A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

How Do We Get Ideas? – More Ways Than You Might Think…

This post is very timely for me as I just did a workshop about idea generating at The ShoutSouth Festival in South London last week. It was a great event organized by Beverley Birch and the amazing authors and illustrators at CWISL.
My workshop was called “The Spark- Recycling Reality Into Stories,” and I spent a fun, loud, quizzical hour and a half with kids from Year 5 to Year 8 exploring how ideas are made and honed into stories.


We talked a lot about the fact that writers need to have open eyes, open ears and open minds. Ideas can hit you from anywhere. You see an image or overhear a snatch of a conversation and it might lead to a story somewhere down the line. It’s truly Chaos theory in practice. A butterfly flapping its wings in China, could genuinely lead to a book being written in London.


We did lots of exercises with the kids to generate ideas and combine those ideas in a way that might not occur to the writer at the time. Sometimes if we can switch off the sensor button on our brain we can mash up two or three ideas that spark a truly unique combination and a truly unique story.
One exercise is called The Grid. We had kids all shouting out and contributing individual ideas for genre, character, animal and place. The grid was filled it out of sight and then put up when completed.


We randomly combined those answers and came up with some stories that I definitely want to see in print someday. My favourite from this grid is either or the Gothic Horror with the Vulture and the Ghost in Prison or The Romantic Comedy with the Zombie Princess and the Robot Dinosaur on a Beach at Sunset. But then again I’m a sucker for a zombie. 🙂

We did some further exercises with making lists of things that you have a strong reaction to. What are your loves and what are your fears? Can you combine them into a story? Then we added them into some of the ideas we had from the grids. Lastly we had a sensory box that the kids could all explore and find items in it that they might want to include in their stories or centre their stories around. Everything from a jar of Marmite, an Aboriginal Rain Stick, a postcard from the Caribbean to some Victorian lace gloves got the children seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting their way into stories.


By the end of the workshop the kids had lots of story ideas and they were itching to get writing.
So if in ten years time you come across a love story about a Zombie Princess and Robot Dinosaur on the beach while you’re wandering in Waterstones, you’ll know where the idea came from. 😉

186 Mo O’Hara
Mo’s book for 7+, “My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish” is published with Macmillan in Feb 2013 in the UK and in July 2013 in the US. Her second book in that series( My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish The Sea-Quel) will come out in July 2013 in the UK and in winter 2013 in the US. She also wrote six books in the Ladybird series “Puddle the Naughtiest Puppy.” Mo worked as an actress and as a storyteller, touring theatres and schools all across the UK and Ireland. As well as her stories for children Mo has also writen for radio and theatre and has performed her own comedy material in London and Edinburgh.

One comment on “How Do We Get Ideas? – More Ways Than You Might Think…

  1. kateormand
    June 24, 2013

    Great post, Mo! Thanks for sharing this!

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on June 21, 2013 by and tagged , , , , .

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