“Where Story Ideas Come From & Why Personal Narrative Writing Works Best for Me”
One of my favorite questions to ask other authors is where their story ideas come from. It fascinates me that everyone seems to harness creativity differently. Some authors I know will take two things that ton’s typically go together and combine them into a story, for example mashing vampires and a beach vacation lead author Laura Lavoie to write Vampire Vacation. Other authors will create lists – emotions, settings, types of narrators etc. – and challenge themselves to combine them into a story.
Personally, I prefer Personal Narrative Writing and tend to mine my own life for story ideas. I find that when I write from experience or from the heart, it shines through in my writing and brings out my best work. Since I write picture books, I like to take my own personal experiences and then channel them through a child lens and onto the page.
Take for example my upcoming picture book Challah Day! illustrated by the talented Jason Kirschner (8/1/23 from Holiday House). The idea for Challah Day! was born out of a personal experience close to my heart – my love of baking challah with my two young children.
Book Description: Challah Day! is a joyful, rhyming story about a Jewish holiday food that’s baked with love. From kneading sticky dough to gathering with family around the table, Challah Day! celebrates family, food, heritage, and tradition! Join this happy family as they bake delicious braided egg bread for their Friday night Shabbat dinner.
I began making challah with my two young children when they grew old enough to stop trying to eat the raw dough. Making Challah with them has brought clouds of flour, broken eggs, endless laughter, delicious bread and a beautiful timeless tradition into our home. Channeling my joy of baking together led to my writing the first draft of Challah Day! after one particularly giggle-filled baking session.
I sat down and wrote an upbeat, rhyming story about a family baking challah together for Shabbat. I included fun details from my own life, for example one page reads:
Crack the eggs – one… two… three… four
Extra if some hit the floor.
These lines were inspired by the countless eggs my children broke while learning to master cracking eggs.
Chocolate? Raisins? Which to use?
It’s not hard for us to choose!
…come from my daughter who loves to try and fit an entire bag of chocolate chips into her challah dough.
And the lines…
Grandma lights the candles bright.
She and Grandpa hold us tight.
…were inspired by my in-laws who still scoop my children close every time we light the Shabbat candles together.
Mining personal experiences for story ideas can be a great way to help students create their own stories – everyone has a story to tell! Students can choose to stick close to their personal experiences the way I did with Challah Day! or they can use the concept as inspiration and then take artistic license.
Personal Narrative Writing Prompts:
- Write about a food that you love to cook or bake with your family.
- Describe a favorite tradition or holiday.
- Where is your favorite place to visit and why?
- What was the best day you have ever had?
- Write about your first sleepover
- What is something that you are proud of?
- What is the silliest thing that has ever happened to you?
- Pick a personal narrative writing prompt.
- Who are the characters in your story?
- What are the steps or order of events in your story?
- What fun personal details can you add?
- Write an opening line that will introduce your character and make your reader want to keep reading. For example, “The silliest thing that ever happened to me was ____” Or “I am proud of ____ because _____.”
- Write about the events that happened in your story while keeping the action moving forward. Follow your order of events using words such as: First, Next, Then, Finally.
- Incorporate your fun personal details as you write just like I did for Challah Day! Add adjectives/describing words and answer the following questions within your story: Who, What, Where, Why or How.
- Conclude your story with one of the following:
- How things ended
- What you learned
- What you will never forget
- How the story changed you/made you look at the world differently
- What you look forward to doing next time
About the Author: CHARLOTTE OFFSAY was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again.
Charlotte is the author of The Quiet Forest, illustrated by Abi Cushman (Paula Wiseman Books, 2024), Challah Day!, illustrated by Jason Kirschner (Holiday House, 2023), A Grandma’s Magic, illustrated by Asa Gilland (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, April 2022), The Big Beach Cleanup, illustrated by Kate Rewse (Albert Whitman, 2021), and How to Return a Monster, illustrated by Rea Zhai (Beaming Books, 2021).
Learn more about Charlotte’s work at charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter and Tiktok at @COffsay and on Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations. Charlotte is represented by Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary.
Thank you, Charlotte, for this post about your process and ideas to help kids with theirs!