I just finished directing a Playwrights Festival with my middle school students. Since we can’t perform live in person this year, we decided to do things a little differently for drama club. I had four dedicated students who were so excited to write a ten-minute play for the festival. They rattled off a million different ideas and then the conversation went something like this:
Ms. Potoma: Wait, wait, wait, hold up. Before you get all excited about a plot or character, I have rules.
Student: What sort of rules?
Ms. Potoma: Well, there are a lot of rules for writing a 10-minute play. But the biggest one that I’m going to give you is this… your characters must be inanimate objects.
Student: What? How does that work?!
Ms. Potoma: You will pick inanimate objects, and then have them walk, talk, have feelings and personalities.
Student: But why do they have to be inanimate?
Ms. Potoma: Because you only have 10 minutes to tell a whole story, and if you use inanimate objects there is a lot of exposition and set up that you can skip because inanimate objects already come with baggage and associations.
Student: Oh, I guess that makes sense.
Ms. Potoma: Okay, so tell me your ideas now.
They ended up writing four completely different fabulous plays with amazing characters: the Queen, King and Jack of Diamonds, a Teddy Bear a dog and cat stuffy, rock, paper, scissors and a few ostriches for good measure.
The same method and philosophies that we used to write the plays can be applied to writing Picture Books!
Thank you, Kirsti Call, for your amazing depth of knowledge and helping me find a few good examples of picture books with inanimate objects as their main characters.
Want to give it a try?
Step 1. Take out a piece of scrap paper and scribble all over it with your eyes closed. I know, I know, weird, but go with it. Wide loops and swirls work best.
Step 2. You’re going to look at your scribbles and find objects hidden among them. Think about it like cloud reading. You know how you look at a cloud and think, “oh, that one looks like a dinosaur!” Do the same thing with your scribbles. Write down at least five.
Step 3. Take a look at your list and pair up your favorite two or three. These will be your characters. For example: Salt and Pepper Shakers
Step 4: Jot down what your characters might be like based on their given circumstances and the associations we already make with them. What do they like? What do they dislike? What might they want/need? What is their greatest fear? etc.
Step 5: What’s the story? Salt and Pepper sit on the table. Salt is an optimist but easy to shake. Pepper is a pessimist and something of a loner. When Salt gets knocked over by the cat they have grind out their differences to get back on their feet.
Step 6: Use ALL the puns. Because puns are awesome.