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29 March 2015 ·

Asking questions to turn thoughts into story ideas

Eleven year old Maddison wants to be a writer and has asked where I get ideas from. That’s a great question because every story has to start with an idea!
Ideas come from thoughts, and thoughts come from all our senses, as well as our emotion and everything we remember and imagine. That can add to millions of thoughts a day (I just made that figure up – maybe it’s thousands. A lot, anyway.) How do we turn some of those into ideas that can be built into a story?
The answer is: Questions! The first questions are usually, ‘What if?’ or ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’ or ‘What happened?’
To show you what I mean, I gave myself a challenge to find some new ideas on my morning walk.
Here’s a not-very-great picture of a nest fallen on the ground. To turn this into a story I’d ask:
What happened here?
1) What happened to the baby birds? Had they already flown away?
(I really hope so, and I think they had, because the nest looks old – but that wouldn’t  make a story. So for the rest of the questions we’ll say that the eggs or baby birds were still in there.
2) How did it fall out of the tree?
 Possible answers:
a) The wind.
b) A predator bird or animal.
c) A bad person – why are they doing it?
d) An alien – what do they think the eggs are?
e) …..
3) What happens next?
 a) The protagonist (hero) tries to rescue them and put the nest back in the tree. How do they do that? Climb the tree? What happens if they fall out? Or meet an eagle? Or get into trouble because someone thinks they’re trying to steal the nest?
b) The birds are an endangered species – so a poacher is going to raise the birds and sell them to zoos. Now how does the hero try to stop them?
c) The aliens are going to hatch them…
3) Where is the nest? What’s on the other side of that fence?

Questions & answers for writing Raven’s Mountain
(Facing the Mountain)
So, you just keep on asking questions.  Remember that there aren’t any wrong answers – there are only answers that will lead to better questions to make the best possible story. 
Of course I saw lots of things on my walk: blackberries – not much of a story there, but what if you put blackberry bushes under the tree that someone’s climbing to steal or rescue the nest?
What about the sisters I heard arguing?
Or the sign for the school fete?

Or the empty holiday house – where one day my dog ran away and went in the dog door. The dog door was locked from the inside so that he couldn’t get out… There are lots of chances for a story there!

The island that gave me the first idea for Nim’s Island



Comments

  1. The Ink Pod Thanks for the advice, Wendy Orr. The whole class found your post very interesting and were amazed to see the original picture which inspired Nim's Island. We have more ideas about places to get inspiration for our writing now.
    -Asher & Maddison (on behalf of The Ink Pod)
    March 31, 2015 at 6:13 pm · Reply
  2. Wendy Orr I'm very glad it was helpful! I've done a few other blog posts on getting ideas, if you have a little search – and there's a bit more on the inspiration for Nim's Island on https://www.pinterest.com/wendyorr1/nims-island-journey-idea-to-book-to-film/
    March 31, 2015 at 6:18 pm · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Dragonfly Song, a novel in free verse and prose of an outcast girl who becomes a bull-leaper in Bronze Age Crete. Read full bio