Brainstorming: How to Go Beyond the Obvious

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on

I recently spent some time poking around my library’s catalog, I wanted to see some of the more recent Halloween picture books. The fact of the matter is that most holidays, Halloween included, have been done and done again. If you are going to write and sell a manuscript, it is going to have to go beyond the obvious Halloween topics.

One way to do that is to create a combo. Think of it as a pumpkin pie cheesecake. You have a layer that is pumpkin pie and a layer that is cheesecake but when you put them together you have something new.


Maybe you start with a song, like The Wheels on the Bus. What can you do with that to make it Halloween?

  • Instead of a school bus, you could have a ghoul bus.
  • Or you could abandon the bus completely and have a haunted train, a hearse, or a paddle wheel steamer. Okay, the hearse might not work but you see what I’m doing, I hope. With each idea, take a step away from the norm.
  • Leave behind transportation completely. Write The Bubbles in the Caldron, The Ghosts in the Mansion, or the Shades in the Swamp. Keep going until you have something undone and unexpected but fun.


Start with a Halloween or scary trope and find a way to make it unique.

  • Trope: The child who is afraid of monsters. You can’t do the monster who is afraid of children. That’s been done. But what if the child and the monster are both afraid of bunnies? Or song birds?
  • Trope: The ghost that makes scary sounds. What if, instead of scary sounds, the ghost made delicious smells like sugar cookies or peppermint? What if the ghost left sweet messages on post-it notes?
  • How would you reverse other tropes? You could use the watchful neighbor, flickering electricity, or music coming from downstairs.


Because I’m such a nonfiction nerd, I’m also contemplating how to combine Halloween with science or other nonfiction.

  • The science of photography. You could work this into a historical story about spectral photography which was a hoax.
  • Things that go bump in the night and the science of sound.
  • An international haunting conference which would combine with ethnography to pull in ghost beliefs from various cultures.

Whether you want to write a Halloween story, a Thanksgiving story, or a Christmas story, you are going to have to work to come up with an idea that editors and agents have not already seen. Think about what you can combine to create something new.


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