Writing, Brainstorming...

How to Generate
GREAT Children's Book Ideas

Great children's book ideas result from how you think about story

So many authors want to write children's books. What are you doing to set yourself apart?

Publishers aren't only looking for quality writing. They're looking for stories that scream,

"I'm unique!"

Are all the best children's book ideas already taken? Of course not. So how can you brainstorm a story that stands out?

I happen to know a little something about that.

Warning: At the bottom of this page, I'm going to try to sell you something. But on the way to the bottom, you're still going to learn a lot!

I spent over a decade writing for Hollywood

My name is Steve Barancik. (This is my site. That's not my picture.) I broke into film by writing a story with a twist. My main character was the villain. That's right. In story terms, she was the protagonist, instead of the antagonist.

Screenplay by Steve Barancik. Look it up if you don't believe me!

pro·tag·o·nist, n.
The main character or hero in a drama or other literary work.

an·tag·o·nist, n.
The principal character in opposition to the protagonist or hero.

That unusual choice was enough to get my story noticed. And produced. And the movie's success bought me a career.

That same type of creativity could help you get a children's book published.

Start with bigger, more conceptual children's book ideas

Guess what? It's never too early to think about your query letter.

You know about query letters, right? Essentially, you have one short paragraph to persuade an agent, editor or publisher that your children's book ideas rock!

Dear Sir or Ma'am:

I've written a GREAT book about a little animal who loses its mommy...

Hello, wastebasket!

Editors sift through thousands of queries. The only way to make an impression with a query letter is to describe a children's book idea that sounds unique!

Let's say you're the editor. Do you read the children's book manuscript about the animal who lost its mommy...or the other one about the pigeon who wants to drive a bus?

Unique idea, don't you think?

Hmm. Score one for the pigeon.

(Mo Willems has the most unusual children's book ideas. And guess what? He wrote for Hollywood for a decade!)

Writing, rewriting, and PREwriting

What people call "writing" is actually two things: let's call them "plotting" and "penning." Penning is merely the ability to use prose to express thoughts.

Plotting is the ability to invent and structure a story. Plotting is the skill it takes to assemble something pleasing, complete, structurally sound and original from a lot of component parts.

Professional writers plot before they pen. (Do you???) I call this stage PREwriting.

I know a heck of a lot about prewriting. So keep reading! I want this page to be the most important page you've ever read as a writer.

See your story as a compilation of lots of little children's book ideas

Let's consider a story's structure. Structure includes:

  • setting in time and place
  • viewpoint
  • character
  • character motivation
  • character objective
  • plot
  • storytelling style

Now, most of these components of structure can be further broken down, and it is these pieces I like to call "story elements." For instance:

Setting - your story is likely made up of separate scenes, each in its own time and place

Character - your story has numerous characters, and each of these characters should have a number of identifiable character traits

Motivation and Objective - each character has his or her own reason for doing what he/she does

Plot - every twist and turn - every choice a character makes - is a story element

Stir up something different!

When you get right down to it, even a picture book can have hundreds of story elements. In other words, hundreds of children's book ideas that contribute to the whole.

These are the molecules from which you assemble a story!

And if you're choosing only the most common molecules - I mean, story elements - then you're going to have trouble getting a children's book published.

You won't stand out as unique.

Children's book ideas - What I learned from Hollywood

The movie business is all about prewriting and rewriting. Before a screenwriter lands an assignment, he has to "pitch" his "take" on the material.

the material, n.
The "material" can be a book the studio wants to adapt, an old movie they want to remake, or a new one they want a sequel for. It can be a rewrite of a script on which another writer got fired!

Pitching involves telling the bosses how you propose to arrange and rearrange all the story elements. Your "take" on the material is compared to the "takes" of all the other writers who have been invited to pitch.

The most clear and creative prewriting wins the assignment!

Playing with story elements when prewriting, rewriting and adapting

This process turns folks in Hollywood into experts in story structure. Even an executive who can't write any better than your six year old knows the most important skill in structuring a story:

  • Always ask, "What if...?"

"What if" means, "What if I change this or that story element?" "What if" is any writer's tool for generating new ideas.

What if I move my Western into outer space? What if the villain turns out to be my hero's father?


Time Out!

How am I doing?

This is supposed to be a "pitch page," the internet version of an infomercial. There's supposed to be lots of "Wow!" and "I can't believe it!!!" and crazy claims like, "I'll make you a published author in just seven minutes!" If I do it correctly, you almost expect a washed up celebrity to appear on your computer screen and tell you this is the most amazing thing they've ever seen!!!!!!

Well, if you've spent any time on this site, you know that's not me. It's not that I don't believe in what I'm about to pitch you; my writing package actually rocks. It'll give you the secrets to generating children's book ideas like never before. But it's just a tool, a one-of-a-kind tool. In the end, it's all up to you.

One other thing: the experts tell you never to put any actual information on the pitch page; save it all for the books. Well, you may have noticed I'm disobeying that rule too.

Don't tell anyone!!!!!

The "What if...?" Writing Package

Learn what I've learned about manipulating story elements

My time in Hollywood gave me something special to offer children's book authors in search of better children's book ideas.

Out of ideas

My writer friends who didn't serve time in film often express awe when they ask me to critique their work. I start throwing out "What if's?" and their heads start spinning!

"That never occurred to me!" "Of course that'd fix the problem." And, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Why didn't they think of "that"? Probably because they never sat around a table with a director, a producer and two sheepish studio executives trying to figure out how to rewrite a story now that the studio head was insisting on a 22 year old female star instead of a 45 year old male one!

I find that when I consider a story, I think of many more possibilities than the average writer. Am I more creative? No. I just have different training.

"Writer's Block" should be called "Writer's Blindness"

Writer's Block is simply the condition of being blind to all the story elements that are available to you.

And even if you're not feeling blocked, you still might not be weaving the best story you could. There are probably opportunities for story improvement that aren't even occurring to you. Children's book ideas just waiting...for you to think of them!

The ideas that didn't occur to you can easily make the difference between a children's book that gets published and one that doesn't. So let me tell you how I can help. For starters...

The Big Bad Wolf tries LOTS of different ideas. He never stops being inventive.

Book I: 44 Ways to Fracture a Fairy Tale

Some people learn best by example. In 44 Ways to Fracture a Fairy Tale, I take one familiar fairy tale and present 44 different restructurings of it.

I decided the most effective way to share the skills I learned over a decade (from some of the most creative storytellers in the world) was to provide examples.

A lot of them.

And to make sure my examples were as clear and simple and familiar as possible, I decided my examples should be set in the world of fairy tales.

And just to be certain that you, the writer, can appreciate the power of this method...

Have you heard of Fractured Fairy Tales?

Fractured Fairy Tales are one of the hottest genres in children's books today. Maybe the hottest.

Consider these brilliant children's book ideas:

  • Mary Jane Auch's The Princess and the Pizza
  • Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted (about Cinderella)
  • Jane Yolen's Sleeping Ugly

What is a fractured fairy tale? It's a retelling of a familiar story with certain elements changed. The result? A whole new story. And guess what?...

The skills used in "fracturing" a fairy tale are precisely those I learned in PREwriting for Hollywood. "Fracturing" means giving yourself permission to change elements of a story to create a fresh new version.

I decided that my examples should all pertain to a single fairy tale. That way, you'll realize how many different ways a single, simple story can be told, retold and remade.

Read What Writers Who Have Read the Books Say

(Hover above a name for comments)

cartoon wolves

Children's book ideas you didn't know you had in you!

A real writer never stops brainstorming better solutions and more creative storytelling. That means questioning your assumptions.

  • Does my main character really have to be a boy?
  • Is the threat against my hero substantial enough?
  • Could a different setting make my story more powerful?

Use the examples in my book to inspire you to a better sense of all the ways in which you can improve a story.

You'll have better children's book ideas. You'll have more children's book ideas.

44 Ways to Fracture a Fairy Tale

Everyone knows the tale of The Three Little Pigs and their encounter with the Big Bad Wolf. Most people think of the story as written in stone.

I see it as a lump of clay. You can too.

Are my ways the only 44 ways to alter The Three Little Pigs? Not even close. But my hunch is that 44 is enough to open your mind to a new and improved way of looking at story and generating children's book ideas. You'll spend less time blocked and more time writing...writing better.

I give each new imagining of the story its own title. Here's a taste:

  • My Story, by B.B. Wolf
  • A Little Pig's Guide to Not Getting Eaten
  • The Wolf Strikes at Midnight
  • Sister Pig

But now, let's talk about the second book...

Book II: 22 Ways to Re-Think a Story

44 Ways to Fracture a Fairy Tale teaches by example. 22 Ways to Re-Think a Story teaches the principles of generating children's book ideas at the story element level.

You'll learn to tease new story options out of all your fiction by examining

  • viewpoint
  • setting
  • character
  • plot
  • character actions
  • style

Once you finish 22 Ways, you'll be a certified master of "What if"!

I'll even throw in a FREE Story Element Checklist

I want you to be equipped with these skills for life. So just to make sure you keep these tricks in your toolbox for the rest of your writing career, I've compiled a Story Element Checklist that you can keep at your side whenever you're writing.

Page 1 of the Story Element Checklist

The Story Element Checklist is the "What if" button you push to generate new children's book ideas almost automatically!

The checklist consists of each of the 22 Ways boiled down to a single sentence.

(And by the way: I lied. There are actually 28 Ways, but twenty-two sounds better.)

Print out multiple copies of the Story Element Checklist and keep them handy wherever you find yourself thinking about your writing!

And just to clarify...

All of the Ways will help you generate more children's book ideas, but each and every one of them can be applied to any kind of fiction...not just kids' stuff!

An embarrassing story

Early in my career, I had writer's block. I actually bought story software that promised to help me dream up new stories and improve old ones. It wouldn't be right for me to name the program (it's still being sold), but it cost me about $300 at the time!

Looking back, I realize that the software's only real value was in making me, the writer, appreciate all the various elements that comprise a well-written story...and how easily they can be changed to create something entirely new and improved.

Story Enhancement Software? Overkill. Use

  • 44 Ways to Fracture a Fairy Tale,
  • 22 Ways to Re-Think a Story, AND my
  • Story Element Checklist

...to open up a whole new world of possibility for your writing.

I'm Not Done!

I have one more embarrassing story to tell...and a bonus to offer.

My writing career almost ended before it started. You see, I took a college workshop in short fiction writing...before I'd studied short fiction. I'm keeping the embarrassing details to myself, but suffice it to say I was shamed by the professor in front of the whole class.

My first short story? I thought I'd written a masterpiece; he thought it was the worst thing ever written.

He was right. And the experience turned me into a real writer.

Most of the unpublished children's book manuscripts I read are just as poorly written as my work was, and I feel awful for the writers. It's clear to me that they think a lifetime of reading qualifies them to be writers.

It doesn't. Reading is one thing. Studying is another.

Well, since most of us don't have the option of dropping everything to take a college course in children's literature, I'm going to provide the next best thing...

Don't just READ Peter Rabbit. LEARN from it.

You're gonna love this.

I've taken the text of Beatrix Potter's classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit and analyzed the heck out of it! If you're new to writing children's books, this is essential information. If you've been writing children's books for awhile...

I'm confident you'll still find this to be an eye-opener.

Why a century old book? Well, for one thing, it's a classic. For another, its copyright has expired. I couldn't do this for you with a more recent book!

With a lengthy Overview and 45 footnotes, you'll get a real sense of the craft that goes into a publishable children's book. You'll also get my explanation of all the Essential Elements of Fiction and where they occur in Ms. Potter's work.

There you have it!

The price for my entire writing package is $12.99. That includes:

  • 44 Ways to Fracture a Fairy Tale,
  • 22 Ways to Re-Think a Story
  • The (Annotated) Tale of Peter Rabbit, and my
  • Story Element Checklist

All products are delivered as PDF files.
(If you don't have Adobe PDF software, you can download it for free.) You will be able to download the entire writing package as soon as you complete your purchase.

Now I'm supposed to put a big splashy graphic here with a button that says, "Buy now to make your life perfect!" or, "My children's book ideas are sure to make you the next Dr. Seuss!" But we're grown-ups, right? I think you can just click on a link.

Purchase Steve Barancik's creative writing package.

(And heck, if you aren't satisfied, write me back and I'll refund your money. For real.)

Open your story horizons. 3 books PLUS the checklist. Buy my children's book ideas package now.