Curiosity Drives Story Ideas
I’m a research nerd. I get curious and follow the breadcrumbs…down the rabbit hole. Spending hours and hours for one little fact, some date, or the perfect photo so I can write a description. I have to try and stay focused when I’m trying to write. But I have so many questions. And, I try to find all the answers. But I know curiosity drives story ideas, so I’ve learned to trust the process.
When writers first start on a new project, they have questions. Being inquisitive = questions. Answering the questions = finding a story (hopefully).
Some authors explain how curiosity drives story ideas:
“…Driven by my passionate curiosity about [a] subject…Our interests can guide our focus and lead the exploration of our topic,” author Georgia Heard explains in her book FINDING THE HEART OF NONFICTION.
“Curiosity and passion are invaluable if you want to grow as a writer,” author Dinty Moore states in his book THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER.
“…We must dig deeply into life to uncover new insights…then create a story…that expresses our interpretation to…[the] world,” Robert McKee writes in his book STORY.
When writing for children, authors ask questions, research facts, and write. One of the most important things to think about while writing is who is my audience?
When I started writing my first book SIOUX CODE TALKERS OF WORLD WAR II, I thought I had a plan. I struggled findings more than basic facts. I knew the men encountered a few challenges, persevered, and were recognized for their unique service to our country. So I thought I’d write a picture book.
I chuckle when I think about that version of my story. I think every new author thinks, “I’ll write a picture book” not realizing all that is involved with writing for children.
Studying the Craft of Writing
Luckily, someone suggested further study of the craft of writing. I knew I didn’t know what I was doing, so I signed up for a class at Writers and Books, titled, “Writing Picture Books for Children.” Logical, right? Well, I worked really hard for those 6 weeks, drafting the story, reading outloud to our group, revising again. I listened to what people were offering as advice. And reworked, and edited, and revised again.
At the end of the course, my intructor Jennifer Meagher kindly said, “Your story isn’t really a picture book. You should write mid-grade or YA.”
At first, I was confused, but she continued to explain the complextity of my story, and how much she loved the topic. Long story short, I changed directions based on Jennifer’s advice and decided to write a longer book for children.
Making the Choice: Structure and Audience
Figuring out the story idea was based on my fascination with Code Talkers. And the audience was an easy fit – I’m a 6th grade teacher and I love that age group. Figuring out the structure was more challenging. With Jennifer’s guidance, I tried a fictionalized story. That didn’t work for me. I tried a hybrid structure, but when searching the market options, that type of structure didn’t fit at the time. I tried nonfiction, but back then, I hadn’t completed all my research. However, nonfiction seemed to be the best fit.
I also knew I was passionate about finding all the details out about what the Sioux Code Talkers did during World War II, but deep in my heart, I didn’t want to share the gory details of war. So that helped me zero in on my mid-grade nonfiction audience. Once I had a topic, structure, and audience, it was time to put my efforts into research.
I called people, museums, veterans offices, anyone I could thing of on the phone. Each thoughtful person gave me another lead to follow. So I did.
I placed ads, started posting on internet boards (that was brand new at the time), and did keyword searches regularly. Slowly, details appeared.
I visited the National Archives. Wow! That’s an experience. And, I had the opportunity to go there twice! I copied and took notes on everything I could.
I collected important vocabulary that is specific to the topic and created a “word hoard” or as I call them in my classroom “word tickets” to embed in sentences as I write. For SIOUX CODE TALKERS, I made sure I included military terms the best I could. For my current WIP, I’m writing about a woman who was a seamstress, so I collected a bunch of sewing terms and am trying to use them as I write.
As a teacher, I also guide my students toward the purpose of writing. As a writer, this is something to keep in mind as well. My students often ask, “Why did you write your book?” My purpose for SIOUX CODE TALKERS was to inform, at first just with my own family. But something shifted as I kept searching for information about the Sioux Code Talkers. As I found more fascinating facts and talked about my research with my friends and family, I began to realize not many people knew of their unique and honorable service of these men. So, my intent to inform changed to a broader audience, and that in turn guided me, helped me determine which details to use and stay focused.
Looking back, my writing journey started with curiosity. I was hooked, and eventually found the right way to structure and tell the best story for my audience. And just so you know, this whole process took me 20 years! I know your story, from start to publication, won’t take that long. But don’t rush either. Make sure curiosity drives your story idea as long as needed …and make it the best it can be. Good Luck!
For more info:
My book SIOUX CODE TALKERS OF WORLD WAR II – CLICK HERE
New Voice Interview: Novice to Debut Author CLICK HERE
More about Sioux Code Talkers video interview CLICK HERE
Kelly Gallagher’s Real World Writing Purposes – CLICK HERE.