How to Get Ideas for Children's Books
Get Ideas Down on Paper
As adults we often forget the amazing awe of learning something for the first time. We go about our lives in the "fast mode" and often miss the wonder that stops a child in his tracks to watch a caterpillar cross the sidewalk. For a child, everything is a learning experience.
Focus on describing moments at first. The smell of cookies in your grandma's kitchen is a good example. The better you can learn to clearly describe this moment with as few words as necessary, the faster the child will be able to visualize the scene in his or her mind. As you get better at fleshing out these ideas and thoughts on paper, you will become faster and better able to describe the bigger ideas.
As a writer, we have to learn to see things, in a sense, for the first time - again. Ask yourself:
All of these things can be described with words, and as the words are spoken, you will stir the imagination of the child listener.
Ideas can be found everywhere. Often we miss those golden opportunities to glean just the idea we need either to get thinking about a story or to describe a scene or character.
So, how do you begin the process of writing a book?
Books begin with ideas. How do writers come up with ideas?
Here are a few ways to come up with and keep great ideas for your writing moments:
1. Carry note cards.
Never underestimate the power of your mind to totally forget a good idea you had ten minutes ago! The best insurance against this malady is to carry 3" x 5" cards with you in your purse or pocket. Then when you are waiting for a bus or standing in a grocery store and something catches your attention, you can write down some notes while the mood is fresh. Buy a file box and organize your cards into sections. You might want to use character descriptions, scenes, conversations overheard, story ideas, etc. as divisions in your box.
2. Visit the children's section of the local library.
The library is a storehouse for source material. Not only do librarians know what kids like to read, but often kids are perusing the shelves themselves. You can observe what types of books they are drawn to. Libraries have a wealth of kid's books to check out, the latest in children's magazines so that you can find out what kids are currently interested in, and most have a good selection of videos and games that can be checked out.
3. Watch kids at a playground.
Go to the local park or schoolyard and watch kids interact with each other.
All of these questions will provide you with valuable information and ideas.
4. Watch children's programming on TV.
Take an hour or two on Saturday morning or a weekday afternoon to watch children's programming on TV. We live in an age when things change quickly on screen, and everything is full of color and excitement. This is what you are competing with for your audience. Don't think that children will settle for a boring story when they can turn on the television. Study the competition.
5. Volunteer to work with kids.
A good way to get to know kids is to work with them. Find areas where you can involve yourself. Call your local elementary school or ask at your church to see if there are areas where you could volunteer. Usually they will be glad to have help, and you will get to talk to kids and learn how they think, talk, and act.
6. Look into your past.
Flannery O'Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. The good news is that you were a kid, and you have almost an endless supply of material at your fingertips. You might think that you can't remember much, but you would be surprised when you start putting things down on paper.
Start with your first day of school (or your first day of middle school!) or the Thanksgiving that everyone stood up until Grandma, who was always serving others, sat down. Write about your best childhood friend - what you did and where you went. Write about your first piano recital - when halfway through your piano piece your mind went blank, and you forgot the music. The list goes on and on.
Used in many professional settings, brainstorming is the free flow of ideas written down on paper or a white board. Judgment is not passed. No idea is out of line or stupid. By listing everything that you can think of, you will see patterns and solutions that you will be able to use in constructive ways.
One way to do this when you're by yourself, is to time yourself for fifteen minutes. Once the timer starts, put your pencil on the sheet of paper and begin writing. You can write, "I don't know what to write," or "I can't wait for the timer to end," if you can't think of anything to write.
The key is to keep your pencil moving for fifteen minutes without picking it up. Try to concentrate on one story or one topic and then write anything that comes to mind. Write one long paragraph that is devoid of punctuation and grammar rules. When the timer goes off, go back and read the ideas that have appeared on your sheet of paper.
8. Mind mapping.
Mind mapping is a very useful tool. It is a type of brainstorming but with this tool all the events are closely related to one core idea or event.
To do mind mapping, simply write one idea or event in the middle of a white piece of paper. Then explore all the things that come to mind, jotting each thing down in a circular pattern around your core idea. This will enable you to expand your thinking to include other aspects that you haven't thought about before. Connect each idea to the core thought by drawing a line to the center. See the diagram for an illustration.
One of the greatest things about being a children's writer is that it legitimizes being a kid again. No longer are you bound in this adult box called "the serious side of life." You now have an excuse to free up an afternoon and go to the park. You are doing research.
So sit back, clear your mind, take out your note cards and pencil, and expect to have fun! Writing for kids is an intricate blend of work and play, and there are no corporate directives to follow. You cut your own path.
by coauthors Jeannie Harmon and Sheila Seifert
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