Friday, February 17, 2012

Picture Book Mash-up Mini-Challenge

Week of February 12, 2012: A Mini-Challenge Throw Down
Friday, February 17—Picture Book Mash-up Mini-Challenge

Years ago, I wrote for an editor who liked to stretch his authors’ creativity by asking them to mash together ideas that normally wouldn’t go together. “What would you get if you paired roller skates and an easy-bake over?” he would ask. (Okay, he was eccentric.) Then writers would sit around the table and brainstorm—A Rolling Oven, Easy-Skate Cuisine, or Hot Wheels! This fun, albeit silly, activity teaches an important writing lesson. Originality lies in taking what exists and combining it in new and unusual ways.

Today, pull a pile of picture books off your shelf (or the shelf of a book store or library). Of course, you’ll want to reread the books. Then make a chart with three columns: Character, Setting, and Problem. Below is a quick example:

Two hens
Need a talent for the talent show
Lost his cap
A singing cat
Keeps stepping in messes
Loses his favorite toy
Construction equipment
Construction site
An old duck
His routine is disturbed

Now randomly mash together one item from each column. The goal is to see if you can make a capture a new story idea from the ideas on your chart. (Note: The more books you start out with, the bigger your chart, and the more apt you are to uncover a gem.)

When you mash-up your ideas, all kinds of things can happen. For instance Duck/Forest/Lost his favorite toy. My immediate thought is: “What does a duck float in his bathtub? A rubber human?” Let your brain wander and create! Or Dog/Barnyard/Keeps stepping in messes. Oh, gross! Come on . . . be disgusting. Kids will love it. Or Two hens/Pond/Bedtime. Don’t worry if you don’t come up with an idea for each combination. Keep mashing together ideas—you’ll be surprised (and hopefully pleased) with the results. And if a story idea doesn’t surface, no worries. You’re retraining your brain to think in new and unexpected ways. The work will pay off in the end.

Have fun and happy mashing!

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