Thoughts on Writing Prompts

Yesterday I was lucky enough to catch a webcast of Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka talking about their new books and writing in general. Kate’s new book is Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (published by Candlewick, September 24, 2013). Jon’s new book is Battle Bunny, written with Mac Barnett and illustrated by Matthew Myers (published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and released today).

flora-and-ulyssesbattle-bunnyAfter the two read excerpts from Kate’s book, a viewer asked how she got the idea for it. Kate revealed that two of the main elements in the book came from real objects and experiences, each with deeper emotional contexts.

The idea for the squirrel in the book came from having a sick squirrel come onto her front porch. She said she called a neighbor for advice about what to do and the neighbor suggested a method for dispatching it, which I will not repeat here. Fortunately the squirrel removed itself from the porch of its own accord. Kate was obviously moved by the event enough to use it as material for her book.

The second item was a vacuum cleaner that was sitting in Kate’s garage. The vacuum cleaner had been her mother’s before her mother had recently passed away. It served as a physical reminder of her mother. Again, it was an object that elicited strong emotions. In the book, the two items come together as a squirrel gets sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, leading to some unexpected consequences.

Jon revealed his idea to convert a sweet story about “Birthday Bunny” into an adventure about Battle Bunny came from doing similar things as a child. Here the physical object was a book that inspires a whole new story, allowing the reader to become an active participant.

Together the insights of these two authors reminded me how important concrete objects can be to generate story ideas. If these well-known authors use them, shouldn’t we consider providing students who are starting out with similar opportunities?

Has a physical object ever inspired a story for you? How do you get your story ideas?


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2 Replies to “Thoughts on Writing Prompts”

  1. I’ve been toying with the idea of NaNo participation this coming month, but have absolutely no ideas, nada, zilch. Last year it was a physical object, a teddy bear, that gave me an idea. Still searching ….

  2. Karen,

    You do have a few more days. I’d really like to do NaNo, too. I keep saying I’ll do it next year when I have more time and then the next year is even worse. I hope you decide to give it a try. Good luck!

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