How I Come Up with Story Ideas
I write adventures for kids, and I have to confess that the main idea for my Night Buddies series came directly and unbidden from a real kid, my six-year-old son John.
I read to him every night for many years—it was a regular thing with us. One night when I was done reading and John wanted more, I suggested he invent a lights-out companion to go off to sleep with. Within a day or two, there was Crosley the crocodile, complete with goofy name and bright-red color. I was hooked.
John and I started throwing Crosley ideas around and making up episodes. This went on for a year or more, until it got to the point where Crosley became an important member of our family. Then it dawned on me that there might be a sure-enough book in there somewhere. I hadn’t really invented anything; it was already sitting right there in my lap.
So I took John’s idea and ran with it. It was like a magic bean I kept sticking in the ground, and it kept sprouting things. Maybe this is how the business works . . . at least how it works for me. Keep your story antennae out for something promising, and when you think you’ve found it, turn it over and over and poke it and peek inside it, and hopefully it will sprout something.
Go find something interesting to start on and work with that. It may be out there in the world, or it may be already inside your head, but use it as a springboard. Don’t try to turn on some “idea switch” and conjure something out of nothing. I doubt you’ll conjure much that way. And if you get stuck, shove a notepad in your pocket and take a long walk like Dickens would late at night. As long as you’re keeping yourself open to new ideas, I guarantee one will come to you!
Sands Hetherington, creator of the Night Buddies series of chapter books, credits his son John for being his principal motivator. Sands and young John developed the Crosley crocodile character in the series during months of bedtime story give-and-take. They collaborated many nights on escapades starring John and Crosley, until eventually it occurred to Sands why it was that Crosley was bright red. That was when the first book came together.
Sands raised his son as a single parent from the time John was six. He read to him every night during those formative years: all of the classic children’s stories from Aesop through the Grimms, Lewis Carroll, Frank Baum, Tolkien and Dahl, with a lot of Dickens and Hugo thrown in. When school was out they got in the car and toured Alaska, Canada and most of the contiguous states. John still gets around. So far he has lived in Germany, Scotland, Russia, England and Spain.