The great thing about people is that sometimes they will say the damndest things.

Girl (running with net): Come on, Meghan, this is a ginormous scientific emergency!

People are generally funnier, cooler, and crazier than we give them credit for, and our favorite books have characters that reflect that. These books winnow the best and most interesting bits out of life — and so should you. I keep a commonplace notebook and pile all kinds of cool stuff into it. I especially like to write down the funny stuff people say.

“Maybe I can use this in a novel,” I think, and sometimes I can.

Sixth-grade girl: So I told him to bring it! So he brought it! And then he went home crying to his mom!
When I have a decent draft of a story, I like to go through and drop in some random stuff out of my commonplace notebook. If the little bit of funny doesn’t fit, I just take it out later. But if it does fit, it makes the language in the story so much livelier, and once in a while this little throwaway detail will branch out in a million unexpected ways.
Jay (running): I can’t stop, Dad, Darth Vader is on my tail!
Another thing that’s fun to do is to secretly take notes when your target audience is around. This is tricky, because with kids, one or two of them get wise to you pretty quick. But boy, the conversations they have are so awesome.
(Two kids are playing.)
Katy: Give me your jacket!
Sophie: Not in a million years!
Katy (intoning): A million years later….
You can also have somebody help you write dialogue. Sometimes I ask my husband for good lines and he’ll come up with some good zingers that I never would have come up with on my own, because he’s awesome like that. And again, borrowing from others is a good way for me to stretch a little and get away of the same old stuff that rattles around in my mind .
Melissa: I probably broke all the rules of poetry in this poem.
Dave: That’s the spirit!