Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"What If?": shaking up tired characters

Unlike some professions or industries where new technology and advances are always changing the playing field, storytelling is an ancient art.  For centuries it has always been the same.  And every class, lecture or seminar I have EVER attended basically teaches the same information.  Which makes me laugh because for some reason it seems that I need to keep hearing it over and over again, just the same. I guess the difference is in the way in which this knowledge is delivered to us and where we are in our writing process to use that knowledge.

As you all know, I am in the middle of Marsha Diane Arnold's self-paced e-course on "Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Children's Picture Books".  Well, yesterday I did Session #3: How To Write Your Great Character and WOW! Talk about helpful.

Perhaps it was because I was neck-deep in revisions of a certain little penguin story.  Perhaps it is the way in which Marsha presents the information with the many examples from existing picture books.  Or perhaps my muse just decided to give me an extra push toward enlightenment.  Who knows!  I am not going to complain.

Session 3 is chock full of a TON of useful information regarding character arcs and plot arcs.  In fact, I will be returning to this session time and tiem again for sure.  (Thank goodness for this self-paced e-course format!)

But there was one bit of information that really spoke to me yesterday.  Thinking about the "What If".

It is often said that there are no original stories.  That we just keep recycling the same premise over and over again.  But I think the secret to fresh storytelling lies in the "What If".

What if the bears in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" were not bears, but dinosaurs who really want to lure Goldilocks to their home and eat her?  (Mo Willems rocks!)


What if the Gingerbread Man who escapes from the old couple is ACTUALLY made of stinkey cheese and therefore no one wants to chase him? (thank you, Jon Scieszka)

What if its a selfish Wolf who cries boy instead of the other way around?  (hilarious, Bob Hartman!)

And even though I used fairy tale examples, the what if can be used for any story.  You have a story about a kid who refuses to be potty trained.  Well, if its been done many times, what if the kid loves the toilet so much he refuses to get off of it?  Silly example, but you get my point.

So, shake it up!  Twist it up!  Have fun with the what if.  And if you get a chance, check out this e-course!  It truly is great!

Visit the Picture Book Academy for more information on "Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books". Its a self-paced e-course so registration is always open!


  1. I didn't do her online course, but paid for a critique with Marsha.She is great! Some of my favorite books are the "what-if" spinoffs.

  2. GREAT advice. Get stuck, start asking, "What if..." And there you go - off like a writing rocket.

    Thanks, Marcie!

  3. It's fun to hear all about your class and what you're learning, Marcie. Thanks for reminding us of the great question, WHAT IF?!

  4. Marcie, I love your blog posts and not just because some of the last few have been about my course and me. :) They are fun, succinct, and helpful. You must be a writer! :)

  5. Great post, Marcie! I pinned it so that I have it on hand. You've provided a wonderful reminder that no story is too old if you find a new way to tell it.

  6. The 'what if...?' question is a great one to ask yourself in order to think of your character's dilemma or storyline from a different angle. Great post as usual, Marcie.

  7. I am taking the same course. I love that it is self-paced. Great post on session 3.

  8. Even though you you may get the same information over and over again about how to write picture books, I think each time you are a different you with a different manuscript at a different point in its journey. So there's always room to grow and learn!