I’d like to welcome Tara Lazar to the Mixed-Up Files blog. She’s an amazing author and has done so much to help the kidlit community as well as teachers, media specialists, and students.
Please tell us all about Storystorm and how you came up with the idea for it.
Jealousy, that little green monster, is to blame. In November 2008, I saw writing friends post all about the amazing National Novel Writing Month challenge and I came down with a bad case of FOMO. So I thought–what kind of challenge could I create for picture books? Writing one manuscript in a month was not much of a challenge, and writing one every day for a month was pure insanity. So I thought maybe a story idea a day was doable—a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I called it Picture Book Idea Month or PiBoIdMo, borrowing from the NaNoWriMo nomeclature. That year I did it on my own. The following year I decided to throw it up on my website. What the heck, right? Maybe a dozen people would participate with me. I had no expectations for it whatsoever.
I love how this evolved into Storystorm, where writers, illustrators, and students can use this challenge to come up with 30 story ideas in 31 days for any genre each January. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. The object is to heighten your idea-generating senses. Ideas may build upon other ideas. Your list of potential stories will grow stronger as the days pass. On Tara’s blog, daily posts by authors, illustrators, editors and other publishing professionals will help inspire you. By the end of the month, you’ll have a fat file of ideas to spark new stories.
Sign up for this free idea challenge using this link by January 7 if you’d like the chance to win some amazing prizes!
What are some great ways for teachers, media specialists, and parents to encourage kids to join in your challenge?
Honestly, the daily posts are so much fun, they could easily spend just five minutes reading it with the students, then give the students five minutes to brainstorm. It’s just that easy and simple.
What has surprised you the most about Storystorm?
How much writers love it. How many books have been created as a result. I had no idea it would resonate this strongly.
How has Storystorm helped writers and students?
I think it helps everyone tune into their creativity. Creativity isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally. You have to make time and space for it, like anything else in life. The little daily motivation it provides is surprisingly powerful. And hopefully after thirty days, it becomes a habit.
If you were giving us a Storystorm Skype right now, how would you motivate us to come up with ideas?
I often tell students that all you need for a story is a character and a problem. I tell them to just look around the room. Anything can be a character. The chair you’re sitting on. I mean, a chair has a lot to complain about, having all those butts on it all the time.
LOL! I wonder if we’ll see a chair book in your future. ?
How do participants keep track of their ideas and how detailed do they need to be?
Whatever makes the most sense for that writer. A notebook. A Microsoft Word document. A note on your phone. The idea can be one word like “mustache” or a title or a sentence or an entire paragraph. These are your ideas, your rules.
Once people come up with all these ideas, what should their next steps be?
They have to decide what idea calls to them the most, what would make an interesting story. I find I get a gut reaction from certain ideas—they just beg to be written. Maybe not immediately, maybe they just simmer in my brain awhile, but I know I want to write that idea. If you do not get a gut reaction, maybe share your ideas with trusted critique partners or writing friends to see what they think. What idea sounds most promising? This isn’t an exact science, either. Maybe you need to build on your existing ideas until you get an AHA moment. Experiment. Try writing something. You never know what will happen. I love the act of discovery as I am writing a story. Some start out one way and then veer off in a different direction. I then step back and refine the story concept.
That’s great advice, Tara! Sometimes I find that a few ideas mesh together into an amazing one. Between the inspiring daily blog posts and Storystorm community, the ideas usually flow for me, but I found a few tricks to spark ideas on slower days, thanks to some of your wonderful archived posts. The ones I use most are 500+ Things That Kids Like and 100+ Things Kids Don’t Like. I also scroll back to posts from previous years, for both Storystorm and the original PiBoIdMo. Tammi Sauer’s posts are always a huge help!
What are some of your favorite tools and tricks for coming up with as many unique ideas as possible?
Get out and live life. I have gotten so many ideas from things that happen to me or things I see around me. The difference is being aware that something can be an idea. If you want lightning to strike, you need to hold a lightning rod. (OK, I don’t mean that literally.) But going through a normal day—knowing in the back of your mind that you are seeking inspiration—causes inspiration to visit. You are looking at the world through a different lens.
You have been on fire with your amazing picture books. Huge congratulations to you and all your lucky readers! What are some great ways that teachers and media specialists can use picture books with 9 – 11 year-old students?
I find that the older students are so sharp at picking out hidden humor in picture books and noticing small details. Some of my illustrators have included tiny characters in multiple pages of our books. In 7 ATE 9, there is a tiny mouse in the office of the daring Private I. Who is that mouse? He has his own story. What is it? In THE MONSTORE, there is a furry blue eyeball monster that appears on sixteen pages of the book. Who is he? What is he watching for?
Picture books often have extra characters in their pages—ones who never receive a single line of text from the author. This is a technique many picture book artists utilize to lend more depth to a story.
Have students flip through any picture book to find a recurring background character. They can then write a story from that character’s point of view.
That’s a great exercise to use with students. First, they put on a detective hat to find the recurring character and then create a new story from another point of view. Brilliant!
Thank you again for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files, Tara. Your challenge has always been amazing for me (I’ve come up with 40 – 90 ideas each year). I’m so grateful for all the work you put into it and everything you do for writers and readers.
Good luck to everyone who is participating in Storystorm! If you haven’t joined the Facebook group yet, hop on over for some cheers plus even more support and inspiration as your ideas multiply in this fun challenge. I hope the ideas flow and that you discover tons of gems that turn into incredible stories in 2019.
Tara has generously donated two half hour Skype visits. Thank you so much, Tara! One is open to everyone—you can ask Tara publishing questions or for extra Storystorm inspiration. The second is a thirty minute Skype school visit for teachers and media specialists—the topic will be decided between Tara and the winner. Teachers and media specialists may enter both Rafflecopter widgets.
Winners will be posted on January 10th. Good luck, everyone!
You can find out more about Tara Lazar on her website, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Don’t forget to join the supportive Storystorm Facebook group and check out the challenge chat on Twitter.
Here is the Skype visit that everyone can enter.
Here is the classroom Skype visit for teachers and media specialists.