Creativity to the Rescue: Finding BIG Ideas

As a piggyback to last week’s BIG IDEAS post in our Master Your Craft Series, it occurred to me that many of our readers may still be struggling with their concept not being quite BIG enough to commit months or maybe years to writing a story. Or maybe you’ve only got a small nugget of an idea. So what do you do?

First let’s break concept down into bite size chunks.

Inciting Incident: The “what now” that sets your story in motion! This is the scene where something happens to cause the protagonists to change course.

Protagonist: A main character with specific characteristics.

Goal: What must your main character achieve in your story?

Stakes: What will happen if the protagonist don’t achieve his/her goal?

If you have these four ingredients, you can write a logline.

Standard logline: When/After {INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS}, a {PROTAGONIST} must {GOAL}, or else {STAKES}.

But what if you don’t have all those ingredients? Well, it’s going to be difficult to write a story! You need a creativity boost!

There’s been much written about how to maximize your creativity. Basically, you need a method for opening your mind to jiggle loose new ideas. Physical Movement often helps or sometimes a nice long bath does the trick. Sometimes we get ideas through serendipity, like from dreams or watching people, or by cross-pollinating ideas by watching the news or enjoying art. Writing prompts can help too, but sometimes you have to go grab creativity and force it to work for you.

Creativity tricks for writers:

  • Apples to Apples Game: No, I’m not asking you to play it! But you can use the game cards to help you generate ideas. There are 749 red noun (person, place, thing, or event) cards, 249 green adjective cards, and some blank cards.

Example: Say you’ve got a main character {a quiet young boy who’s ignored by his busy family}, but that’s it.

Easy! Pull out three adjective cards and three noun cards and start making some connections. Let’s pretend you get Demi Moore, The Great Depression, and NYPD for your nouns and Scary, Mysterious, and Hard-Working for your adjectives.

So obviously, a story where Demi Moore is the goal, inciting incident, or the stakes is a little bit too weird. But you see the words scary and mysterious and you might remember that Demi Moore was in the movie Ghost. Then your mind starts to pull the other words together to form a bigger idea. Let’s try inserting some of this into the standard logline structure.

After {moving into an old house in New York}, {a quiet young boy who’s normally ignored by his family} must {convince his family that their new home is inhabited by a ghost}, or else {STAKES}.

Okay, this isn’t perfect and I wouldn’t pitch it to an agent, but it’s got your brain working, which was the goal. I ran out of steam with those cards. I didn’t use them all and some of them were just used to generate other ideas (Demi Moore=ghost, NYPD=New York, The Great Depression=the time period just before their house was built). Also, I’m not done. I don’t have STAKES yet. So pull another set of cards and see what you come up with for the stakes. If you completely hate the idea, start over and draw more cards or move on to another trick.

  • The Dictionary: Just turn to a random page, close your eyes, and point to a word. Repeat this until you have an assortment of words to work with and fill in the blanks just like you did with the Apples to Apples game.
  • Magnetic Words: Every writer has those magnetic words that speak to them. (Heck, one of my favorites is the word “magnetic.”) Keep a list of your magnetic words in a handy spot (like a favorite journal or an easily accessible file) and use those to fill in the blanks just like we did with Apples to Apples.
  • Misfortune Tellers and Tarot Readings: Author John Claude Bemis has great creativity exercises on his website that can be used to help fill in the blanks for your logline.
  • Talk it out: Once you’ve used the ideas above to come up with your best possible BIG IDEA, talk it out with a friend or family member. See if they think you’ve come up with a BIG IDEA, or maybe they can help you make it BIGGER!

Happy Writing!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.


So you’ve spent a bazillion hours writing the GREATEST NOVEL EVER. Every word is spelled correctly. Every comma has been checked. Every em dash is used appropriately. You’ve filtered for over-used words. And, of course, you’ve crafted a Killer First Line(click here for more info).

Your book is ready to sell! Congrats!!!

Pitch it to me!

If you’re like me, your tongue goes dry, you start to shake, and you suddenly remember you need to put the clothes in the dryer. (And that’s just me alone with my mirror. I may actually break out in hives if an agent was in the room.) I guess telling you now that you were supposed to write your pitch sometime between the time the idea floated into your brain and the beginning of your second draft wouldn’t help your confidence much, huh?


Shake it off! And let’s get to work!

All you have to do is condense your GREATEST NOVEL EVER into the GREATEST PITCH EVER, preferably one bite-sized concise Killer Sentence, no more than 35 words, that makes us want to read your masterpiece.


Lets break this down, step-by-step. First, write down this information about your story.

  1. MAIN CHARACTER (not the name) + an adjective that describes him/her
  2. MC’s GOAL
  4. WHAT ARE THE STAKES if he/she fails
  6. SETTING (only use it in the pitch if it’s important)

I’ll use THE WIZARD OF OZ as an example.

  1. Dorothy—lonely farm girl
  2. Her goal––return home
  3. What stands in her way––needs the Wizard, battles a witch
  4. Interesting tidbit––flying monkey army, tin man, lion, scarecrow
  5. Stakes––she may be stuck in Oz 4ever!
  6. Setting––transported into a magical land after a twister hits her farm.

Now, let’s put that into a sentence.

After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she must battle an evil witch with a flying monkey army to find the wizard who can help her return home.

That pitch is 35 words, 177 characters including spaces.

Notice that the MC’s name isn’t used, because it really doesn’t tell us much. Of the many interesting tidbits I had to choose from, I picked the monkey army because it played well with the conflict. The lion, scarecrow, and tin man are more related to the theme, which shouldn’t be a part of your pitch unless you can use an expanded to a two-three sentence structure.

After a twister transports a lonely farm girl to the magical land of Oz, she finds herself face-to-face with an evil witch and her flying monkey army. She befriends a lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man to help her find the powerful wizard who can help her return home. If they fail, she may be stuck in Oz forever.

Add a few more details (like the Good Witch, poison poppies, sparkly ruby red shoes, her being an orphan, Kansas, Toto) to the three sentence example above, and you’ve got yourself a query hook.

What about Twitter Pitch Parties? This pitch is too long!

To condense this into a 140-character Twitter pitch, simply take the one-sentence pitch and get rid of whichever words you need the least.

When a twister transports a farm girl to a magical land, she battles a witch to find the wizard who can help her return home. #PitMad #MG

This looks easy, right? I kinda cheated, using a beloved, well-understood novel. Yours might be more complex. But even if it is, you’ll need to be able to boil it down the the essentials.


Behind the scenes  at The Winged Pen, we regularly help each other with pitches. Here are some great pitch tips from others in our group that will be especially helpful if you choose to participate in a Twitter Pitch Party!

Julie.— Adding recent comparable titles (comps) to a pitch can convey a lot of information about style and tone in very few words. So if your story is a mashup between Pride and Prejudice and The Walking Dead, or Sherlock Holmes reimagined as MG, or Veronica Mars in space, include that in your pitch for extra oomph! 😀

Laurel — Here’s a handy post from super-agent Jennifer Laughran to help you find the sweet spot for your comp titles. And two fun tools for brainstorming books that are similar to your masterwork: Amazon Visualization Tool and Whichbook.

Rebecca. —Now, you’ve got your pitch ready to go! Time to move on to your next story, right? WRONG! Now, it’s time to get creative. Most Twitter pitch parties let you pitch each manuscript a few times over the course of a day. Even for live pitches, you might want to let your hair down and have some fun with a pitch that has a little more voice. A creative pitch 1) sheds light on a different aspect of your story, and 2) gives you a second chance at bat. The pitch that calls to one agent might not get pulled out of the slush by another. Changing up your pitches gives your story the best shot at a request.

Even for a “creative” pitch, there are some “tried and true” formulas. Let’s take a look.

1, 2, 3. It’s a simple formula, yet appealing.

1 lost girl, 2 witches, 3 new friends. Dorothy and friends must defeat the evil witch to earn the thing each can’t live without. #PitMad #MG

Mash-up of interesting stuff. Imagine you’re an agent scanning through thousands of pitches at a twitter party. It takes something really grabby to get you to click on one. What’s interesting enough to rise above the slush? 

Poison poppies, flying monkeys, a wicked witch willing to kill her for her shoes – Dorothy must fight them all to make it home. #PitMad #MG

When using creative pitches in a twitter pitch party, it’s a good idea to pin your basic pitch to the top of your twitter page. Creative pitches might catch an agents eye, but they’ll probably leave them with questions too. If they’re a click away from your basic pitch, they’ll get a more compete picture of your story.

Great info, friends! Thank you!!!

Speaking of Twitter Pitch Parties! There are soooo many great ones coming up soon. Here are a few dates to add to your calendar. Polish your pitches now, so you’ll be ready. Click the hashtags below for more info!

February 23, 2017 #PBPitch Only picture books!

Feb 24, 2017 — #PitMad All categories, four times per year!

April 5, 2017 — #KidPit All KidLit categories

May 18th, 2017 #PitDark Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade Horror

June 8th, 2017 #PitMad All categories

June 22nd, 2017 #SFFpit All age categories for fantasy and science fiction

June 22nd, 2017 #PBPitch Picture books only

June 28th, 2017 #FaithPitch All age categories for faith-based fiction

September 7th, 2017 #PitMad All categories

October 2nd and 3rd, 2017 #DVPit For marginalized authors/illustrators

October 26th, 2017 #PBPitch Only picture books!

October 26th, 2017  #PitDark Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade Horror

November 8th, 2017 #KidPit All KidLit categories

December 7, 2017 #PitMad All categories

December 2017 #SFFPit All age categories for fantasy and science fiction


Others Twitter Pitch Parties to check out: #Pit2Pub, #PitMatch

Here are more references for writing loglines/pitches:

Tips on Twitter pitches

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.