Martha Brockenbrough, Author of the Month: A Favorite Kid Question = Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Kids love to know where stories come from, and they often ask authors where we get our ideas in visits.

I love this question. For one thing, ideas can come from anywhere, and it’s a lot of fun to show kids how stories can spring from their everyday lives. What’s more, it’s also fun to show kids how they can deliberately seek out stories using inspiration from art, music, pictures, and more.

My soon-to-be-published book, The Game of Love and Death, is one that came from both my own experience and from external inspiration. I was at one point stuck on a different book, and a friend sent me a vintage photo and told me to write a story about the people in it. I was amazed at what came out, and really came to like using the technique, which is one that can be adopted for classrooms. It works equally well for nonfiction and fiction, and also shows how research can be leveraged in storytelling.

The Game of Love and Death is set in 1937, a year when a government agency took a lot of photos of houses and businesses as part of an economic stimulus project. It was a lucky thing, and there are many, many ways to find images to serve any kind of writing project.

Here are a few pictures I looked at as I worked, trying to get a sense for the clothing and lighting and facial expressions and other details that revealed a bit about the time. They can also be mined for possible characters (although I had mine and didn’t need the help there).


Author: Laurie Ann Thompson

I write books for curious young minds and open hearts, no matter what their age. BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, a teen guide to saving the world, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September of 2014. EMMANUEL'S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH, a picture-book biography, will be published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January of 2015. And MY DOG IS THE BEST, a heartwarming fictional picture book, will be published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers/Macmillan in May of 2015.

9 thoughts on “Martha Brockenbrough, Author of the Month: A Favorite Kid Question = Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

  1. Great post, Martha! Can't wait to read your book!
    And I love your answer, Patrick! I often tell them I WISH there was an idea store I could visit (to show them sometimes I struggle with ideas as much as they do).


  2. I used to say “everywhere,” and then one day I decided to make a list – a very long and specific list of all the places I get my ideas from summer camp to phobias to people who wear dress socks and sandals. Whenever kids ask me this question (and one just did today) I pull out the list and read it as fast as I can. It takes about two minutes. When I am done I tell the kids this is only a small sliver of where I get my ideas and they get the point!


  3. I love that you actually have an answer to this. No matter how often I'm asked, I'm flummoxed. The majority of my story ideas come from my sketches and illustrations. Which leads to the same question about my sketches and illustrations. I think I prefer—and will work on coming up with an answer similar to Dr. Seuss' as noted by Patrick.

    Half way through TGOLAD and LOVING it!!!


  4. Great post, Martha, and a great answer to a frequently asked question!

    Patrick, I love that story about Dr. Seuss.

    All of you, you will not believe how good The Game of Love and Death is. Seriously. It's knock-your-socks-off amazing!


  5. Fascinating! I often get the question, too. My short answer is, “I don't get ideas, they get me.” I love Dr. Seuss's. He said he got his from a little village in Switzerland called Uber Gletch (which is higher than the village of Gletch) where he went each summer to get his cuckoo clock fixed. The villagers there, he said, are very strange, and he got all his ideas from them.


  6. That's by far the most-asked question! I always say that stories come from a combination of memory and imagination—it's just the ratio that changes. Even goofy picture books can be autobiographical. I love using photos when I'm teaching. When I was in the classroom, I collected and laminated piles of them for students to use. What an inspiring story about how it worked for you! Hmmm… I wonder if I still have those somewhere! I can't wait for my copy of The Game… Thanks for this wonderful post, Martha!


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