Where Do Your Ideas Come From?
By Sands Hetherington
I write adventures for kids, and I have to confess that the main idea for my Night Buddies series came directly and unbidden from a real kid, my six-year-old son John.
I read to him every night for many years. It was a regular thing with us. One night when I was done reading and John wanted more, I may have suggested he invent a lights-out companion to go off to sleep with. Or maybe I didn’t and he undertook the project on his own. In any event, in a day or two, there for me was Crosley the crocodile, complete with goofy name and bright-red color. I was hooked.
John and I started throwing Crosley ideas around and making up episodes. This went on for a year or more and Crosley became an important family member. Then it dawned on me that there might be a sure-enough book in there somewhere. John and Crosley and an after-lights-out adventure. It was sitting right there in my lap. I hadn’t really invented anything; I was just lucky.
The trick was to figure out why on earth Crosley was red. You couldn’t just plop a red crocodile down as one of the main actors without some explanation. Then my flashbulb flashed: Crosley was red because he was allergic to water! Well, sort of. If he got water on him he broke out doing the Black Bottom dance and couldn’t stop for hours. Unless he took his antidote pills. These stopped the Black Bottom well enough but turned him red at the same time! It was one of those side-effects you can get from Black Bottom pills.
The rest fell into place fairly easily. Crosley started as a lights-out buddy for a kid named John who wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet, so why not make him a member of Night Buddies Amalgamated whose charter is to rescue kids from lying in bed awake and take them out on adventures. He shows up in John’s room on the night of our first story.
So I took John’s idea and ran with it. It was like a magic bean. I kept sticking it in the ground and it kept sprouting things. But it was always John’s magic bean. Maybe this is how the business works, at least how it works for me. Keep your story antennae out for something promising, and when you think you’ve found it, turn it over and over and poke it and peek inside it, and hopefully it will sprout something. Again, find something to start on. It may be out there in the world, or it may be already inside your head, but use it as a starting point, as a springboard. Don’t try to turn on some “idea switch” and conjure something out of nothing. I doubt you’ll conjure much that way.
Your basis can be quite ordinary. I wrote a wacky story once after seeing a stranger catch a rubber ball in a crowd of strangers. I transmogrified the incident by adding personalities to several of the strangers and tacking on a set of bizarre consequences. You can use any consequences you want. But first I had to see that guy catch that ball!
Anyway, that’s how I usually operate. William Faulkner said he got his stories from hanging around hunting camps as a boy. Go find something you think might be interesting and start with that. Use an event you heard about, or a huge peach you saw at the farmers’ market, or just a rubber ball in a crowd, and run with it. And if you get stuck, shove a note pad in your pocket and take a long walk like Dickens would late at night.
Thanks for having me!
You’re welcome! It was great to get to know you more. I wish you all the best for the future.