How writers come up with ideas

Aleesah Darlison and Alyssa with Zoo Ball
Aleesah Darlison & Alyssa hold copies of Zoo Ball.

Aleesah Darlison has over 20 books published in Australia. Her latest picture book is Zoo Ball and the best part is that it is illustrated by Australian school students! Aleesah is visiting today as part of a Blog Tour to celebrate the book.

Have you ever wondered where authors get their ideas from? Read on!

As an author, I’m often asked ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’.

For me, generating ideas isn’t the problem. Why? Because ideas are all around us!

Ideas for stories are in everything we do, everything we hear and everything we see.

We can collect ideas from conversations, from holidays we go on and places we visit, from stories friends tell us, from articles we read in newspapers, from things we experience ourselves, from news reports on TV, and from our imaginations.

Ideas start from the smallest, most simple seeds. The hard part is recognising a great idea and being able to turn that into a short story, a picture book, or a longer work such as a novel.

If we keep our eyes open, our ears open and our minds open, we find that ideas will come far more easily to us.

It’s always a good idea to write these ideas down, or if you have an iPod, iPhone or voice recorder of some sort, to record the ideas on those devices so you save them for later.

Another way to collect ideas, ready to use in a story, is to brainstorm or mind map them.

Brainstorming is a loose form of planning that people of any age can work with.

If you’re worried about where to start your story, what sentences to form, or the correct grammar to use etc, brainstorming lets you cut everything back to its most simple form. You can use single words or pictures (by drawing your own, printing pictures off the internet or cutting photographs out of magazines) to record your ideas. Each item you place on your page or mind map acts as a story prompt, a place to jump off and start writing.

Three terrific things about brainstorming:

  • Allows you to put all of your ideas on paper in the one place quickly and easily
  • Helps you plan a story before you start
  • Allows you to work through various options and combinations of ideas until you find one that works best

Here’s an easy example of brainstorming to start with.

When choosing a main character, or characters for a story, I start with the three categories:

  1. Human
  2. Animal
  3. Fantasy

Then I might list 10 or 20 or sometimes 50 different items under each of these headings.

Let’s look at animals (my favourite).

On a blank piece of A4 copy paper, write the heading ‘ANIMAL’. Now list 10 animals. They might be your most favourite animals. They might be your least favourite animals. They might be animals that you’ve seen books on before. They might be animals you’ve never seen books on before. My ANIMALS list would look like this:


  • Cat
  • Giraffe
  • Dog
  • Dolphin
  • Rabbit
  • Wolf
  • Elephant
  • Mouse
  • Meerkat
  • Otter

The idea of brainstorming is not to use every idea we write down. It’s to use our best ideas only. And if you’re like me and listed lots of animals, you probably couldn’t fit them all into one story — not very well, anyway.

So let’s choose two animals from the list. I choose:

  1. Meerkat
  2. Dolphin

Now you have two main characters for your story. You can choose any combination of characters that you like.

Give each character a name.

My meerkat is called Millie. My dolphin is called Bubbles.

While you’re brainstorming your animal main characters, you might already be getting an image in your mind of what they look like. It’s a good idea to draw your characters too. This helps you visualise them and they become more real to you, the author. And if your characters are more real to you as the author, they will be more real to your reader.

You can now follow this process for brainstorming problems your characters might face.

  • Do they get lost?
  • Are they trying to save the world from destruction?
  • Or is it their first day at a brand new school?

There are almost limitless possibilities.

When you’ve brainstormed and mind mapped as much as you can, it’s time to write your story.

Introduce your character and their problem quickly. Drop your reader straight into the action then spend the remainder of the story having the character try to solve their problem.


Remember to pace your story well. Include a beginning, a middle and an end (resolution).

Don’t solve your character’s problem too soon in the story. Make sure you build the humour, tension or drama until you reach a climax.


When you’ve finished your story, always be sure to edit it to make sure it really is as good as it can be. Then you’ll be ready to share your story.


Happy writing!

Best wishes
Aleesah Darlison


Zoo Ball cover

Zoo Ball is unique — it’s written by an award-winning author and illustrated entirely by Australian school children. The publisher, Wombat Books, ran an illustration competition. Winners for each page were chosen and the overall winning entrant was also asked to illustrate the front cover. With the launch of Zoo Ball, 23 young illustrators were published — before they’ve even finished school!

For more information about Aleesah Darlison and her books, visit her website: