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Laura L Backes

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Turn Personal Struggles into Books for Children
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Turning Ideas Into Books
by Laura L Backes   

Last edited: Thursday, December 13, 2001
Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2001

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Maybe you're one of those lucky writers whose head is bursting
with ideas. Or perhaps you have one idea that's been nagging you
for weeks, always at the edge of your thoughts. Either way,
you're itching to begin writing. That's good. But before you rush
headlong into your story, stop and ask yourself one question: Is
this just an idea, or is it a book?

Turning Ideas into Books

by Laura Backes, co-founder of

Maybe you're one of those lucky writers whose head is bursting
with ideas. Or perhaps you have one idea that's been nagging you
for weeks, always at the edge of your thoughts. Either way,
you're itching to begin writing. That's good. But before you rush
headlong into your story, stop and ask yourself one question: Is
this just an idea, or is it a book?

Ideas, of course, are the seeds of any work of fiction or
nonfiction. But until an idea is fully developed, until you can
envision its beginning, middle and end, that one idea might not
be enough. The experience of writing for pages about an idea and
ultimately getting nowhere (or getting a pile of rejections) has
taught many writers to outline their books before they begin. But
if the thought of an outline sends shivers up your spine, at
least thinking your idea through and making sure it merits
months of writing can save you future frustration.

* Ideas for Fiction

A lot of writers, especially when they're beginners, get ideas
for fiction from their own lives. This can be useful for several
reasons: you're emotionally invested in the topic, you can relate
directly to the main character, and if the situation actually
happened to you, you're less likely to be unconsciously basing
the story on a book you've read. But remember, just because you
find this thing that happened to you or your child fascinating,
it doesn't mean it will be fascinating to thousands of potential
readers. Very often, a real-life event is just that--an event.
It's a vivid scene you recall with pleasure, or a family joke
that's repeated over and over. It evokes strong emotions when you
remember it, perhaps you even look back on an event as a turning
point in your life. But only rarely does reality provide a plot.
When writers stick too closely to what really happened they fail
to develop the elements necessary for a good story: a believable
main character who is faced with a problem or conflict, mounting
tension as that character tries to solve her problem and
experiences setbacks, and a tension-filled climax followed by a
resolution that's satisfying to the character and the reader. If
your main character is really your son, you might not want to get
him in trouble or throw rocks in his path. But you have to. It's
the only way you'll create a story that will keep readers hooked
and wondering how it will end.

Speaking of endings, if the resolution of your story comes too
easily, it's probably obvious and predictable. Try mixing up real
life and have the situation evolve in a different direction.
Surprise yourself, and you'll surprise an editor.

However you get your idea, focus first on whether it's a plot or
a theme. Many times, an initial idea is really the underlying
meaning of the story, what the author wants to convey to the
reader. Themes should be universal in their appeal-- such as
friendship, appreciating one's own strengths, not judging others
too quickly. Then play around with the sequence of events until
you develop a plot (what actually happens in the book) that makes
this theme clear to the reader. And remember; if you're using a
childhood incident as the foundation of your story, tell it from
your childhood viewpoint, not how it feels to you now as an

* Ideas for Nonfiction

Your nonfiction book should be based on something you're truly
interested in and passionate about. After all, you'll be living
with this idea for many months. The key to successful nonfiction
is to take your idea and approach it in a way that no one else
has ever done before. This means doing most of your research
before you begin to write. Don't settle for the most easily-found
information on your topic--your readers have probably read the
same information. Keep digging until you find an aspect to your
subject that strikes you as unique. Then search through the
library and book stores to make sure no one else has already beat
you to it.

For a nonfiction idea to become a book, you need enough
information to fill the number of pages necessary, depending on
the age group for which you plan to write. Younger children need
a foundation of basic facts, but you can also get fairly detailed
within the scope of the approach you've chosen as long as you
explain concepts in a simple and straightforward manner (how
animals hibernate, why insects are different colors). Older
readers can draw on a broader foundation of knowledge, and infer
connections between your topic and related subjects. A detailed
outline of any nonfiction book is essential to help you see if
your idea has enough substance and originality, or if you need
further research before you begin writing.

Whether it's fiction or nonfiction, your idea should mean
something to you, but also have the potential to mean a lot to
your readers. Think it through, add to it, take the nonessential
elements away, and make sure it has a beginning, middle and end.
Only then will your "idea" turn into "an idea for a book."

# # #


Laura Backes is the author of "Best Books for Kids Who (Think
They) Hate to Read" from Random House. She's also the publisher
of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's
Writers. For more information about writing children's books,
including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much
more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at

Copyright 2001, Children's Book Insider, LLC

Web Site:

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Reviewed by Cles Wilson 10/23/2002
Thank you. Very informative.

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