Brian Clopper, elementary, Friday, Indie Authors, inspiration, writing exercise, writing games

Brainstorming Tips with author Brian Clopper

I was delighted to discover Brian Clopper, an author I shared with you earlier this week in my review of his book, Graham the Gargoyle.  Brian astounds me with his clever writing, but my kids are even more impressed with his artwork.  Brian is also a teacher and I bet his 5th grade students are just about the luckiest kids I know.  How cool to have a teacher who is also a writer and comic book artist!  Today, Brian shares with us some fun tips and tricks for creating new story ideas.  Enjoy!

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Coming up with story ideas has never been a problem for me. There are three techniques I teach my students to help them gain confidence in brainstorming. All three are quick, fun and easy to do.

Odd Pairings: Take two or three ideas that are wildly different from each other and put them together. For example, I created MONSTERS IN BOXERS, a book about kids who put on magical boxer shorts and transform into superhuman monsters ready to do battle with evil, by pairing monsters with boxers. How can you go wrong with that?

Here are other examples:
MY BIG TOE TALKS TO ME
MY SOAP, THE COMEDIAN
SNOWMAN SHOPPING TRIP
THE CAFETERIA COW
UNDERGROUND ASTRONAUT

Changing Expectations: this technique has some overlap with Odd Pairings. When brainstorming Changing Expectations, you use animal, professions, and objects and think of where you’d expect to find them or how they would act and turn the expectation upside down. Most of us assume an elephant would be large, clumsy and prone to stampeding first and asking questions second. But what if you change the expectation and imagine an elephant that is graceful and delicate. You have yourself an elephant ballerina and world of story possibilities.

Here are some more:
A gargoyle afraid of heights (sorry, already taken in my series GRAHAM THE GARGOYLE)
A noisy Bigfoot
An angry butterfly
A very well-spoken caveman
A vampire who wants to be a lifeguard (Sorry again, already used that in NORTON THE VAMPIRE)
A mummy who flies

The final idea generator is Randomizing. This was shared with me by a couple of cartoonists who like to get together and use Pictionary cards to help them generate story ideas. That’s exactly what you do. You randomly draw three Pictionary cards and select three or four ideas and string them together to form a story. It’s a lot of fun and is actually another use for Pictionary at parties, especially among the younger set who really love this.

Here’s how it works:
I select scarecrow, race cars and trophy from the Pictionary cards in front of me. Inspiration strikes and I whip up the story of a scarecrow that races cars, but has a natural problem in that when the car goes too fast, he loses his straw due to the excessive winds. He has to win back a trophy to save his farm from going belly up. All the other farm animals don’t have faith in him, and he must dig deep to solve his dilemma.

You can see changing expectations and odd pairings at work in the summary of my word play novel written to inspire young writers, STOMPER REX.

WITH THE OPENING OF A HATCH that appears on his ceiling, a troubled mortal boy, Stomper, is enlisted to save the fractured land of Crawlspace and reunite the magic. Trouble comes from all directions once he sets foot in the magical world of the written word. If Stomper can master alliterations, homophones, rhymes, similes and idioms before they do him in, Crawlspace might just have a fighting chance.

STOMPER REX is a romp through a magical world of dangerous word play. In the vein of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, this whimsical fantasy is a tale with lethal homophones, alliteration gone acutely awry and a host of hideous puns let loose that will disgust and confound.

Brian Clopper is a 5th grade teacher who dreams of a day when he too can set foot on a magic ladder and ride his way into a world where when hens fly to turn back time, skewer cougars hunt for unsuspecting children to shish kabob and boxing slugs engage in the rowdy gentleman’s sport of slimy fisticuffs.

Skewer cougars and boxing slugs are odd pairings, while when hens are a changing expectation. Who would think that riding atop a flock of harmless-looking birds would allow you to travel back in time? It’s all part of the magic that makes the world of Crawlspace come alive.

Odd pairings, Changing Expectations and randomizing are excellent ways to fill up your idea journal with tons of story possibilities. So what are you waiting for, get off your tuckus and get creating. There’s a zebra plumber or an ornery unicorn waiting for you to bring them to life.

Just so you know, I loaded a new book, STOMPER REX, onto the Kindle and Nook. It’s a perfect book to engage young writers with how to improve their writing using a variety of narrative techniques. Piers Anthony sung its praises, as he has all five books I’ve sent him over the years, in his most recent newsletter. I’m so proud of what he said, I just feel compelled to share it with you.

“I read Stomper Rex, by Brian Clopper. Bradford, nicknamed Stomper, is a fifth grader who has issues at school. He lives with his mother, his father having walked out. His mother is understanding but firm about his need to shape up. She gets him a tutor, Wanda, a teen girl he has a crush on, so he does pay attention as she reviews the material. This setting is competent, as the author is a fifth grade teacher; the secondary characters are well rounded. Then two odd men descend from his bedroom ceiling to take him to a fantasy land where he is needed. They are Ruffloon and Strivelwunk, who put him on a ladder which then flies into the land of Crawlspace, where there are many monsters, and much of the magic is made by figures of speech. Yes, the very thing he is having trouble with in school. I suspect this novel was a female dog to write, because coming up with relevant figures of speech when you need them can be a challenge, as I have found in my own writing. For example, when he is threatened by multiple snakes, he says “Fake snake!” and they merge into one pretend snake. That’s pretty simple, but others aren’t, such as “Try knocking loose those lox.” That’s homophone magic to make locks give way. It seems he has been summoned to defeat the cruel mistress of this realm, Stigma, a girl who visited but then decided to stay and rule, and they need to be rid of her. They have many adventures, requiring different figures of speech. Naturally there’s a climactic showdown, and strange things happen as they fight with whatever figures of speech they can think of under pressure. This novel represents a kind of course in figures of speech, and fifth graders who read it will surely develop a better understanding and possibly become better students. That may be the hidden agenda. This author continues to be a writer who deserves better attention in the literary world; this novel is anything but mindless.”

 

writer's life, writing games

Road Trip Games for Word Lovers

Road trips are my favorite summer pastime!  Every summer my family would take a few trips to visit family or go camping.  We never had big fancy vacations until I was in high school, so a six hour drive to grandma’s was as good as it was gonna get.  My parents are incredibly creative and made the journeys in a cramped car without air conditioning across west Texas or southern Oklahoma seem like an adventure.  The car catches on fire? How cool!  Bet you haven’t seen that before, hey kids?  We run out of coolant and need to hike off-road to a nearby stream to carry water back to the car?  Awesome!

Aside from vehicular mishaps, my parents taught us car games like The Alphabet Game.  My husband came into the family with a few car games himself, but they mostly involved counting things like tractors and grain towers. Now we have a few kids and find ourselves taking to the road ourselves, only with more reliable cars.  Our crew is pretty imaginative and loves a good challenge.  So, here are a few of the road games we’ve created to keep the boredom and sibling infighting at bay:

Where’d That Come From?
This game is like I Spy for the story loving crowd.  Spot something random or fairly unexplainable along the way and pose this question to the crowd.  Take turns coming up with a fantastic explanation for how the bizarre item could have come to rest in that location.  The more ridiculous the explanation, the more my crew would cheer.  Hubby added the rule in our car that you had to have at least five sentences to your story.  This keeps you from just throwing out the same silly statements each time like “Aliens!” or “Terrorists!”  Elaborate.  Make it more exciting.  Hubby’s advice to our crew: add back story.  What happened to create the scenario where aliens ended up breaking the fence along the roadway so that the cows escaped?  Why were the terrorists creating secret bombs that look like trash bags the highway crews leave along the side of the road?  Back story is where it’s at, people!  Of course, this game got wildly out of control after a few turns and we began adding on to each other’s ideas so that our stories were more like 20 minutes long.  Very entertaining!

Examples from our recent road trip:
Why is that town named Wooster?
How did that school bus end up in the middle of a field?
Why does that water tower have a giant hole in it?

 Billboard Songs
We love music!  This one is fun for those of you who know a bajillion songs and like to show off.  That describes my husband pretty well, so he made up this game for us.  Actually, it started like this: We saw a sign that reminded us each of a song.  He started singing his and I laughed because it reminded me of a different song, which I sang for him.  That’s how it all began.  Soon we were competing to see who could come up with the most songs.  Each sign we passed had one of us bursting into song based on one word or phrase from the billboard.  For example “We’ll keep the light on for you” becomes “This little light of mine” or “Valley View Retirement Center” becomes “Down in the valley…”

You could make it more challenging by calling out a sign/word and everyone takes turns coming up with songs from that one sign.  When no one else can come up with a song, the last person to sing gets to choose the next sign.

Alphabet Game
This is an old one and most of you know it, but just in case you missed the awesome fun of The Alphabet Game, here are the rules. Everyone starts at A.  Look at signs you pass (they must be signs! No truck logos or words found in the car!) When you see a word with the letter you are seeking, call it out.  So, you might see a sign that says For Sale.  You yell, “Sale! A!” and then move on to the letter B.  Everyone else now has to find a word that is not Sale and has the letter A while you are searching for B.  You’re winning!  Whoever gets to Z first wins.  It’s tricky because there are only so many words that use Q, Z, and X.  So, if your obnoxious little brother yells “Exit! E!” then you are going to be tortured when you find yourself sitting at X and passing exit signs.  Everyone learns to save certain words for when they hit the hard letters.  That, or they cheat.  My mom would get bored with this half way through and wish she had never suggested it.  I think she preferred to listen to our bickering over the constant shouting of random words and letters.  We would add to this torment by declaring a rematch, beginning again at A the minute anyone hit Z.  Hint: This game does not work well with small children.  Just because they know their a,b,c’s does not mean you will enjoy playing with them.  Everyone needs to be a reader to make this as cutthroat fun as possible. 🙂

Then What Happened?
I play this game with my writing club each year.  It’s easy and lots of fun.  Start off a story with a basic sentence that leaves room for the story to grow.  Then, the person beside you adds a sentence to the story.  Go around the circle/car adding sentences until you come to a ridiculous end and then start over.  If you get stuck, you can always use some of our story starters.  We usually end up trying to trump each other with the most ridiculous, most silly or most disgusting sentences.  It gets wildly out of control.  But then again, most of our games do.  I think that’s because we are wildly out of control… uh, I mean fun.

Do you have any wordy games you like to play in the car?  We would love to try out a few new ones.  Leave the instructions in the comment section and we’ll give your game a whirl next time we’re in the long stretch between civilization in a mini-van.