Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Secrets of Kidlit: Growing Ideas

Ideas rarely arrive shiny and perfect. When a strong story idea turns up, it’s usually full of promise, but flawed - like that house you bought that only needed a “few” renovations. Those are the ideas that are easy to fight for. You work hard to develop them because you can feel their strength - you know they can deliver their promise of a good story. But what about the ideas that arrive in an unusable form? The ideas that are so crazy, you don’t bother to write them down? The truth is, many of these farcical ideas are merely seeds for great ideas.

For example, I was driving down the highway one morning and I saw a line of bucket trucks. They were working on the power lines and it was something I would have ignored if it wasn’t for the truck a block down. It was just arriving at this power line party and it drove up the street slowly - probably because atop the cab, there was a man riding in the cherry bucket.

He wore the usual gear: a hard hat and a bright yellow traffic vest. He gripped the sides of the bucket and glared at anyone he caught looking his way as if to say, “Go ahead and call the power company on me. I dare you.” He was an imposing figure in a ridiculous position and my imagination seized the opportunity. In my mind’s eye, I watched him raise his sword and his face trembled with the rage of his battle cry as the truck drove towards his enemy. Of course, that’s when I imagined the thirty foot velociraptor terrorizing traffic on the Northwest Highway. After all, if you have a hero with a sword riding in a cherry bucket, you’d better give him a worthy foe.

While the idea made me smile, I knew I’d never write a story about him because there wasn’t enough to go on. Also, because of that whole “limited audience” thing. But could I transform this arrant nonsense into a story worth reading? I changed up the variables to match this scene with an audience who loves monsters and the unlikeliest of heroes: middle grade readers.

Artwork by Erica Mills
The main character became a thirteen-year-old girl. She rode in the cherry bucket, her hardhat askew as she pointed her sword at the dinosaur dragon - the one that a clumsy wizard from Middle Earth Camelot thought he’d Vanished, but actually, he’d sent it here. To Illinois, in the year way beyond his king, 2014.

This scene now has enough potential that I can feed it with plot and character questions until it branches out into a novel length story. It’s a project I’m starting to develop - perhaps for Camp NaNoWriMo in April.

Both story-ready and farcical ideas come from the same creative source. With care, they are both capable of growing into rich and beautiful stories. The reason many people miss the opportunity in a farcical idea is that it tends to arrive with a surprising amount of compost.

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