsay Bandy
Did you participate in Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo)? If you did, and you have 30 ideas, hooray for you! But, even if you’re just kicking a couple of ideas around in your mind, here is my advice on what to do next:
Make a playdate!
In her book “Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head,” Carla Hannaford says, “The human urge to create comes from the play impulse.”
For me, the most inspiring of the PiBoIdMo daily blog posts was Day 8: Mike Allegra’s “The Play’s the Thing.” I think as writers, we are aware that our work is also our play. But I would encourage you to find a kid or two and let them play with your ideas with you. Nothing makes a kid feel more important than having a grown-up need their help. Being an author’s helper is pretty important—and fun!
Now, I am not advocating stealing ideas from children, though you should at LEAST dedicate your book to them if you do. But I am advocating having a little creativity partner or two. I’m fortunate enough to have two such buddies 24/7, but if you’re not a parent or grandparent, rest assured there are parents near you who wouldn’t mind having a Saturday afternoon at the movies while you have fun with their minis.
Your story idea is a new toy! Let them tell you if they think your first idea stinks – you’ve got 29 more, right? Of course, how you do this depends on the age group you’re writing for, but here are a few ideas to get you playing:
- Build your setting: Use blocks, old boxes, sheets, flashlights, wrapping paper—the possibilities are endless. Create the world of your story. Then play in it!
- Become actors: If you have a character or story line you want to bring to life, act it out. Now, I don’t mean write a script. I mean share your story with your little buddy, and then see if they can pretend to be one of your characters. You can create a whole new story line, or go on the plotted adventure together, or add new characters. Kids love pretending to be their favorite characters and building upon their adventures, so get a jump on trying to create these kinds of characters and stories. Use silly voices and props! Don’t be afraid to be a little ridiculous.
- Co-Illustrate/write: If you’re a writer, read your story or just share a few of the ideas you’re mulling around in your head. See if your little buddy can draw a picture of how they imagine your main character, or sketch a picture of what might happen next. On the flip side, if you’re an illustrator, see what sort of story line your playmate can come up with based on your pictures. You might be surprised!
- Create an e-book: Another spin on the illustrating activity is to use your clip-art gallery or Google image search to choose pictures to insert in your story together. Have a Word document ready to go, and embark on an image scavenger hunt. Print it out and give it to your little buddy to keep. (Just use some caution with your search terms, of course!) This is one of my 4-year-old daughter’s favorite activities.
- Choose your own adventure: Remember those books that sent you flipping all over the place, making decisions and co-creating the story? They were some of my favorites as a kid. This is a great option as you brainstorm, or if you’re stuck on what should happen next. Ask a kid what they think should happen next, or what they would do, or how they would feel, and let your imagination run as wild as theirs. Open your mind to their suggestions, and let yourself step inside their thought processes.
- Use Ready-made Prompts : There are books and games out there, such as Tell Tale, that can help you get in the story-telling zone. Even just a photo of an interesting location or character can get you going. I used similar products with lots of success in my Limited English Proficiency classroom in Williamsburg, VA with older elementary students.
You might come away from your playdate with new ideas, directions, and possibilities for your story, or confirmation that it is already truly awesome. Maybe you won’t get a single writing idea, but you will have made a little person feel big and important. You will probably be smiling. See? You can’t lose.