Sara Grant's Diary of Ideas
Sara Grant's series Chasing Danger is an action-adventure series for tweens. Her young adult novel Dark Parties won the Crystal Kite Award for Europe. She teaches writing for children and teens at Goldsmiths University. Sara says:
I keep a diary of ideas – possible titles with no story, characters with weird quirks or deep, dark secrets, snatches of overheard conversations that would make great dialog.
An Idea Diary would be perfect for aspiring young writers. Says Sara: "I even have back-of-the-book style blurbs that are a few jigsaw pieces short of a puzzle. Sometimes it’s real-life events that I want to fictionalize or just a word that might trigger my imagination."
Sara shared a few entries from her idea diary – "all these ideas are brewing in my brain but have yet to produce a story":
• A 15 year old is visited by her future self, who tries to keep her younger self from making the same mistakes. Bad leads to good and vice versa.
• The Sequel – book that starts in the middle and you have to figure out where it all began.
• A new teen version of my fave film It’s a Wonderful Life.
• Hurricane Summer.
• A modern-day mystery with poison pen emails or Tweets – like the poison pen letters in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger.
• Museum of celebrity leftovers.
• The Cow Dump – This is an actual school fund-raising event in Ohio. The school creates a grid on its football field and then people buy a square. They let loose a cow and – yep – wherever he ‘dumps’ determines who gets the prize money.
• A corn maze.
• Character with a tattoo of Chinese characters, which she doesn’t realize means something prophetic and scary.
Sara challenges young readers to use one of these ideas to start their own stories. Or start an idea diary of your own! Just try for one idea a day.
And if you are still having problems coming up with ideas, Sara created these writing exercises to help jumpstart your story:
THE MASH UP
Quickly answer the following questions. Don’t over think your answers. Respond with the first thing that pops into your mind.
• Name two favourite books, movies or TV programmes.
• What genre of story do you prefer – mystery, romance, horror, sci-fi, action-adventure, fantasy, comedy, etc.)?
• What are your hobbies or talents (or what do you wish they were)?
• What is your most prized possession?
• Where is your favourite place or the place you’d most like to visit?
The best writing comes from what’s important to you, things you love. Consider how you could combine your answers to the above questions to develop a story. For example, if you like Sherlock Holmes and The Road, could you write a dystopian detective story? Or maybe you like football, horror stories and Paris. Can you develop a horror story about a footballer, who is secretly a serial killer, set at the World Cup in Paris?
START WITH A CHARACTER
Great stories have a compelling character at the heart. Start to create your hero by answering the following questions:
• What is your main character’s name?
• How old is he/she?
• What does he/she look like?
• What skills and talents does he/she have?
• What is her/his biggest fear?
• What is his/her secret that no one knows?
There’s no such thing as a perfect person so don’t make your characters perfect. Give them flaws and make them human. Consider how you will use your character’s skills, talents, fears, secrets and flaws in your story. They will need to face their fears and use their talents. Also their secret must come out! Keep asking questions of your character and soon a story will start to emerge.
Do you like crime, fantasy, adventure, mystery, romance, or horror story? Find a story you love and analyse why you love it. Can you put an original spin on that story idea? Maybe you can modernize a classic? My book Chasing Danger was partly inspired by my love of the movie Die Hard.
START WITH AN EXCITING SCENE
The inciting incident is the scene – the moment – that sets the story in motion.
What happens to change your main character’s life forever? If it’s a murder mystery, the story may start with the dead body. In a love story, the first meeting of your two love interests might be the inciting incident. In A Christmas Carol, it’s the arrival of the first ghost. Mark Haddon starts The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with the narrator Christopher Boone finding the dead dog at 7 minutes after midnight.
Can you think of a funny, scary, romantic or mysterious scene? You don’t need to know everything. Just picture a really compelling moment and then let your imagination run wild.