Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

This post was originally published on November 29, 2010 at Tara Lazar’s blog in honor of PiBoIdMo. We thought those of you participating in this year’s picture book idea month might find it useful.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

pirate princessIf you’re like me, writing is work. By this I mean it is my job, my primary source of income (therefore, work) but also that it is just plain HARD. There is nothing so depressing as trying to come up with something new and fresh to write about—and coming up with nothing.

That happens to me a lot.

So what do you do?

Well, I really don’t know the answer. But here are some tricks I use to muddle through those times when I have nothing to write about.

1) Start with character. I truly believe that the most important aspect of a picture book, what drives its popularity the most, is a charismatic main character. The premise, the setting, the cutesy word play and rhyme—all of these are secondary to character. So if you need to brainstorm only one thing, work on that viable character list.

The trick to creating a truly charismatic main character is to blend flaws with flair. Don’t just come up with fifty cute character traits. Give your main character some faults, some defects—he will be infinitely more interesting.

2) Something old into something new. There are so many examples of authors who take an old idea and make it into something modern and fresh. The entire genre of fractured fairy tales is built on the premise that recognizable is always a benefit for marketing, but recognizable AND fresh is money in the bank. Now I’m not at all recommending that all you do is read a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales and add a hippopotamus to each story (don’t do that, because it was my idea first). But if you can take inspiration from something your audience will recognize and then take it to a brand new place, where is the downside?

quackensteinSome examples of this in my own work:
THE HOG PRINCE – we know it’s a frog prince, not a hog prince, but Eldon does not.
QUACKENSTEIN – isn’t every monster story better with a duck?
THE TWELVE WORST DAYS OF CHRISTMAS – believe it or not, in addition to a Christmas song, this is a sibling story

3) Look at your own life. And I mean this as way to eliminate bad ideas. When you’re having a hard time with inspiration, there is the temptation to use your own children or grandchildren as your muses. Trust me, this is a bad idea. Because as cute as their latest antics are to you, they very rarely make for good picture books. Save yourself. Don’t do it.

4) Exercise. Well, do a writing exercise at least. When you’re really stuck you could reinforce your writing ability by taking a book that is perhaps not one of your favorites and then rewriting it the way it should be. Obviously, you can’t then try to publish your version of Dora the Explorer (because Nora the Explorer or even Eleanora the Explorer is simply not going to be fresh enough to merit a whole new franchise!). But the exercise will show you that you are not only able to create a new story but one that is better than something that was actually published (which means there is hope for you yet) and, again, you never know where that road will lead.

Hampire_jacket5) When all else fails, take a breath. Sorry, guys, sometimes the ideas are not going to come. No matter how much you force it. When you are really and truly stuck, stop trying so hard. Instead, work on revising older manuscripts—maybe you can whip one of those into shape. Or perhaps the something old that you will turn into something new will come from your own pile of older ideas.

Valentine’s Day: A Pun-loving Holiday

The first time my son brought home valentines from school I realized what a great snapshot of pop culture they were. For the next few years, I’d pull out a few valentines he’d received from classmates and create a scrapbook page with them. (Back then, I somehow managed to find time to keep a scrapbook.)  Here’s a page from 2001. One look at this and you can see what was hot with the kindergarten set and beyond.


Last weekend when my parents came to visit, I had a similar gift delivered. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had saved the valentines from my classmates!


It was fun looking through them. I remember that a lot of the valentines we bought back then were printed in over-sized paperback books with several to a page. We had to cut or punch them out. Some were adorable! Some were politically incorrect. Puns were as popular then as they are now.  Why are puns connected to this holiday?  I think it’s because they make it easy to show a little wit while also showing sentiment. Here are some favorites from the group above. (Not sure you’d see one like the top center today… and I think we know the identity of bat girl now…)


Puns are also a form of humor accessible to children, offering a word game they can participate in, either by appreciating a pun with a smile, or by creating their own puns. My mother was making valentines with my eight year old niece this year. My niece asked what her cousin liked best, my mother said, “peace signs.” My niece responded, “Why don’t I make her one that says, I love you to peaces?” Perfect!

After hearing this story, it occurred to me that this could be a fun word game to play with children. Why not create Valentines for their favorite characters from literature? What would Harry’s valentine to Jenny say? What would Peeta’s valentine to Katniss say? How about Peter Pan’s to Wendy?

If you don’t have a pun ready for your young or old valentine yet, check out this list of 101 Valentine’s Day puns!

If you're looking for the perfect Valentine's book, full of play on words, check out The Hog Prince by my blogging partner, Sudipta!

If you’re looking for the perfect Valentine’s book, full of play on words, check out The Hog Prince by my blogging partner, Sudipta!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Keep playing with (and on) words!