Ideas All Around

How do you find ideas for books? Many of my young adult or middle grade plots came out of newspaper stories. (Runaway, Shadow Self) Some came from incidents suggested from my days as a classroom teacher or from incidents that happened to my own children. I also found ideas from my own life. (The biggest pitfall here is that you have to remember to update a lot of the superficial stuff unless you mean to make the story a period piece. Clothing, music, amusement, electronic devices, social mores, so much will have changed.)
I’ve recently been working on a book about a teen in a military family, a background I know well. I grew up as an army brat, relocating and changing schools often. I moved eighteen times before I left home for college. Mostly it was to other military communities, but I also know what it’s like to end up in a small rural school where everyone else has known each other forever and you’re the lone new person, as happens to my main character. I made his case worse–always up the ante!-by depriving him of his dad, who died a hero, giving him a lot to live up to. The story also deals with how he is targeted by a school bully and wonders if he’s a coward, unworthy of his father. A lot of the story I could draw, bits and pieces, from my own experiences.
Happily, I didn’t lose my own father in that manner, but I was separated from him by calls of duty for long periods, thirteen months at one point, and it was very hard. I cry when I see on television children surprised by returning military parents. (I also think it’s rather unfair to film these kids!) So I know a good deal about the emotions my main character is going through, and authentic emotion is always a key to a good story.
You may not have been a military brat, but I’ll bet you have stories from your own life that could be taken and altered slightly, adapted to make a good starting place for a plot. Pull out your memory book and take a look!

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About Cheryl

Cheryl Zach has published over 50 books, mostly for young adult and middle grade, some for adult readers as Nicole Byrd. Her YA titles include the Southern Angel series: Hearts Divides ( which won the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion), Winds of Change, A Dream of Freedom, and Last Rebellion. Her YA Runaway won the RWA Rita award, and she is a member of RWA's Hall of Fame. A military brat, she changed schools 10 times in 12 years, won a National Merit Scholarship, holds a B.A. and M.A. in English and taught school before stopping to write full time. Born in TN, she has lived in TN, TX, GA, on the MS Gulf Coast, in southern CA, in Britain and Germany and has visited most of the other states and several other countries. She has spoken at schools and workshops around the country.