Thursday, May 1, 2008

Finding Ideas

One of the questions I’m often asked as a writer is where I find my ideas. For me, there are several answers to that question. Frequently ideas come to me in dreams. Sometimes I take them from situations in my real life. And, quite a few ideas have actually come from kids.

Once I had a dream about a redwood forest. In the dream, there was a gold band with words in big, black block letters, “THIS IS A NOVEL”. I woke up, wrote the dream down, and thought, “Wow!” Two years later, it really was a novel about a woman determined to save ancient redwood trees. I was very excited. My dream had come true.

Sure that it was brilliant, I sent my novel out to quite a few publishers. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite as excited about it as I was. So I went back to the drawing board and rewrote Painted Forest a few more times. This time the responses were more favorable. Although it was not accepted for publication, many people suggested that it would make a great movie. Not to be deterred by a mere few hundred rejections, I rewrote it as a screenplay. A movie producer read it and said she might be interested if I’d rewrite the entire story again from page one. I did, and now Saving Stella is being seriously considered for production.

Real life inspired Princess Justina Albertina. I have two pet crazy kids. Sometimes it feels like I live in a zoo. There’s a hamster living right beside my computer, a co-dependent dog with abandonment issues following me around all day, a cat nipping my toes as I type, a horse that always seems to need more hay, and bunnies breeding out back. In a fit of pique, I sat down and wrote a story as joke, Katie Justina Albertina Smith Wanted a New Pet. That was the beginning of the dozens of versions that led to the story Princess Justina Albertina. In one version, the gryphon swallows the bratty kid but she makes such a ruckus and a rumpus inside his belly that the gryphon gets a tummy-ache and throws her back up. One thing I’ve learned from having to rewrite everything so many times is that there are a zillion different ways to tell any story.

And kids seem to know lots of them. While writing my novel, Stolen Voices, I was teaching 7th and 8th graders creative writing. Whenever I finished a chapter, I’d bring it in to share. The kids offered so many great suggestions about how to tell the story that I probably received enough ideas to write ten novels. Some of their tidbits fit Stolen Voices perfectly, and I used them.

Ideas seem to be just about everywhere. I don’t have time to develop all of them, especially now that I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that my first draft probably won’t be brilliant. I know that I’m going to be working with the ideas I choose for a long, long time. I’ve learned that, for me, the challenge is to pick which ideas to write about.

Posted by Ellen Dee Davidson, author of Princess Justina Albertina.

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