Today, I’m sharing a workshop sample from our Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies class, touching briefly on Master Studies, the three things your story needs, your creative routine (including morning pages), and the Post-it note exercise. For those of you who’ve taken the class, this could be a reminder that studying stories—your stories and published stories—can help you see what really works. Combining that study with establishing your own creative routine leads to those “Aha!” moments. For those of you who haven’t taken the class, this is a taste of what we discuss in our live workshops.



Master Studies


Find recently published picture books at a bookstore or a library. Read and identify each book’s characters, problem, inciting incident, escalation, resolution, and concept or It-factor. Does the story work for you? Why? Why not?



Three Things Your Story Needs


These are the three things that I look for when I'm evaluating my ideas and trying to make them perfect for picture books.


1) What is that emotion or feeling that you're going for?

2) Is it relatable to kids? If you can find that authentic feeling and make it relatable kids, then you have something.

3) And then the last thing is what's the concept or It-factor? I know It-factor sounds very abstract, but it can be so many different things. What will make kids love your book right away?


Just make sure your story has those three things.


Consistent Creative Habits


Find a time of day when you can be consistent about practicing your creative habit. This craft takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Having a consistent habit will just make it easier, and once you get into it, it's super fun.


Keeping a morning journal is an important part of that for me. It's just putting your ideas down on paper. I write three pages, and those pages can be anything. My first goal is just to brain dump. And that's just putting down whatever comes your mind and letting it flow, being in that state.


The main thing I want to point out is that we have to do this on top of the lives we already live. Life doesn't stop. But Journaling and all these other things will help you to find the creative time you need to build your stories. It's really about finding your inner voice. I know these things sound cheesy, but they're so true. It's like journaling. You write what comes to you, right? That's how you hear your own voice and tap into your gut instincts and your creativity. It’s how you find your story.


Post-it Note Exercise


Speaking of story, if you have an hour, this exercise is a fun way to brainstorm ideas. You’ll need a timer, Post-it notes, pens, a wall or place to work on, and it’s more fun with friends.


Step One


1) Set the timer for 10 minutes. Start the timer.

2) Brainstorm characters. Write down one word that describes the character. Think of more than just animals. Include objects like cars or flowers.

3) Write down one character on each Post-it. You can draw on the Post-it if you’d like.

4) Brainstorm as many characters as you can in 10 minutes.

5) Repeat steps 1-4, brainstorming places.

6) Then repeat steps 1-4, brainstorming problems that characters may have.


Step Two


1) Place all the Post-its on the wall, grouping them by category.

2) Make story collages from the different categories.

3) Take a step back and look at the wall. Let your mind wander.



This exercise allows you to make combinations that you wouldn't normally think of, and you can come up with lots of different situations. Then you go through, figuring out which ones could be story ideas. So, they're basically story sketches. This is actually a great exercise to quickly come up with lots of different possibilities and ideas. And lot of times when we come up with ideas, we’re juggling them in our head. That's where journaling helps because you're actually putting your ideas on paper. Visually, this exercise takes that a step further by using collage.


Collage is such a powerful creative concept. You don't need to reinvent everything. You’re just using existing parts together in an interesting way. It's brain dumping. You’re letting yourself find creative solutions. It’s amazing what you can see when you actually have words and pictures. You start putting stories together. Your mind automatically starts filling in the gaps.


Share Your Experience


Was this workshop sample helpful? Please share your experiences with the things we've discussed in the comments. What did you learn? Were there any surprises? Do you want to share challenges?