What makes an idea a good one?

Ideas are not something that I am short of, I have an abundance of them on an almost daily basis and they can literally come from anywhere.

Since I started writing so many people have said to me;

“I have a great idea for a story”

That’s because ideas are everywhere all the time. They are in the places we visit, the people we met and the experiences we have. Yet, when we have a good idea for a story why doesn’t it always become one? What makes an idea a good one?

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Mark Twain

When my daughter asked Santa for a ladder to the stars I immediately knew that this was a great idea for a story. I also knew that if was something she had thought about (as a 3 year old) then it would be highly likely that others her age would relate to this idea too. Luckily for her Santa worked his magic and her bedroom light was transformed to a moon and stars and below this Santa left a silver sparkly foot ladder that she could climb to touch them. I am not sure Santa has managed to deliver such a wonderful present since!

But what happened from that moment on was how I took an idea and turned it into a picture book. This was not my first or indeed last idea but just the one that I felt most passionate about and one which ultimately motivated me to do something with it. Was it a good idea? Yes – but then aren’t all ideas?

All good ideas start out as bad ideas, that’s why it takes so long.”

Steven Spielberg

I have read kids books that are based on potatoes, on hair, on shoes, on creatures that don’t even exist, on animals that can talk, on people who can fly, on peas, on carrots, on bats, on sheep….are you seeing where I am going with this? I think I could confidently say that if I told my husband that I was going to write a story about a potato then he’d say, “I am not sure that’s a good idea,” and yet it has been done, and done well. I believe a good idea is one that can evolve and change as it grows.

In the context of picture books there are several aspects that I personally like to think about that help me see if if I have a good idea for a story;

Making a book is a long, hard journey. It is often a lot of hours for very little return in the early stages (that’s where I am at). You have to really love it and believe in it to find the motivation to do the hard graft. Interestingly Social Media massively helped me in this regard. Posting updates and receiving positive feedback definitely helped me to keep going and stay motivated. Once you tell people you are making a book it’s hard to go back on that!

There are also a few rules to ‘picture book-ing’ that I also find useful when trying to develop an idea. Most picture books (not all) are under 1000 words. I like to use that as a guide and generally find my stories come in at around 700 words. So every word counts. There are also usually (not always!) 32 pages in a picture book. It’s to do with printing. Go to your local bookstore and count pages. You’ll find the majority sit at 32, maybe some at 24 and if you find one at 40 let me know! 32 pages includes end pages, subtitles, publishing information etc. So you actually are only left with around 28(ish) to work with.

Finally, most people don’t usually write and illustrate books. Often you are either one or the other. I just happen to enjoy both! If it’s a good idea for a story then an illustrator will be just as enthused by the idea as you are so don’t worry too much about that part unless you plan to self-publish and hire a freelance illustrator.

Often we only ever see the end result. The ‘good idea’ at it’s stop point. But what is missing from this story is the journey. The parts that didn’t work, the aspects that had to be changed, the ‘back-to-the-drawing-board’ moments that no one ever sees. They are all part of it.

So if you have do an idea, one that you’ve been thinking about for a while, then it will only be a ‘good idea’ if you do something about it and see where it takes you.

And if it takes you somewhere exciting then give me a wave when you get there!

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