Get the Idea
by Angela Ruth Strong
I loved fourth grade. I started noticing boys. I started caring about what I wore. And I started reading novels.
I still love reading middle-grade novels. I love that at age ten, readers have all the fun of being a kid at the same time they have to learn to deal with the realities of growing up. As a writer who wants my work to be both light-hearted and life-changing, there’s no better age to write for.
In my Fun4Hire series, I got to tackle the huge subjects of peer pressure, sibling rivalry, entitlement issues, and relationships in the zaniest ways imaginable. This took looking back at my own childhood, surrounding myself with kids ages 8-12, and pretty much making a total fool of myself.
Once the ideas started flowing, I just had to put them together like puzzle pieces to make my stories both entertaining and influential. Let’s look at the five different places ideas can come from, and whether you write for middle-grades or not, these places can help you develop the puzzle pieces needed for the story you want to write.
1.) Words that excite.
The first book in my series is titled The Water Fight Professional. I had this title before I came up with any other part of my stories.
It all began at a church picnic when my son--who was a preschooler at the time--wanted to get involved in a water fight with the older kids. He didn’t know how to get involved, so I gave him a cup of water to dump on his dad. His dad saw him coming and offered him a dollar to dump the same cup on me. I got wet. Jordan got paid. And that night he fell asleep holding onto his dollar bill. I said to his dad, “Look what you created. He’s going to become a water fight professional.”
The words stuck with me. Wouldn’t leave me alone. And I had no choice but to write about a kid who made money by throwing water balloons at people. The Water Fight Professional first came out as a short story published in an anthology then got picked up by the New York School Board to be published in over half a million tests. I couldn’t stop there. I had to make it a book. And then a series.
And still, to this day, kids are coming up with more stories ideas based on this title. They want me to write stories about all kinds of silly professionals. Because, see, I wasn’t the only person excited by these words.
2.) Asking, “What if?”
My daughter recently took a creative writing class where the teacher said that most people get less creative as they mature. Caitlin proudly raised her hand and said, “Not my mom. She’s a writer, so she’s very, very immature.” I would have preferred it if she’d said I was very, very creative, but I’ll take what I can get. And yeah, I do still play the kinds of games ten-year-olds love. Games like Battleship and, more importantly, “What if…”
It’s a fun game. And all writers have to be able to play this to come up with ideas for their stories. Here’s a few of mine that were used to create the Fun4Hire series.
What if you accidentally shoved a pie in the school principal’s face on Pi Day?
What if you taught your sister how to pillow fight and all her friends wanted to hire you to teach them “da moves”?
What if your car slid off the road into a river on your way to your grandparents’ house for Christmas and all your Christmas gifts washed away?
You could play this game forever. And you should.
3.) Something that makes me laugh.
Some of my favorite memories of reading to my kids are the picture books that had us laughing so hard we cried. Officer Buckle and Gloria. The Dumb Bunnies. Scaredy Squirrel. These are the books that I loved reading over and over again. If a book makes me laugh, I remember it. So when writing, I like to stick in the stuff that’s made me laugh in real life.
Like the time my brother lost a bet and had to run through the snow in his boxers. Poor Joey Michaels. I made him lose a bet, too.
My crazy mailman who was always racing up and down the street and we never knew if we were going to get the right mail in our mailbox or not. Enter Parker, the surfer dude mailman who acts as Joey’s mentor and Christine’s crush.
The Banana Slug Club. My brother-in-law once licked a slug to be in this club. Apparently, if you lick a slug, your tongue goes numb. I never tried this, but I laughed at those who did. “Go lick a slug,” became a catch phrase in my book.
One of the best compliments I get is when parents email me to say they had to put the book down because they were all laughing so hard they couldn’t continue reading. Not everyone writes humor, but for those of you who do, I just want to encourage you with words by C.S. Lewis: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Keep writing the things that make you laugh.
|Angela and her family.|
I do a lot of research for my novels. For instance, did you know San Francisco once had a pillow fight so big that the city had to pay thousands of dollars to unclog feathers from the gutters? I didn’t experience that, but it’s my own experiences that inspire me to research such things.
Gymnastics. I used to coach preschool gymnastics. These kids didn’t do the kind of tricks that Joey Michaels learns to do. In fact, I often had conversations like this…
Me: Are you going to jump on the trampoline?
Student: No, I’m peeing my pants.
But, despite the messy moments, I loved what I did and worked that passion into the story. Besides gymnastics, I sent Joey white water rafting—a favorite Idaho pass time. I had him play water balloon volleyball—one of my favorite games from summer camp. I sent him joy riding in a golf cart—okay, I didn’t do that, but I had some friends who did.
My story is more real because I write about things I’ve actually done or seen. I can’t let my characters have all the fun you know.
|Angela white water rafting.|
5.) A dream or a wish.
I’m a dreamer. And not only because I often wake up saying random things like, “The ants died of fright.” (My kids still tease me about that one, and they’ve been known to secretly record me when I start talking about my dreams because they are so utterly looney.)
No, I also have dreams for my future. Some of them can’t possibly come true. Like I probably won’t ever get to be a competitor on the cooking channel. But my characters can. And do. I get to live out my dreams through them. Other dreams I got to live out through my characters include:
A surprise party with a cake as big as Joey.
Performing on stage at a theater.
Making a ton of money through YouTube videos.
If you want to do it all, writing in the job for you. Because the sky is the limit. Unless of course, you dream of writing sci-fi. Then you can travel beyond our solar system or even dream up new worlds like the one and only Jill Williamson.
Whatever genre you write, make sure it’s something you love. Me, I love how fourth-grade boys get my jokes. And I love that I get to share a little bit of that middle-grade magic with you.
You get the idea.
Jill here! To thank Angela for coming on the blog, we're giving away a paperback copy of The Waterfight Professional. I loved this book. It's very fun. Also, if you want to start reading it now, the kindle book is currently FREE! Click here to check it out. And enter on the Rafflecopter form below.
Here's a little bit about The Water Fight Professional.
I, Joey Michaels, am the Water Fight Professional. Basically this means that customers pay me to soak other people. But my super-competitive best friend is sucking all the fun out of summer. All because I made a secret bet with him. Winning the bet wouldn't be so hard if I didn't have the following three problems: 1) My dramatic mother who feels the need to schedule every moment of summer 2) A surfer-dude mailman who can't keep deliveries straight 3) The annoying neighbor girl who all my friends have a crush on If I lose ... ugh, I can't even tell you what I'd have to do. I'd rather lick a slug!