On My Mind

-thoughts of a wife, mom, author, illustrator, juggler, toy designer, teacher, camp director, ...



Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Story Starter #10: Playdate


This story starter gives you a little freedom in choosing the age of your main character. She or he can be 3, 4, 5, 6 – whatever works better for you.

Imagine that you are at your first playdate – well, specifically, the first one without Mommy, Daddy, or any other adult that is important to you with you. You are thrilled. You get to play with new toys (new to you); in a house or yard that isn’t your house or yard, and hang out with different pets. This is all very exciting to you.

Now to turn this fun afternoon into a picture book, let’s add some conflict by asking “What if” questions…


What if their pet is a BIG dog, hairless cat, iguana, screechy bird, snake, or some other pet that is super scary? How do you handle it?

What if your friend won’t share his or her toys? Won’t let go of the video game remote? Grabs every toy you pick up and says, “Hey! That’s MINE!”

What if your friend’s mom calls, “Snack time!” and when you run into the kitchen you see ____________ that you either have never eaten before or have eaten and think that it is totally gross?

What if you do some arts and crafts and accidentally spill the glue or glitter, or both on their floor?

What if your friend wants to play house, dolly, kitchen, tea party, robot, cars and trucks or anything else that you are not in the mood to play?


What if you just really, really want to go home and are afraid to ask the other mom to call your mom? What will you do?

Many kids go to playdates or are part of playgroups from the time they are babies but a parent or grandparent always goes with them. The first time that a child heads to a friend’s house on their own can be exciting and scary. Pretend this is your first time and see through a child’s eyes as you walk into the house. Maybe you see that it’s messy or super tidy. Maybe it smells funny, or smells delicious. Maybe a pet knocks you down and licks your cheek before you can even get in the doorway. Will you do things that you know your own mom would not allow just because your friend’s mom says it’s okay? How will you act or react to new situations?

Now that I have filled your head with ideas – let them spill onto the page and write…

 Post a comment below and let me know what you think of this Story Starter. If you want to see more Story Starters, click on the links on the right side of this page or Join so you don't miss future posts.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Story Starter #9: Grass is Greener

I have written several story starters asking you to be a preschooler, Kindergartener, or a first grader. For this one, I want you to leap into the mind of an animal, specifically, a young animal. You might be an animal that lives as a pet in a child's home. Maybe you live in the forest or near a pond or even in the zoo. Whatever it is, you want something to change... You are well taken care of, you have food, shelter, family - you should be happy. To you, everyone else seems happy.

To turn this vague concept into a book for children, let's ask some "What if" questions.

What if you live in the zoo and wish you lived in one of the other habitats? Maybe the monkey's have more things to climb on or the seals have more space to swim.

What if your mode of transportation is flying but you wish you could swim?

What if you are friends with animals that climb but you are a duck and can't climb trees?

What if your friends all eat worms or bugs and you eat grass?

What if you want to change colors like a Chameleon or play music like a Katydid - but you can't?

What if the humans that you live with are acting like they love their other pet more that you?

You need or want to change something you can do or something you can eat or where you live or play because it looks like the animals that can do that, eat that, live there, or play there are having a lot more fun than you are.

Now write...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Story Starter #8: Inspiration

I have posted seven story starters for you all to think about and use as a springboard for your own creative ideas. There are many other ways to come up with ideas for your new manuscripts...

One method is to look at photos, magazines, and posters. If you are or are trying to become a kidlit author, you also need to read, read, read picture books old and new that are already published. Some will have illustrations or story lines that will inspire you to create a manuscript. Think about what that character might do after his or her problem is solved - does it spiral into a new problem? What might the character do the next day - would he or she get into a whole new kind of trouble? Preferrably, you can create your own main characters so maybe you think about the friends of the character of a book you enjoy. What would his or her friends be like and what would their problems be?

For me, my most recent inspiration is a book that my six year old checked out of the library. Don't Laugh, Joe! by Keiko Kasza has great page turns, kept my son and I both laughing (because the main character isn't supposed to), and made us want to read it a few more times before returning it. (I plan to buy it and add it to my collection of great books.)
Little Joe can't stop laughing. His mom is worried because she has to teach him to play dead when a predator is near and he can't do it without giggling and wiggling. This is a great example of an animal species that has to do something that they are supposed to be able to do but can't. Can you think of other animals that do odd things? You may have heard or read that publishers don't want animals that are personified so let them be animals and figure out what they can, or in this case, can not do.

Now ask some "What if" questions...
What if a bird can't fly?
What if a fish is born with a goofy fin? Oh wait - that is the basis of Finding Nemo.
What if a cat can't stay clean?
What if a dog can't bark?
What if a cricket can't chirp?

There are a million of these...
Get creative and do a little research on lesser known animals that do things like whistle, peep, dig, fly, climb, sniff...
Now write...

Post a comment below and let me know what inspires you?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Story Starter #7


Today's Story Starter is about being sick.

You are four years old and you woke up today feeling miserable. Your head is stuffy, your throat is itchy, and your eyes are watery. The only reason that you got out of bed this morning was because you had to go with Mommy to drop your brother off at school. You want to go back to sleep but can’t. Mommy is working from home today so she can stay with you but she has to do her work. What do you do? Are you going to watch television all day? Snuggle up in Mommy and Daddy’s bed? Stay in your own room and play with your toys?

Now to help turn this sickly day into a picture book, ask some “What if” questions:

What if the batteries are dead on your favorite toy?

What if the television stops working?

What if all you want to eat is Jello and there isn’t any in the house?

What if you can’t find your favorite Dolly and you just want to snuggle her in your bed because you feel horrible.

What if you find out that school is canceled because of a power shortage and your friends want to know if you can come out and play? Will you suddenly feel much better?

What if you are hungry and Mommy is busy on a work call. Will you help yourself to whatever you want to eat in the kitchen?
If you were four years old and you were home sick, what would you want to do all day? What if you couldn’t play that game, eat that snack, watch that movie? Etc… What would you do to solve your problem?

Now write…don’t over think it. Your first sentences don’t have to turn into a book. See where it goes. You may write a page of what comes to mind about being a sick preschooler and then hit upon a spark that ignites into a story. Good luck.

If this starter inspires you, post a comment and let me know. If you're looking for more story starters to use as a springboard for your writing, you'll find them in the index on the right side of the blog.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Story Starter #6

Today’s story starter is about independence.

You're five years old. You and Mommy had lots of fun together all summer. Mommy has stayed at home with you as long as you can remember. Daddy goes to work almost every day. You and Mommy played at the water park and the playground, baked cookies, did scavenger hunts and made obstacle courses, read books, and giggled – a lot.

Today is your first day of Kindergarten at a big kid school (you have only been to preschool) and you get to take the bus. You and Mommy eat breakfast, grab your brand new backpack and your lunch box and head up the street to the bus stop. You are excited and scared. You feel like a big kid but you know that most of the other kids at your new school will be bigger than you are. You have been to the school once already to meet your teacher and see your classroom but Mommy was with you. Standing at the bus stop, you realize that there are no other kids getting on your bus at your stop. You squeeze Mommy’s hand. The bus lurches to a stop in front of you and the doors slide open. What do you do?

Do you confidently get on board and take a seat?

Do you grab Mommy and sob into her leg?

Do you turn and take off down the street toward your house?

Now to help turn it into a book for children, ask some “What if” questions:

What if you get on the bus and every seat already has someone sitting in it? Where do you sit?

What if you get on the bus and there are no other kids? (maybe you were the first stop)

What if the bus driver is scary looking?

What if you are tripped by a fifth grader as you walk down the aisle to find a seat?

What if you get on the bus, sit down, and realize that you and Mommy forgot something that you were supposed to bring?
Get creative. The first time on a bus can be a great experience or a miserable one. Are you independent and confident or soo scared that you think you might be sick? Do you make a new friend?

Now write. Have fun – let your hands type or write whatever flows from your creative mind.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Story Starter #5

In honor of today’s 67 degree weather here in Georgia, today’s story starter is about getting time outside…

You’ve been inside during Kindergarten, for what feels like the longest winter ever! The snow has been gone for weeks but it has been freezing, rainy, and just plain icky outside. Today is the first warm, sunny day since October. You glance longingly out the window and wait for your teacher to announce that it’s time for recess. “Time to go outside!” she calls. You leap off your circle on the carpet and run to your cubby. You grab your windbreaker and flop it on the ground so you can flip it up and pull it on all by yourself then jump in line behind the other kids. You can hardly control yourself but you follow the lines rules as your class heads down the hall and out the door. Outside! Kids race off in different directions. Some run to the swings, some to the jungle gym. Some kids are playing four square on the pavement. Others are just walking around in the grass. What will you do? Where will you go? Will you grab the hand of your best friend and run somewhere together?

To turn your thoughts into a story for children, ask some “What if” questions...
What if you go to get your best friend and she or he is already playing with someone else?

What if you really, really want to swing and they are all taken?

What if you trip while running to the jungle gym, scrape your knee, and have to go to the nurse’s office? (missing your first recess outside in a super long time)

What if someone shoved you in line and you shoved back? Both of you get a time out and have to miss recess. How do you feel?

Now write…don’t over think it. A lot of ideas may pop into your head. Pick one and see where it goes. It might just be a stream of thought or a memory. Whatever it is, ask some “What if” questions and figure out how a Kindergartener can solve the problem.

*Remember that a story for children is less powerful if an adult (the teacher or recess attendant) solves the problem for the child.

Follow my blog so that you don't miss any Story Starters and leave a comment to let me know what you think of this one.  - Thanks!

Happy writing!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Story Starter #4


As Mommy drives you toward your house, you see Daddy standing in the doorway waving. You start wiggling in your seat. Daddy is rarely home right after school so you are excited to see him. Mommy unbuckles your carseat; you grab your preschool backpack, climb out of the car, and run to the house. As soon as you get inside, you see Daddy holding a BIG surprise for you. A new pet!

It isn’t a dog, a cat, a bird, or fish. What is it?

Ask some “What if” questions:

What do I name it?

What if I don’t take care of it ‘right’?

What does it eat?

What if it bites me?

What will my friends think of my new pet?

Now write. . .


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Story Starter #3

Imagine that you are in 1st grade. You are waay bigger than the Kindergarteners. You can reach the drinking fountain without having to get lifted up by a teacher and without a step stool. You walk into class and there are posters of Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin (all famous inventors) on the wall. Your teacher announces that your class is going to have in Invention Fair. You are to invent something that will somehow make life easier for other kids. What will you invent?

Now ask some "What if" questions:

What if I invent something that actually works? What if it doesn't?
What if the other kids at my table all all busily drawing their ideas and I can't think of anything?
What if I have a brilliant idea and the other kids are making silly things like toothbrush holders and long straws?

Now write...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Story Starter #2

Imagine that you are in Kindergarten. Breathe in the smell of Crayons and Play-doh. Hang your coat on your hook and stick your lunch box in the pile with everyone else’s. Join your class for circle time. After singing the welcome song, your teacher takes attendance and assigns everyone’s jobs for the week. Are you the line leader? Are you in charge of caring for the class pet? What kind of pet is it? Do you get to pass out the pencils during A B C time? Do you get to write the letter of the week on the board? Do you get to show how to make the daily number out of coins? What is your job? Are you excited about it? Did you want one of the other jobs instead of the one you were given?

Now ask some “what if” questions…
What if you are the line leader and the kid behind you keeps poking you while you walk? How will you handle the bully?

What if you are in charge of the class pet and on your way to recess you realize that you left the cage open? What will you do?

You are the leader for A B C time and the letter of the week is “G” but you don’t remember how to make a lower case “g”? What will you do when your teacher calls your name?

What if you were given the worst job in the world? What is it and what will you do about it?

Now write… and don’t worry about it. Just see where it goes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Story Starter #1

A story starter is often called a writing prompt or something similar. It is created to help you write. Some scenarios are focused around memories or something you may see everyday but not think about. When you write with emotion, it makes a story stronger - the reader can feel it. You have thousands of stories in your mind - I know you do. During PiBoIdMo (thank you Tara Lazar), I came up with more than 50 picture book concepts. They are there, you just have to get used to drawing them out and putting them on paper.

Now here is the first one to play with:
Think about your favorite after school activities (or your kids or your neighbor's kids). If you played sports, think about that. If you were in the band, think about that. Chess club, art club, drama, etc... Now, describe how that activity made you feel. Why was it important to you at the time?

Now to turn it into a picture book or chapter book think about these questions: How old were you? What are or were other kids that age doing for after school activities. How often did you practice or go to this activity? What if you were injured and unable to do that activity anymore? What if one of your friends didn't like that it was taking you away from him or her? Were you talented at this activity? If you were, how did that feel? If you weren't, how did that feel?

How to use a story starter:
Think of it as a springboard for your creative mind. It may lead you running down a path that doesn't lead back to this starter and that doesn't matter. Go with it. Let the hand write or the fingers type and don't over think about a story being perfect. Many of the great kidlit authors of today post on their sites that the first draft is terrible. Just like an artist doodles the first sketches - fix it later. For now, let the words get to the paper.

You could write in first person:
"I raced into the house and tossed my backpack on the floor. I took the stairs two at a time as I sped up to my room. Coach is going to choose which girls get to be in the competition next Saturday at today's practice so I can't be late..."

You could write it in third-person:
"Samantha tripped over Dylan's pacifier as she took the stairs two at at time. She couldn't be late for practice, not again..."

Now write.

Leave a comment and let me know if this starter helped you get anywhere. I will post a new one each day.

Comment Challenge 2012!

Just a few minutes ago, I learned about (and signed up for) the Comment Challenge 2012 created by Mother Reader. The idea is 21 days of kidlit community building through blogging and blog comments. Really, 21 days is less than a month - just three weeks of posting a comment on five blogs a day. Don't overthink it, read blogs by fellow authors and illustrators and leave a comment - you are already thinking of a response to the writing, just post a word, sentence, opinion, your support, ...whatever. We could all use more readership on our blogs and this is a way to connect to other blogs as well as getting others to connect to yours. If you need suggestions, I will be adding a list links of author blogs to the this blog and the MotherReader page has a many listed blogs to check out. Don't forget to follow the blogs you love.

Now - go sign up! You have nothing to lose and might learn something.
Comment Challenge 2012 - sign up

Check back to my blog for daily story starters!
(you can use them as a springboard for the 12 x 12 in 2012 Challenge, too)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking Toward the Future

The first picture book that I both wrote and illustrated (well, that was picked up by a publisher) is set to release in June 2012. As I begin this new year full of hope, wonder, and excitement, I realize that I have a lot of work to do. My website and business cards need to get re-designed in preparation for FLAP! to release. On the writing side of my life, I am signed up to write 12 picture books in 12 months (see the amazing 12 x 12 in 2012 logo on the right side of the screen) and will participate in NaPiBoWriWee in May followed by PiBoIdMo in November. In addition to all of this, I plan to finish my mid-grade novel (that I am soo excited about) and add pieces to my illustration portfolio.

Now, this is all great - lots of artwork, tons of writing. Unfortunately, the part that's missing is submitting queries and manuscripts to publishers, editors, and agents. Yikes! That takes a LOT of research and research takes time. Will I need to cut down on the writing, promoting of FLAP!, illustrating, and marketing of myself as an author/illustrator? Possibly. The challenge that I (along with a zillion other authors who are dedicated members of SCBWI) am faced with is to balance it all. Can we do this?

Yes, we can. Whether you use The Little Engine That Could or some other encouraging story, look to the future and admit that this can be accomplished. I am not guaranteeing a sale but no books will get sold if the stories never get put in the hands or on the screens of publishers, editors, and agents. Think baby steps - one day at a time. Make a calendar and divide up the tasks in pieces. The 12 x 12 in 2012 is a challenge to write a draft each month. We can do that. What I am reading and hearing everywhere is that one must write every day. Make a goal of 500 words a day (that is only about 2 typed pages). For a picture book - that is an entire book. For a mid grade novel, that might be half a chapter.

I recommend signing up for challenges like the 12 x 12 in 2012 and joining SCBWI critique groups because they help create that schedule and divide the task of writing an entire book into smaller achievable pieces. Stay confident. Rembember that the great children's writers of our time received rejection letters before getting published. Improve your stories and send them out again. After all, that is what I plan to do.