Posts Tagged Because of Winn DIxie

How Do Writers Get Ideas?

question-mark Every time I do an author visit, I get asked this question, and I always stumble as I try to answer it. Most writers I know dread this question. How do we explain what happens in our brains? How do we describe the way everything we see, read, hear, and do generates story ideas?

Interesting ideas are all around us and seem to hop into our heads all day long. As John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.” Maybe the key is not how we get ideas, but what we do with them. Perhaps taking a peek into an author’s brain might clarify this process.

Say we walk into the grocery store and see a scruffy-looking girl with a backpack struggling to reach for a box of cereal. Nonwriters might think, “Poor girl, she looks a mess. I’m surprised her parents let her out of the house looking like that.” Or maybe, “I wonder where her parents are.” Some might judge her choice: “I can’t believe she’s picking that sugary cereal. Kids her age should have healthy breakfasts.” Caring souls might ask, “Do you need help reaching that cereal box, honey?” Suspicious people might wonder: “She doesn’t look like she can afford that. I hope she’s not planning to shoplift.”

dogWriters may think those thoughts too, but then their brains start racing. Hmm…what if she’s a mess because her family’s homeless, and this is their only food for the day? Where might they be living? In a homeless shelter? In their car? What would it be like to live there, and how did they end up there? What would a little girl like that want or need if she were living in a car? And the writer is off, plotting a new story or maybe even two. Perhaps all those questions might lead to a story like Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog, where a girl living in a car is lonely and wants a pet so badly she decides to steal one.

Or the writer might think: That girl looks sad. What if her mom left, and her dad doesn’t pay much attention to her? Maybe she’s lonely and needs a friend. What if a stray dog wandered into the grocery store, and the girl tried to save it? Maybe similar thoughts ran through Kate DiCamillo’s head as she plotted Because of Winn Dixie, the story of a girl who misses her mother and adopts a stray dog.winn-dixie

Perhaps the writer notices the girl looks neglected. Her next thought might be: What if she looks so scruffy because her parents are dead. Maybe she lives with mean relatives who don’t take good care of her. But what if the relatives don’t realize she has secret powers? Hmm… what if she goes to a magical school and… Oh, I wonder if it would be better if it were a boy, and he goes to wizard school. The plot could easily turn into Harry Potter.harry

Another writer might think, That girl’s all alone. What if that older lady choosing a carton of oatmeal befriends her? Maybe the two of them could form an unusual friendship. Or wait… What if the old lady is a kidnapper, and when she sees the girl alone, she pretends to help her and she invites the girl back to her house and…

Or maybe the girl’s only pretending to look at cereal, but she’s really been stalking the older lady… Why would she do that? What if she thinks the lady is the grandmother she’s never met? Is it really her relative? If so, why wouldn’t she have met her grandmother? Maybe her mother ran away from home as a teen? So how did the girl discover the grandmother’s whereabouts? Will the grandmother be overjoyed to discover she has a grandchild? How will the mother react when she finds out?

And once again, several story ideas have formed in the writer’s mind. He can’t wait to get home and jot them down. Or if he carries a small notebook, as most writers do, he’ll scribble some notes in it. The whole way home, his brain will be whirling with what-if questions.

A fantasy writer might look at the girl and think: What if she took that box of cereal home, and a fairy popped out when she was having breakfast? Maybe the fairy could grant her one wish. I wonder what she’d wish for. It looks like her family needs help. Oh, but what if she has a brother who’s deathly ill? Would she give up her wish to save him?

Or the writer’s thoughts might run in other directions. What if the fairy was bad at spells and messed up the wishes? Wouldn’t it be funny if… Or What if that isn’t a backpack, but a jet pack? She could fly off with that cereal. But where would she go? And how did she get that jetpack in the first place? Once again, the writer has the seeds of plot or two.

We could keep going with story ideas just from seeing one girl in a grocery store. Now imagine living inside a writer’s head. Everything sparks ideas for stories. We’re always asking questions about what could happen. Or wondering why people do things. And everyone we see or meet becomes a potential story. Yes, even you. So beware when you’re around a writer. You never know when they might make up a story about you.

But what about you? Can you think like a writer? As you go through your day, ask yourself: Who is this person really? Why is she doing what she’s doing? What would he be like if he lived in another country or on another planet? What if that person is only pretending to be a teacher? What if she’s a superhero in disguise or a kid (or animal) who switched bodies with an adult? What if something magical or unusual happened to her? What if this person got into trouble? Who would save him? What does that person dream of? How could I make her wish come true in a story? What does that person need? What’s the scariest idea I can come with about this person? The most unusual idea?

Ideas are all around us. You don’t need magic to create a story, only a little imagination, a lot of curiosity, and many, many questions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is now an author who has written more than 2300 articles and 30 books under several pen names, including Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. To come up with ideas for her books, she people-watches and eavesdrops on conversations in public places, which starts her brain racing with questions. To find out more about Laurie, visit her website and blog.

School’s Out For Summer! 19 summery novels

School’s out–or almost out–for summer, so as your middle grade reader heads into the long, warm days of summer, let them check out these 19 books that all have something to say about this transitional season!

PenderwicksThe Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
This award-winning novel is the charming story of four sisters and their summer adventures at a beautiful estate called Arundel.

 

 

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney
Kinney is a master at cracking kids up and getting them to read… and read… and read. In these two books, he covers Greg’s summertime blues in all sorts of side-splitting ways.

LumberjanesThe Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Brooke A Allen and Shannon Watters
The publisher calls this best-selling comic book series (soon to be a movie!), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls [that] features five butt-kicking, rad teenage girls wailing on monsters and solving a mystery with the whole world at stake.” What else needs to be said? #Obsessed!

 

 

The Watsons Go to WatsonsBirmingham-

by Christopher Paul Curtis
An award-winning novel that weaves the fictional story about ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan along with the violent summer of 1963, this books is  both funny and deeply moving.

Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
This incredibly popular adventures series about a boy who discovers his magical powers all have scenes set at Camp Half-Blood (making s’mores is not an activity there, as you can probably imagine). Great for all sorts of readers with a range of interests.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Brother/sister duo Jennifer and Matthew also created the popular Babymouse series. In Sunny Side Up, Sunny is sent to live with her grandfather one summer–for reasons her family won’t tell her–and her days, which she’d imagined would be full of fun and amusement (parks), turn out to be way less fun than she’d dreamt, at least until she meets a cool boy from her grandfather’s neighborhood.

CampDorkCamp Dork (Pack of Dorks) by Beth Vrabel
In this brand-new title (and the sequel to Pack of Dorks) Vrabel sends her appealing characters off to Camp Paleo for a week-long adventure, where plenty of fun, drama and intrigue abound.

 

 

 

The Applewhites at Wit’s End by Stephanie S. Tolan
The hilarious sequel to Stephanie S. Tolan’s Newbery Honor Book, Surviving the Applewhites, the Applewhite family returns, with grand plans to make money by turning their family land into a camp.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
A historical novel set in 1899 about an 11-year-old who “comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.”

MillicentMinMillicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
11-year-old genius and current high school student Millicent is having a lousy summer as a social outcast (what with being a genius who’s already in high school and all) until she meets a new friend. Will Millicent be able to pull off looking cool? Find out in this funny novel by popular author Lisa Yee.

 

The Hidden Summer by Gin Phillips
After a falling out between their mothers, 12-year-old best friends Nell and Lydia are forbidden from seeing each other for the whole summer. Determined to find a place of their own, Nell and Lydia spend the summer hiding out in an abandoned golf course where they find mysterious symbols scattered throughout the grounds. As they reveal the secret of the symbols, Nell discovers she isn’t the only one seeking an escape. She begins to uncover what’s really been hidden all along… both inside the golf course and within herself.

MiddleSchoolMiddle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill by James Patterson & Chris Tebbetts
Rafe thinks he’s about to have an awesome time at summer camp, until he finds out it’s a summer SCHOOL camp! Ugh! For fans of the popular Middle School series by publishing giant James Patterson, expect more of the series trademark laughs, gross-outs (including a kid named Booger-Eater) and excitement.

 

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The incredible changes that happen to one 10-year-old girl over the course of a summer, all because of the addition of a stray dog she finds at her local supermarket. From the deft and incredible Kate DiCamillo, who can do no wrong.

The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz
From a member of the Mixed-Up Files team, this novel is about a Nina, who finds out what happens when she decides that for every one of the 65 days of summer break, she’ll anonymously do one good thing for someone in her family or neighborhood.

Camp Rolling Hills: Book One by Stacy Davidowitz
Finally, it’s summer! Stephanie—aka Slimey—has been counting the days until she can return to her favorite place in the entire world, Camp Rolling Hills. New kid Bobby, on the other hand, is pretty sure he’s in for the worst summer of his life. He does not understand his weirdo cabinmates, the group singing, and the unfortunate nicknames (including his: Smelly). But he does understand Slimey, and the two soon fall in crush. This summer might not be so bad after all! But then a fight sets off an epic, campwide, girls-versus-boys prank war. And it’s up to Slimey and Smelly to keep the peace.

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian AngelMaximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller by Xavier Garza
Margarito acts like any other eleven-year-old aficionado of lucha libre. He worships all the players. But in the summer just before sixth grade, he tumbles over therailing at a match in San Antonio and makes a connection to the world of Mexican wrestling that will ultimately connect him—maybe by blood!—to the greatest hero of all time: the Guardian Angel. Written and illustrated by the talented Xavier Garza, this will pull in readers that love action, images and plenty of excitement.

LastFirstDayThe First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone
Another MUF-er novel! Cirrone’s 11-year-old protagonist Haleigh must find out, “What if you could get a do-over—a chance to relive a day in your life over and over again until you got it right? Would you?”

 

 

 

 

HiRes Cover TIDEThe Turn of the Tide by MUF member Rosanne Parry
This summer adventure puts two cousins one from Oregon and one from Japan on a quest to win a  sailboat race, the same race their fathers won years ago. The only thing standing in their way is a former best friend with the fastest boat in town and a deathly fear of the water.

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.