Writing a Picture Book/Part Two - Gathering Story ideas | Lisa Michaels | Skillshare

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Writing a Picture Book/Part Two - Gathering Story ideas

teacher avatar Lisa Michaels, Pro Freelance Illustrator/Author

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (30m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Your Idea Box

    • 3. Time Management

    • 4. Your Writing Space

    • 5. Stalking Your Story

    • 6. Ideas That Fit

    • 7. Wrap it Up and Get Busy!

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About This Class

In this series, award-winning and published author/illustrator, Lisa J. Michaels, shares over 15 years of experience in children’s publishing. You’ll study her process for writing a children’s picture book that kids will love! Once you’ve completed the series, you’ll be well equipped to confidently submit your own book to traditional publishers or you can self-publish with relative ease. 

In this class, "Gathering Story Ideas", Lisa will show you where to find and how to create a treasure-trove of story ideas that you'll be able to pull from for years to come. We'll discuss ways for even the busiest authors to carve a little writing time into their schedule. You'll discover that writing doesn't always require a desk or absolute silence! Finally, we'll talk about how to come up with ideas that inspire learning, action and empathy without "preaching" to your young readers and we'll touch on subjects that are best to avoid in children's book publishing. If you've always struggled to find something to write about, this class will prove (once and for all) that you've been walking around with blinders on!!

Don't forget to take Class #1 in this series. It will help you to create wonderful, unique characters for your picture books!

Keep going! Class #3-"Building Blocks" is a comprehensive class that gets down to the business of writing. It's jam-packed with information and all the tools you'll need to construct a wonderful children's book! 

Don't forget to leave a review so that I know what you're thinking!!~Thank you!

Meet Your Teacher

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Lisa Michaels

Pro Freelance Illustrator/Author


As a published, professional illustrator and author of children’s literature, I am always looking for projects that will not only challenge me, but further my very enjoyable career. If you've written an awesome children's book that you'd like to see illustrated and published, please contact me at [email protected] and we'll discuss the possibilities.

I create my book illustrations using Procreate on my I-pad pro with an Apple digital pen. You can visit my children's book portfolio at www.ljmichaels.weebly.com. There, you can examine many of the illustrations that I've created for the published books of previous authors/clients.




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1. Introduction: welcome to writing a picture book, Part two Gathering story ideas. I'm Lisa Michaels, and in this series I'm sharing important information about how you, too, can write a Children's picture book. Once it's written, you can decide if you want to self publish or try submitting it to traditional publishers. There are pros and cons to both, but that information can wait. First we have to write a story that's worthy of publication. Hey, I'm so glad that you're here. If you've taken Port one of my class creating characters that kids love that, I'll bet that you've created a great picture book character to star in your story. You're probably eating that story. If you think that you've already got the perfect story all figured out, then you better slow down their partner. Odds are that you've got a lot more to consider than you've even thought about Most successful authors. Even those who have written about famous wizards, will tell you that they've revised her manuscript at least a dozen times before making into publication. Unless you're a literary genius, you will be doing the same thing. Let's not talk about how many times I've revised Manu scripts. We'll be here all day. One of the questions I hear most often is, What should I write about? I suppose the reason why that this question perplexes me is because I never run out of ideas for picture books, in fact, have so many that I won't ever have enough time to write all. It's a problem I learned to live with. In this last. We'll explore many of the various different methods I used to bank story ideas so that I always have a new picture book brewing and stewing in my head. All you need to break is an open mind, a little heart, your inner child and the desire to seek out a great story that targets your 4 to 6 year old picture book audience. If you already have a fantastic story in mind, I know this class will help you to make it even better. It will open you up to things that you might not have even thought about and help you to be sure that the subject you've chosen is right for young leaders. My name is Lisa Michaels, and I'm here to tell you that you are capable of writing more than one great Children's book. After taking this class, you'll prepare yourself for writing many in the years to come join me as research for next wonderful story to add to the world of picture books. 2. Your Idea Box: back before we start talking about ideas and where to find them. Let's talk a little bit about where you're going to keep them. Creating a special place for safekeeping Future story concepts is almost as important as the ideas themselves. When lightning strikes and you're blessed with an incredible stroke of genius, you have to write it down or your forget about it right then what do you do with it? You could type it up on your computer or into your phone notes or notes on your iPad. But then it becomes like a needle in a haystack lost in an ocean of other notes. No, there's last month's grocery list so helpful. Not if you want to ensure that you'll always be able to find your ideas. When you're ready to start writing, I recommend you get or create a special container toe. Hold your story ideas, one that inspires you at a glance and makes you want to fill it up. You could create a digital version if you're really an organized person, and honestly, I don't know too many creative people who are. But if you do, decorated with photos of clip art that inspires you and makes you feel happy every time you open it. Personally, I've been most successful with having a physical object sitting on my desk at all times. It's mere presence. Reminds me that storybook ideas are lurking everywhere. The active. Creating your own idea box will be inspiring. It will compel you to use it. Here's mine. When I think about the time I spent making it, I almost feel obligated to fill it. Really hope that you will post a photo of your special ideal receptacle, Whether it's a physical object or a special digital version that's all fresh and ready for wonderful picture book ideas. I'd really like to see it. 3. Time Management: If you're a busy creative person like me, I'll bet we have one thing in common. Very little personal writing time when I'm lucky enough to have an idea hit me over the failure. It's usually when I'm doing something or when my brother pulls up in the driveway or when my husband, a k a. The hurricane comes blowing through the front door looking for something, not the remote. He's always got that. You were creative, who's working from home That comes with a whole different set. Distractions like dishes and country and phone calls and a puppy who is constantly wanting to go outside. See you homebodies know what I mean? You sometimes think if I worked outside of the house, how would I ever get anything done, let alone right. And my heart goes out to those of you who work full time outside of the home. I did, too. For over 30 years. You never have any time to write. Here I am to tell you it is doable. Lisa. Michael's to the rescue. I just never gets old. He cracks me up every time. Okay, so the more important things time management is crucial. If you ever want to make headway in your writing? So how does a busy, creative person with tons of other everyday responsibilities ever find the time to write? Listen closely, and I'm about to get real real serious, that is now. This is for all you new writers out there. First, you have to change your mindset. When people ask you what you do for a living, do you proudly proclaim, I'm a Children's book writer? Oh, you think that's funny? Did you? If your answer is no, then that's part of the reason why that you're struggling to find writing time. If you don't believe it, how can you possibly expect the people in your life to get on board with you and respect the time that you set a sign for writing? If you really want to be a writer, you gotta own it's slick. Be proud of the fact that you've got the guts to take the bull by the horns and do something that you really love. How many people do you personally know? I mean actual people over your lifetime who have written and published a Children's book. Oh, sure, lots of people talk about it, but few ever actually do it. Once you're ready to stand tall and declare that you're a writer who needs time to write, start thinking about what you're actually going to do with that little bit of free time that you have. If writing really means a lot to you, weigh it against your other extracurricular activities and see which one wins. What was that? I think you understand what I'm saying. Finding time to write is about wanting it so much that you're sometimes willing to give up something else in order to make it happen. Well, you use what little time you have got is very important. You want to use the time that you set aside productively, so don't spend it on things that you could be doing some other time. Here's my best advice for banking story ideas in your own idea box. Instead of attempting to write your entire manuscript in a single session right out your story idea as a synopsis on Lee and drop it in your idea box for safekeeping. That way your entire story idea is preserved, and you could work out the kinks and write it out properly when you have more time. There are moments when I'm hit with a great title for a story like when I'm about to walk out the door to pick up my nephew. If I keep walking and trust myself to remember it, it's gone forever. So I jot it down quickly on a scrap note and throw it in my idea box and run out the door. Sometimes I'll be perusing the Internet, and I'm struck by a fantastic character name. If I keep writing the Web train, the name Missus good is gone in a matter of minutes. So I stopped, jot it down and throw it in my idea box i e. Families. When she pulls it out of a month or two later, she might not think it's so awesome anymore. But when it is, it jump starts your brain into our writing frenzy, and then I get ignored for a while a good start to get waiting for a book to be written. You hijacked my class again, you little stinker. She's something else, isn't she? So, just to be clear, when lightning strikes and you're struck with a great title or character name or wonderful synopsis, for a great picture book. Write it down. You might be standing in line at the grocery store or waiting in your doctor's office or in the pickup lane, waiting for your Children to get out of school. See what I mean? Friday Time isn't just when you sit down to work on your overall manuscript. Some of the best picture books ever written evolved over time. Some start with a tiny spark of an idea. The synopsis. Some begin with a great title. Sometimes the characters appear before the story is ever written. Either way, the ideas weren't lost. They became great picture books. 4. Your Writing Space: Hello and welcome to video for It's another day here in the studio, and I'm not quite awake yet. So bear with me while we talk about or writing space. Now some people think that writers require total silence, too right, although it would be really nice most of the time. It's just not possible. Day life is happening all around me. I've got noisy kids next door on one side, Children are always shrieking out, streaking through the yard and splashing around in their pool. Theo, on the other side, I've got a man who's obsessed with his yard. He's either mowing were weed eating or doing something. It's There's always a humming all day long. Every day. I don't dare complain. I've got a yet the little dog you goes to say, If I want total silence, I have to wait until the end of the day. Actually, I sometimes wait until everyone is sleeping. Luckily for me, the bewitching hour, it's what I do. My best worrying. I used the daytime hours to do my research and my stocking. We'll talk about that where you write will also affect your story. For example, if you're in a busy coffee shop. Chances are your characters will most likely take on some of the characteristics of the people moving around you. For example, I once observed a couple arguing. See what happened when they became picture book characters. For some writers, that's really helpful, as it helps them to develop unique, very realistic personality traits for their characters. If you don't have kids and you're trying to write a current story for today's Children, go to a park Carnival Beach soccer field. Wherever kids far and observe them from afar, just be sure to move around a lot. You don't want people think that you're a danger. It's highly unlikely when they see you Johnny things down in a notebook. If you're asked proudly say, I'm a Children's book writer from doing my research for my next book and show them your notes. If it still makes them uncomfortable, move ahead. Go someplace else. There's lots of other places to go. I once got kicked out of the Children's section off the public library because I didn't have a child with me. They didn't care that I was poring over every Tommy Di Paola picture book on the shelf taking notes. I even showed them my official SCP W I card and my business cards, and they still wouldn't let me stay. So I checked out the books and I took mall home. It worked out better anyway. I had lots of time to die. Set them. But I felt bad for the kids who didn't get to read them while I had. Um, the best way to learn your craft is to study the work of those who found success before you . So read as many picture books that she possibly can. It'll open your mind and make you a better Children's book writer. Some people write best when they are outdoors, surrounded by nature. It gives them a sense of peace that's reflected in their work. Music can also affect what you're writing. If you're trying to create a certain move, hurt peace, try listening to the music that fits that setting. Pierre Story takes place on a tropical island. You might want a plug in some Caribbean steel drum music or Jimmy Buffett light a candle that smells like the ocean or spread on some sun tan lotion toe. Wake up your sense of smell. Oh, my goodness, it makes me want to go to the beach. If your story revolves around something that happened on a dark, stormy night, pull down the blinds, hold up rain and thunder on YouTube and listen to the rumble with your earbuds. You'll jump right into your story when you are experiencing what your character's here and you will tune out the world around you goes for settings. There's a theme for almost any situation you can imagine. Circus, the beach, Jungle parade, football, a grocery store, deep space. I would have never thought that was ill. Who are luau? It's for a almost any situation and sound you can imagine is available for your listening pleasure on YouTube makes YouTube. 5. Stalking Your Story: Oh, I welcome to video. Five were in Florida. My hair certainly for is so hot here. Anyway, we're gonna talk about stocking your story. In my last video, I mentioned that I do my research during the daylight hours, and I'm also a story stocker. So if you're having a really hard time finding something to write about, it's sometimes best to go where the stories live. Observe human beings while it's necessary to watch how kids interact with each other. Watching them in a family setting is another great way to find a story. This was inspired by a human mom pushing her baby down the street in a stroller. Although the story was originally written about the daily interactions between a human mother at her newborn son, the gentle voice that the author wrote into the story made me think of the classic Goodnight Moon. So I fashioned my illustrations in much the same way, using a familiar baby that is always endearing. There's nothing wrong with taking a classic tale and making it modern and putting your own spin on it. Hey, Disney does it all the time. The storytelling formula that worked in the past could be a winner again. When you wave your magic wand, I love to sit out in front of Walmart and observe families coming in and out of the store. They're not aware that anybody's watching, so they act really natural attention to what they're wearing. Clothes tell a story about who you are. How were they walking? Are they dragging their feet? Are they skipping? Are they in pain? And how are they relating to each other? I have fun imagining their conversation and trying to figure out what they're saying. For example, here comes a mom with her two kids. They just left the store. Mom's talking on her cell phone. Her youngest child's feet dangle from the sea than the shopping card. The youngster is happily eating ice cream. Child number two is not so thrilled. In fact, her bottom lip protrudes beyond normal limits. Obviously, she didn't receive the reward she had hoped for. There are several possible stories here. Can you see them? Perhaps this is a story about how, in the eyes of the older child, the youngest child is spoiled and cute, so he always gets what he wants. Perhaps the older child always asks for things that are inappropriate, but she can't see that in her world. Her baby brother gets everything he wants because he's a baby and he's a boy. Let's look at that again. Same scenario, same characters, different body language. Now the story has changed. Something else is going on here. Is this the finale to a temper tantrum gone sour? Did she mis behave, resulting in no reward for good behavior? Could she be upset because Mom so distracted that she forgot about her? Does the Crying child even both go to this woman? Perhaps she's following a random mom because she's lost. So do you see what I mean? There are a lot of story ideas in a single observation. Imagine how many ideas you could get in an hour. Grocery stores and department stores and balls. They provide you with a lot of scenarios. There are grandmothers bringing their grandchildren to the store. There are teenagers dragged in unwillingly. If you've ever had a conversation with the team, then you know what I mean. And there are weekend dad's shopping with their partial custody kids. There are aunts and uncles buying birthday presents and cousin shopping for slumber party goods and so on and so on and so on. Every possible human scenario you can imagine can be seen in those places we just talked about. While it's true that observing their physical bodies is a great way to come up with a wonderful character for your picture book, observing their behavior and imagining what they could possibly be talking about, what's going on now that's where your story ideas come from. Use your imagination when you're stalking stories and remember that in the world of picture books, anything is possible. 6. Ideas That Fit: Welcome to video six ideas that bit when you're gathering story ideas. Don't forget that newspapers, magazines, TV programs, social media platforms, etcetera are obvious gold mines. While you can't copy a reporter story and you wouldn't want to anyway, because it's written for adults, you can certainly use the information that is presented to retell the story in a way that's entertaining, enjoyable and appropriate for young people. You know, the nightly news is usually riddled with tragic stories that are inappropriate for young Children, but they often report at least one or two feel good stories every night. Make it a point to listen and ask yourself, Is it possible to turn that into a meaningful picture book, then quickly jot down the synopsis before you go off a bit and drop it into your idea box? How many times have you seen something awesome on Facebook, instagram or Pinterest? I bet if you looked at social media right this very minute that you could find something that you could make into a wonderful Children's book. Look for ideas that inspire learning. All I have to do is watch the Nature Channel for five minutes, and I'm usually got a story idea the teachers would love for their classroom. Books that teach something about the world we live in are often highly sought after by educators, and it's a built in sales pitch for you. When sitting at book fairs, selling and signing your book, do some research, ground your fiction in fax, and you'll have a much more interesting story. For example, I have a story in the works about a young possum who wants to be a country music star. I could have written it from one action scene to the next with my little possum acting Justus Human would It would work as Children would be able to closely identify with her. However, I decided to look up some facts about opossums to give the story a touch of realism, and it improved the story immensely. Did you know that opossums usually have 68 brothers and sisters? Wow, Did that change things? They also love grub, worms and half rotten oranges. Imagine young Children's reactions to grub worms to you. Grounding my story in fax helped to make it better. Now it's not only fun, it's educational, too. Facts that can be verified make it attractive to grade school teachers, magazine and social media articles could provide ideas for stories that evoke empathy and action based on social issues. While these subjects have the potential to become award winning picture books, they must be carefully written. Try to remember that you are targeting a 4 to 6 year old audience. Don't get too preachy, too heavy or overly mature in your theme's publishing editors. This screams that you're a novice writer. Little ones pick up picture books to be entertained. They have to be light and fun. Don't you think that our kids have to grow up fast enough? Get your books should encourage them to enjoy being a little a little while longer. So remember, you don't have to reinvent the wheel to write a great picture book gathering story ideas. This is simple, as opening your eyes and your ears to the world that's moving and changing all around you. Now you have no excuses. Get busy filling up that idea box. You'll be writing stories for years to come 7. Wrap it Up and Get Busy!: So let's wrap this thing up. You've got work to do. You've got an idea box or jar or creatively inspiring page to fill with new story ideas. Hopefully, I've inspired you to embrace your new career as a Children's book writer so that when people ask you what you do, you can proudly own it. My friends are your friends and family. Know that your writing time is vital to your success will prompt them to respect your space and the time that you set aside for pursuing your dreams. If you take it seriously, so well, bay and it sets a great example for them to see that you're going after something with such passion. When lightning strikes, you're going to take two seconds to write down either a clever character name that kids will relate to and want to know more about a catchy story title that will pull kids towards your book on the bookstore show or a brief synopsis or plot of your story so that you could build your story later. You're going to need to decide where small bits of writing time fit into your busy schedule . You'll need to prioritize more efficiently deciding what's most important to you. Will it be playtime or a dream fulfilled? We debunk the notion that writing time needs quiet time all the time. Public places are a wonderful place to find. Characters and story ideas go for kids are and observe them, but be prepared to move frequently. Dissect winning picture books from the library to follow their examples. Use your senses to get into your story writing code to know the world by listening to what your characters will be hearing. YouTube is a great resource. Okay, so I've shared my secrets story stalking strategy with all. Try saying that three times. So I'll expect to see you in the supermarket parking lot observing shoppers. Okay, so I won't know if it's you. But if you see me, I expect you to run up to me and say, Excuse me, but I took your skill share class and I just love you if you asked for my autograph. All know URAS crazy as I am. We've also talked about obvious gold mines for story ideas like magazines, TV and social media. We talked about taking existing stories and turning them into Children's books. We discussed how Children's books should inspire learning and how much value is added when they could be used in a classroom. Grounding your fiction in facts adds richness stories that will surprise and delight young readers. Remember to avoid subjects that are too preachy or too mature for your picture book audience. They won't get published if their over the top picture book should revolve around the entertainment and joy of their readers. Even serious subjects can be fun entertaining if they're cleverly written. Great news, everybody. I've started a private Facebook page for our class. If you'd like to bounce ideas off your classmates, tell us about your struggles. Share your progress. Look for Critique, buddy or ask questions. Go to Facebook and type in skilled share picture book writers and send me a request to join . We'd love to have you. You've enjoyed this class, and I've opened your eyes to all the possible stories that exist all around you. Then I hope you'll give me a thumbs up and start gathering picture book story ideas for our next class in this series, writing a picture book, Part three. The building blocks. I'm going to get started by presenting you with the basic building blocks used to create some of the stories that we all know in love. I'll show you how to apply these little nuggets of wisdom to begin building your own idea into a strong and sturdy story. Brick by brick. I just love that analogy. I hope you'll join me once again as we continue our journey into the world of picture books .