People often ask me how I write stories and I am afraid there is not just one answer to this question. I long for one of those neat daily routines that other writers seem to have which are super efficient, but it just doesn’t seem to work out that way for me. For me, writing can be a messy business however much I try and tidy it up! I’m never quite sure where an idea will come from…I can get story ideas from a newspaper article, an old photograph, visiting a museum, someone I spot in a cafe, something someone tells me about their day, an old soft toy, a trip to the library…Actually ideas can come from ANYWHERE and that’s what’s so exciting, you never know when one will strike! The trick is to be on high alert for story ideas at all times and to keep an ideas notebook with you for writing or drawing or sticking these ideas down in. I tried just keeping them in my head but I lost a lot of stuff that way and find writing it down much more reliable. And my notebooks are not at all neat and tidy, some ideas in there are good and some are downright stinkers, some pictures have come out as I imagined them and some are scribbles of who knows what! But I think this is how a good ideas notebook should be. Ideas notebooks are not for being tidy and getting things ‘right’, they are for playing with thoughts, working things out and making mistakes (which sometimes turn out to be your best ideas!).
So when I eventually sit down to write a story and I am in need of an idea, I will get all my notebooks out and scour them for something that I want to write about. I might even smush two ideas together or maybe even three!
Once I have decided on a story I try and map it out in bullet points, sort of like story stepping stones, so once I start writing I know roughly what direction I am hopping off in. Post it notes work very well for this as I can move them around and jig them about until the story makes sense. I like to plan my story out just enough that I can enjoy the writing of it without worrying about the structure. But not so much that I am bored of it before I have begun, I like to be able to surprise myself here and there! I have even been known to change my story direction halfway thought writing it, and that’s OK too, but I will need to rearrange my stepping stones/post it notes if this happens.
Once I have written my story I find it’s really useful to read it a few times, ideally out loud, so I can spot any holes in my story or muddled words or spelling mistakes or grammar hiccups or repetition of the word or. We all do these things (see previous sentence), and it is perfectly OK, no one’s first story draft is perfect. And even when you are a grown up story writer you have someone who writes corrections on your story, only they are called an editor not a teacher. But funnily enough they also use red pen.
Then I will correct any mistakes, change some words, add a bit, take a bit away, maybe even move a few paragraphs around until it all falls into place and I am happy with my story. Sometimes the whole process feels like a breeze and sometimes it feels like a huge great thunderstorm that NEVER ENDS. But it always does and I am always glad I kept on until it’s the best story I think it can be.
So that is pretty much how I write my stories. That and a lot of cups of tea, a small mountains of biscuits and quite a bit of staring out the window. I hope all that has given you some ideas on how to spot ideas and turn them into stories because now it’s your turn….
I have written a story about a character called Bad Nana. Bad Nana is braver than me, cheekier than me, funnier than me and definitely more stylish than me, she says the things I wished I had said and does the things I wouldn’t dare. I didn’t know my grandmas very well so I think she is the grandma I wished I had. Why don’t you imagine a long lost relative you wished you had. Maybe they look like someone you spotted on a bus, or a statue in a museum, or a photo in the paper…maybe you could draw or collage a picture of them…maybe they already exist or maybe you have completely imagined them. Give them a name and heaps of personality, imagine what they like and what they don’t, where do they live, what’s their favourite biscuit, that kind of thing. Then once you know them inside out, go on an adventure with them, it could be to outer space, the jungle, or the supermarket, lets face it anywhere is going to be exciting/hilarious/disastrous with them!!!!
Now go on, get imagining….
Sophy Henn is the acclaimed picture book maker behind Where Bear? Pass It On, Edie and the adorable Pom Pom series. Her debut title, Where Bear?, was shortlisted for the AOI Illustration Awards 2014 and the Waterstones Children’s Books Prize 2015. Her subsequent titles have gone on to great success, and Sophy was chosen as the World Book Day Illustrator in 2015 and 2016.
Her latest title Bad Nana is published 31st May in Hardback by HarperCollins Children’s Books.