Monday, February 21, 2011

What Authors Say About Gathering Ideas

Week of February 20—Gathering Ideas
Monday, February 21—What Authors Say About Gathering Ideas

Lois Lowry was the opening keynote speaker at SCBWI, NYC, this year. What a phenomenal choice. Lowry is an award-winning author who has written in virtually every genre. Her topic focused on gathering ideas. I cannot do justice to the presentation, but I will give a few examples of where Lowry said she gets her ideas.

A Summer to Die (Lowry’s first book) was an attempt to “give sorrow words.” Lowry’s sister died as a young adult and Lois found herself telling stories to her daughter about the sister. Those stories led to this book.

Anastasia Krupnik was inspired by Amy Carter, daughter of the President Jimmy Carter. At the time, Carter was president and Amy Carter was a child. Anastasia resembled Amy in many ways, including physically.

Number the Stars was based on a friend’s real-life story.

The Giver was Lowry’s example of thinking what-ifs and writing based on the answers she discovered.

Gooney Bird Green was a rewriting of Lowry’s own life. Gooney is the child Lowry always wished she could be.

The Silent Boy was based on a photo. Lowry’s aunt was a professional photographer who willed all her photos to Lowry. The photo that inspired this book (and that appears on the cover of the book) was one of those photos.

Gossamer was based on “fragments and pieces of the past that became part of a dream.”

Bless This Mouse (a soon-to-be-released picture book) was based on a mouse that made its way into Lowry’s home and life.

Mem Fox says this about where ideas come from:

The best ideas, in my experience, do not come from our heads. They come from our immediate lives, or from memory, and then they are molded by our imaginations into grand stories that affect the hearts and minds of others. Stories created solely from the imagination have a flatness about them. They are usually about things that don’t matter much. They are here today and gone tomorrow. No one remembers them into adulthood.

Ralph Fletcher (a great author and a great teacher), gives this advice to young writers searching for ideas:

You might try to write about:
* Family story
* A particular tradition in your family.
* An artifact (arrowhead, ring, antique, etc.). Important objects in our lives often provide excellent material to write about.
* Special place: special room, attic nook, inside of a tree, scary closet. You might start by quickly sketching a map of a house full of memories. Mark those rooms where something important happened to you.
* Brother, sister, or special relative. Remember: think small. Focus on one aspect of that person, or one experience you had with him or her.
* Your place in the family. Are the oldest kid in your family? The youngest? Are you a middle child? An only child? Were you adopted?
* Best friend. (Did you ever get in trouble?)
* Moving. Did you leave behind a best friend when you moved from your old house?
* A disastrous time you had at camp or on a family vacation.
* Horrible haircut (or other mortifying experience)
* An injury. Did you ever have to go to the hospital?
* Important first: your first day in school, the first time you rode a two-wheeler, etc.
* Favorite pet, or a pet you once had.
* When your family changed: your brother went off to college, grandma came to live with you, etc.
* What you are (or used to be) afraid of.
* One thing you never want to do again!

I tell students they can write about anything they want to write about—the choice is totally up to them. But the easiest thing to write about is someone you know or something you have experienced. We also talk about “heart” ideas. Are there people or subjects you write about a lot? Things you are passionate about? Things you spend a lot of time thinking about or doing? Those are “heart” ideas. If you write from the heart you are more likely to touch someone else’s heart.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Go on line and visit the web sites of some of your favorite authors. Look on those sites for ways those authors find their ideas.
2. Scour the biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs of some of your favorite authors to discover their idea-gathering processes.
3. To stretch your brain about how ideas and innovations occur, watch a great YouTube video by Steve Johnson--

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