Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Didn't I Think of That?

When Pokemon first came out, I thought it had to be the lamest thing on the planet. The sort of thing only annoying little brothers could like. Weird little cute anime monster trading cards? I could draw my own and sell them for five dollars a pack, right?

That was before I'd learned anything about writing for kids. That was before I learned the power of a cool concept.

You all know the Pokemon premise. There are little monsters you can catch, identify, carry around with you, and train to fight each other. What kid wouldn't love to do that? It's a game that combines fantasy pets, combat, competitive ranking, and taxonomy. Don't tell me kids don't adore taxonomy. When was the last time you talked to a third grade dinosaur expert?

With a core idea like that, who needs a plotline? And apparently, twenty years later, Pokemon is still alive and well. At least my kids think so.

Cool concepts like these are what gives a story life beyond the page. It's that yummy nugget of fun that makes you want to play the game. At the center of Harry Potter is the idea that there's wizards hiding among us, they have a school where you learn magic, and any kid could get a letter of acceptance. I guess Percy Jackson is the same thing, but switch "demigod" for "wizard." Adults like cool concepts too. I'd still like to have my own light saber. Dang useful thing that would be.

So does your story have a cool concept in it? I bet it does, or you wouldn't be writing it. It might be part of the setting, it might be a character, it might be an amazing plot twist. What is it? Make sure you find it, and then dangle it right in front of the reader's nose. Use it to sell your book to an agent, a publisher, the entire world!

Make us all say, "Why didn't I think of that?"


  1. Very true. Also very hard to come up with. I'm working on it.


    Moody Writing

  2. Pokemon rank a close second behind Lego in our house. #awesome

    Yes and yes, to this post! A cool concept, in many ways, will write itself - as long as you take it as far as it wants to go! :)

  3. Rebecca, I like that. Being able to understand what is uber-cool to your target age group is important. I have a friend who writes wonderful young reader stories, and they're awesome in part because she has young children, has worked in the book industry, and knows what children (and their parents) want. I guess that in the midst of researching our story ideas and hashing through the plot, it wouldn't hurt to study age-appropriate psychology, and spend some time simply observing that particular group, would it?

  4. Thanks, Jonene. As an artist/entertainer I'm always working on that balance between what I want to create and what my audience wants to enjoy. Most of the time the two are one and the same, but as I've gotten older I'm more drawn to drama, politics, romance, and other stuff that bored me to death as a young reader.

    It helps to have my 11 year old son in house who is constantly telling me what's so epic about the Pokemon manga he reads. My snobby artistic self of long ago would have dismissed it all as hack, but somebody is making a whole lot of money of Pokemon. It's worth taking a look at it and trying to understand what makes it tick.

  5. Very true. I think though it's sometimes hard to make that one great idea stand out on the page. But once you can do it you have a bestseller on your hands!


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