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BRAINSTORMING CHAPTER BOOK IDEAS
It’s March and that means it’s time for the annual Chapter Book Challenge. I’m so glad to be posting again this year. You can read some of my previous posts for ChaBookCha and ChaBooChaLite here – including “Working Your Way Through ChapterBook Challenge 2017," “How to Start Writing Your Chapter Book,” and “How to Write a Chapter Book Series.”
This year, I’m writing about generating ideas for a chapter book project.
1) Think about characters – Quite often, readers will gravitate toward a chapter book because they can relate in some way to the main character. When trying to harness chapter book ideas, ask yourself some questions about a potential MC. Perhaps jot down character traits and see where that leads you. For example, do you envision a lovable character? Someone with quirks and imperfections that children can identify with? Maybe a character who struggles, is funny, or silly, or who is trying to find his or her place in the world. In my chapter book series, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION (illustrated by Callie Metler-Smith, Clear Fork Publishing), the main characters are nine-year old adventurous twins who are interested in finding out more about their ancestors and making a difference. I chose boy and girl twins so that, hopefully, the story would have broad appeal. The main characters, Emma and Simon, have different personality traits, and I hope that readers will identify with them both.
2) Think about settings – Aside from memorable main characters, chapter books usually feature memorable backdrops. To help gather ideas, do some research and write down a list of potential settings. Some typical settings for the chapter book age range are: home, school, camp, a magical/fantastical location, a big city, a country locale, or a historical setting. Maybe the main character loves horses and the setting is a horse barn. Or maybe the MC is an animal living in a forest, in a setting with other forest animals. RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, the first book in my time-travel chapter book series, features an amusement park in Coney Island in 1928. My second book, THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE, features the Liberty Bell and the World’s Fair, in 1915 Philadelphia and San Francisco. And my third book in the series features Washington, DC and the Library of Congress. When I was planning the book series, I researched cities and historical attractions, and mapped out the settings to help create an interesting adventure arc. I am planning on two more American cities, and then hopefully the twins will get out their passports for more far-flung adventures. And maybe I’ll go along too for research purposes!
3) Think about situations – You can generate ideas by asking “what if” questions about the situation the characters might be involved in. Is it the first day of school, and then the whole school year can be written about in various chapters? Is the protagonist starting summer camp, and then you have the summer to tell your tale? Is the main character a mermaid living in her own undersea world, with lots of adventures awaiting? Or maybe the MC is a penguin living in Antarctica, who has his family and friends and a whole story waiting for you to explore. The situation in which you place your MC can definitely jump-start your brainstorming.
4) Think about underlying themes – It may be helpful to list out the themes for your book in a pitch or “book mission statement” as that may provide some idea inspiration. My chapter books include themes of family connection with ancestors, understanding history, and using courage to both make things happen and make good choices. I hope that children and adults will enjoy these themes and that the books spark discussion and connection between generations. As you brainstorm about themes, maybe one will spark a potential plot.
5) Think about a story that has series potential – Not all chapter books turn into a series, but it doesn’t hurt to keep this in the back of your mind as you gather your ideas and plan out your book. If you hit on a great idea that has series potential, keep planning and organizing your chapters to capitalize on the possibility that your characters can move into different adventures in an expanding series.
Good luck gathering ideas for your chapter book! I look forward to reading your stories!
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two:The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, 2018). Upcoming releases include Return of the Magic Paintbrush and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories (Clear Fork, 2019). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Assistant and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Moderator for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy.