There seem to be three ways to conceive of a story:
( 1 ) the subconscious gradually reveals something coherent (a pot boils over)
( 2 ) a sudden and alarming spark (the eureka! moment)
( 3 ) attack by brute force (STICKS MAKE FIRE!)
In my case, the concept for Big Mo came from a gooey combination of all three!
I suppose I began with intent - to write a story for kids that promotes the health of our world - a story that matters. This intent lived in my brain for a long while (Method 1), and I didn't poke at it. I educated myself in global issues and let those simmer. I took to heart a proverb that I happened upon, attributed to the Cree Indians:
| When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, the last stream poisoned - Only then will you realize you cannot eat money |
The proverb is admittedly a bit intense for children (!!), but the crux of the proverb remained an inspiration for Mo's story of uncontrolled consumption. This is represented best in the first draft to ever make it to my studio pin-up wall (see if you can spot the similarities to your copy of the final book!):
I can take no credit for Mo being an iguana. He was just born that way when I woke up one morning and thought, "Oh, an iguana!" (Method 2). We creative folks live for moments that just pop into existence without too much effort!
Beyond the great fortune of sudden discoveries, I was left with the task of forcing some sense into it all (Method 3):
If Mo is an iguana, where does he live and how did he get there? Should he use dialogue to explain his thoughts? Where will he end up? Is my theme clear and relatable? Does he have a motivation, or is he mindless? Aaaah, he's too BIG for the page!
Through months of research, storyboarding, review and revision, the story of Big Mo took shape. The design process is iterative, growing richer as layers of meaning and complexity stack to the sky. This first 16 spread draft was just the beginning in a long series of connections, complications, and concoctions!