Sunday, April 1, 2012

Writing Ideas for Children’s Stories

by Karen Cioffi

Sitting at the computer with a blank word document in front of you may be intimidating for a writer. You just finished one manuscript and need to start on another, or you’ve hired out to ghostwrite a story, whatever the reason is, you need to begin writing a children’s story – you need writing ideas.

Hmmm. What should it be about? You think and think. You gaze out the window. You notice a squirrel running along the branches of the tree outside the window. You draw a blank.

Alexander Steele wrote a short article in the October 2010 issue of the Writer, “Where Can You Find the Seeds of a Good Story?” It was interesting to read that Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick, had his own whaling adventures which he used to create a wonderful, everlasting story. Steele advices, “Probably the most fertile place to look for ideas is right inside the backyard of your own life.”

You might be thinking that you don’t have close contact with children, so you don’t have any experiences to draw on, no foundation for children’s writing ideas. Or, you may be so busy living your life and raising your children that you don’t have time to stop and see all the amazing story opportunities that are right in your own backyard. Well, even if these scenarios fit, you can take steps to rectify the situation.

Writing Ideas: Finding Story Fodder if You Don’t Have Close Contact with Children

1. Turn on the TV. Yes, this is an excellent source for writing ideas, as well as watching children’s behavior. While it may be in the confines of a scripted show, the writers of these shows try to keep it as real as possible. Take note of the situations, the attitudes of the characters, the scenes, and everything else. Even children’s cartoons have engaging storylines. It may be just the spark you need.

2. Go to a playground with notebook in hand. Watch the children play and listen to them talk. If you’re a professional writer or ghostwriter, or you’re already published, consider asking your local ‘age appropriate’ school if you could sit in the lunchroom during lunch periods. A useful way to get a positive answer would be to first ask if you could give an author or writing presentation to the students. The principal would need to be sure you are a legitimate writer. Please note though, there may be legal and safety aspects a school would need to consider.

Note: If you do go to a playground or other area where there are children, be sure to inform parents/guardians of what you're doing. It'd be a good idea to bring a copy of one of your published books with you, so they feel comfortable that you are indeed a writer. It's a crazy world, always take precautions, and keep the safety of our children at the forefront.

3. Read newly published children’s books, and reread ones you enjoyed as a child then reinvent a story. This is a tip I took advantage of with my own children’s middle-grade fantasy book, Walking Through Walls. I read an outline of an old Chinese tale and reinvented it for a children’s book.

I was recently reminded of this ‘writing ideas’ source by multi-published children’s writer Margot Finke. During a teleclass she presented, she advised to study books you like; pay attention to why they work, then “craft an entirely new story.” She explained that, “quirky and fresh” wins publishing contracts today.

Writing Ideas: Finding Story Ideas if You Do Have Close Contact with Children

1. Study the children you do have contact with, whether your own children, your grandchildren, or other relatives. Children are an amazing source of inspiration and ideas. They have an innate ability to make you feel: just looking at a picture of children may make you smile; hearing a baby laugh can actually make you laugh.

Watch the children, notice their mannerisms, body language, movements, attitudes and emotions, speech, and their interactions with other children and adults. You’ll not only get writing ideas for children’s story, you’ll also get dialogue and ‘showing’ descriptions.

2. If you have regular contact with children, you really shouldn’t need any other steps, but if the characters’ ages of your new story differ from the ages of the children you see, use the steps noted above.

Finding ‘writing ideas’ for children’s stories is rather easy once you tune in to what you’re looking for and where you can find it.

Photo courtesy of - Photographer: AKARAKINGDOMS

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  1. Good article, Karen. So many people believe they can write for children, and now you give them helpful ideas. Thanks.

  2. Hi Karen! Enjoyed the article. Volunteering at your local library is a good way to observe children.


  3. Vivian, I know some people who would like to write for children may feel at a loss for story ideas. Hopefully, this article will. help.

  4. Susanne, That's another great idea for watching children in action. Thanks!

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

  5. Great advice, Karen. The stories are there. We just have to recognize them.

  6. Many thanks for that great advice, Karen. I've witten a few short stories for children but my first tween book, Summer of the Eagles, is just published and I'm just at that stage of thinking of another!

  7. Enjoyed the article, Karen! I like the suggestion to observe kids on TV -- great for observing what kids wear and find funny nowadays.

    For those of us who fight the "tell" vs. "show" battle, studying a TV show can also help writers see how dialogue and action are used to reveal character and move a story forward. On TV, it has to be 100% "show."

  8. Beverly, that's it in a nut shell!

    Rosemary, congratulations on your book. I'm at the writing another stage also!

    Suzanne, Great point about using TV as an aid to picking up on 'showing.'

    Thanks, All, for stopping by.