Actually, a novel takes hundreds of ideas. Every scene has to be built around an idea. Every scene has to include the right details to coax the reader to feeeeel something or think about something in interesting ways. I think most authors reach first into their own memory banks as they shape scenes. If Lanie was a girl longing to get outside, stuck in a family with inside genes, I assumed she’d long to go camping. That’s because my memory bank is full of camping–with my mom and dad, with my sisters and brother (and now their families), with my kids.
When I decided on a scene where Lanie’s family would explain why they don’t want to go camping, it was pretty easy to remember details of a few miserable camping trips I’d been on. (Colorado often turned cold and rainy when we camped with our kids, which led to us discovering the Great Sand Dunes, a GREAT place for kids.) But research also contributes ideas and details. I asked a few people–and my editor asked a few people–for their worst camping experiences. Lanie’s family got to inherit a few of those worst camping experiences.
Observation is key, too. The more books I write, the more impressed I am with the power of keeping my eyes open. (This is my #1 strategy, now, for getting unstuck.) I was doing an author visit in Marley’s school when I encountered this lovely little camper and stuck it into my file to look at every time I needed to imagine Lanie’s aunt’s camper.
Marley’s family was involved in a meet-the Lanie-author fundraiser for Ethiopia Reads in May. All the girls (and their families) who came to hear about gathering ideas and details for Lanie’s books also helped get books to kids in Ethiopia. So I got to see Marley again (and thank her for her help even though she didn’t know she was helping), and watch her with her Lanie doll. She and her friend were crafting all kinds of adventures for their dolls, including camping.
Three generations of doll-playing. (I’m the one in the middle of the black-and-white picture whose doll’s head is falling off from too much adventure in Maji, Ethiopia. My daughter is on the right. My granddaughter with her first doll is below.)