Ainsley never wanted to spend her summer on a fairy tale cruise–especially since, instead of lounging by the pool, she’s running around the ship doing favor after favor for her cruise director mom.
Things aren’t all bad–it’s good to see her mom acting confident again after the divorce, and she’s learning a lot about obscure German fairy tales and how to fold towels into entertaining shapes for little kids (um, yay?). There’s also a guy who’s super cute, even in a dorky dwarf costume–if only Ainsley could get Prince Handsome to stop babbling about himself long enough for her to say more than ‘hi’ to the cute dwarf!
But once the cruise starts, things start to go wrong: the laundry turns pink, the kitchen runs out of food, the guy playing the Pig King is always in Ainsley’s hair, and her mom expects her to be in a hundred places all at once. Is this fairy tale cruise under a wicked curse? Or can Ainsley stand up for herself and make the cruise end happily ever after?
If there’s one thing I’m never short on, it’s story ideas. So when my editor approached me with an idea for a book, I had to ask myself: Do I really need something else to work on? Then I read the premise—a girl spends the summer working with her mom on a fairy tale cruise—and it was so perfect for me that I had to say yes.
Once I dove into actually writing the book, I was in uncharted waters. Even though I loved the premise, I had to figure out how to make it my own. After some brief panicking, I decided to do what I always do when I start a new project: figure out the character’s emotional journey.
My editor had given me the basic plot—things on the cruise start to go awry and the protagonist, Ainsley, has to try to fix them—but I didn’t know why Ainsley felt the need to take on all these problems by herself. When I mulled it over, I realized it’s because she can’t say no to things, a character flaw I certainly know a little something about!
If a girl who can’t say no is stuck in the middle of the ocean with people who keep asking her for favors, she’s going to get seriously out of her depth in no time. Add the fear of disappointing her mom, and voila—we have plenty of material for an interesting emotional journey. Will Ainsley ever learn to stand up for herself? What will push her to finally say no?
Her emotional journey also gave me some insight into the romance plot that had been mentioned in my editor’s synopsis. If everyone is always asking Ainsley for favors then perhaps the love interest is the one person who doesn’t. That will show us just how good of a pair they really are and add another layer to the story.
I always knew that figuring out how a character changes emotionally from beginning to end made for a more interesting story, but I never realized how useful it could be in making someone else’s story idea your own.
So if you’re having trouble getting into a project, I’d suggest doing a little brainstorming to figure out what your character’s major character flaw is and how that character will be forced to confront it over the course of the story. Then look at how your romantic or other subplots might tie into that thread. It might be just what you need to sail off into the sunset with your new book.
Anna Staniszewski is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, the Dirt Diary series, and the Switched at First Kiss series—all published by Sourcebooks—as well as the picture book POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT. Her latest tween novel, ONCE UPON A CRUISE, was released by Scholastic in September. Anna was a Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a recipient of the PEN New England Discovery Award, and she currently teaches in the MFA Writing for Children Program at Simmons College. You can find out more about Anna and her books at www.annastan.com.