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The year’s first #KTWriteOn writing prompt is brought to you by Andrea J. Loney, author of Bunnybear and Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! Andrea was a SCBWI-LA PAL mentor for 2018. Follow her on Twitter, @AndreaJLoney, or at AndreaJLoney.com.

By Andrea J. Loney, author

Happy New Year, SCBWI writers! 2019 has given us a fresh new page to start scribbling down our creative plans. One of my favorite January activities is brainstorming new story ideas. I use several different techniques, but like New Year’s resolutions, this technique is based on lists.

Author Tara Lazar runs a great blog on writing picture books (she also runs a yearly brainstorming event called StoryStorm). In one post, Tara shared a list of 500+ things that kids like. She also had an enormous list of things that kids don’t like. Reading those lists definitely got me in touch with my own inner little kid, but some items were more relatable to me than others. So I decided to compile my own personal list of childhood likes and dislikes.

One list contained the things I loved or was fascinated by as a child — bubbles, double Dutch, fairies, computers, Broadway musicals, all of it. Another list contained all the things I disliked or feared as a child — including cold weather, wet socks, mosquito bites, fire, and dogs. Each list contained at least 100 items.

I went even further to make a list of my favorite places to spend time as a child. One of the reasons that my picture book, Bunnybear, is set in the woods is that I have many happy childhood memories of playing under the trees with friends. So once again, I listed the places that I loved or found fascinating — including Central Park, my cousins’ chicken coop in Jamaica, the moon, the mall, the bottom of the sea, and more.

Next, I made a list of fascinating protagonists for my stories. I listed creatures like cats or dragons, inanimate objects like robots or dolls, or people like ballerinas or pirates. The more variety, the better — as long as I found them interesting.

Lastly, I recognized that many stories are really about someone pursuing an object or experience in order to meet a deeper emotional need. Based on Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, I made a list of childhood emotional needs — such as feeling safe, feeling loved, caring for others, feeling empowered or being in control, fitting in, self-expression, and winning.

Once I’d compiled my different lists, I created a simple story template and randomly picked an item from each list to construct the basic outline of the story.

How would this work with the lists I’ve shared above?

“A ballerina

on the moon

wants Broadway musicals

but really needs to feel empowered

so she has to deal with dogs

in order to get it.”

So, this could be the story of a timid ballerina who wants to put on a show at a lunar base, but first she has to overcome her fear of the dogs on the space station. Perhaps she befriends the moon-doggies and teaches them how to howl along with the music. Then they all sing and dance for the astronauts! The reviews say the show is out of this world!

Obviously, this story is in the early stages, but the end product could be fun. I love the idea of a ballerina pirouetting on the moon. And I personally managed my fear of dogs by teaching my friends’ pooches how to do tricks. And the popularity of Chris Hadfield’s work proves it’s high time for a musical in space, right?  Playing around with random ideas — even the silly ones — can really help to build up our creative muscles. Basing the ideas on our own experiences can add a deeper layer of emotion to the story.

So now it’s your turn!

1) List at least 25 protagonists that would fascinate you as a child reader.

2) List at least 25 places that would fascinate you as a child reader.

3) List at least 25 things or experiences that you would love as a child reader.

4) List at least 5 emotional needs that would most resonate with you as a child reader.

5) List at least 25 things or experiences that you would dislike as a child reader.

Next, set up your story template with blanks for the list items above:

A/an item from the protagonist list

in/on item from the places list

wants an item from the favorite things list

but really needs an item from the needs list 

so he/she has to deal with an item from the dislike list

in order to get it.

Then randomly choose an item from each list and fill in the blanks to reveal your new story template. 

Try it! It might lead to a funny, heartwarming, or unusual story. Or it might not make much sense at all. But this brainstorming technique could provide a tiny spark for a fantastic idea. Just play around and see what you come up with. And have fun with it!

If you want to share your lists, a story idea this exercise generated, or just want to connect with others working on this writing prompt, comment on this blog post or Tweet us  @SCBWISOCALLA with the hashtag #KTWriteOn.

Need more inspiration? Check out all the past #KTWriteOn prompts.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Photos courtesy of Dustin Lee on Unsplash and Andrea J. Loney.