|Mom, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Barney|
I’ve found that there’s nothing like a kid to bring you great ideas, an amusing twist on life and plenty of chuckles. Not to mention somersaults and bubble gum.
And for writers? Kids are the mother lode.
We can look to them for…
GIVING FRESH WORDS TO SENSORY EXPERIENCES
It was the child of a friend who first pointed out to me that sagebrush has a lemony aspect to its scent, and another child who told me that raw broccoli tastes a lot like crunchy dirt.One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Ask a child, "What do you think that smells/tastes/feels/looks/sounds like?"
Take notes accordingly.
MASTERFUL WORD PLAY
As writers we often get into vocabulary ruts. We really need to lighten up and play with words, the way kids do. Even mistakes can be turned into fun new words and phrases to bring originality to our writing.
During make-believe time my granddaughter Claire said to me:
“Okay, you are gonna be the momma alligator. I’ll be the ala-baby-gator.”
And not long ago my grandnephew Mason was asked about where he lives. His response?
“We live in the middle of the nowhere.”
He does have a point there...
Last summer at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Colorado, there was a marmot sitting in the grass next to the river. I showed it to my grandnephew Lance. He called it a hedgehog.
“No, it’s a marmot,” I said.
Whereby Lance ran around telling everybody, “Come and look. There’s a varmint in the grass!”
Inside a big gazebo at Elitches amusement park in Denver, there was a sea of colored balls for the kids to play with. Mason was in heaven.
I noticed he only picked up the green balls, though, and asked him why.
“Those are good for the birds,” he said, as if the answer should have been obvious, and went on playing.
I wrote a blog post about the motivating kick-in-the-rear I got from Lance one day, with a simple statement,
“I do my part.”
AN APPRECIATION OF BOOKS
Little girl: I’ve written a book.
Me: Have you? What’s it about?
Little girl: I don’t know. It’s in my head. I haven’t read it yet.
Little girl (whispers): They gave us Kindles to use at school, but I prefer books.
Me: What do you love about books?
Little girl (thinking hard): I like how quiet they are.
Little girl: Yeah. Stories should be quiet, and whisper to you inside your head.
Author and Illustrator Bill Peet collected a few humdinger things kids have said about his books in their letters to him, including:
“I like your books. My whole family likes them. My cat does not know we have them.”
… NOT TO MENTION A DOSE OF HUMILITY
Another of Bill’s pen pals wrote…
“I am in grade two. I enjoyed your books. What do you do for a living?”
How can writers capture these pint-sized verbal pleasures? Here's a few suggestions...
Find ways to be in the presence of children.
If you have your own, or plenty of young ones in your family or neighborhood, you’re all set. If not, you’ll have to seek out settings where kids are talking and then eavesdrop shamelessly.
For Cheyenne folks I highly recommend the second floor of the Laramie County Library as a spot to listen and watch kids. I’m sure other county libraries would work well too.
Fast food restaurant playgrounds are another hot spot for kid watching.
|Lance being, well... Lance|
In this role, we would go to the school, gather our assigned 4 or 5 kids, and read books out loud to them. Lots of chatter about book-related and not-so-book-related topics went on. Maybe your community has such a program?
Slow down and really listen when you are in the presence of children.
This takes discipline and effort. We adults are always trying to get someplace or get something done. But the rewards are immense when we take time out to really hear what the kids are saying.
Ask questions, and give the kid plenty of time to respond.
I was one of those kids who mumbled, stammered and talked in convoluted circles. Lots of kids do as they are learning to talk.
Patience with these ramblings will not only allow you to gather all those good things kids say, but will also present the child with a great bonus: the gift of your attention and practice in putting their squirmy thoughts into spoken form.
|"Dragons are very stretchy," notes Mason.|
When I started to take care of my grandnephews, I bought a small notebook in which to gather snippets of things they have said along, with descriptions of memorable events. Initially my goal was to share the notebook with their parents someday, and eventually with the adults that Lance and Mason will become.
Now I admit I do it mostly for myself—for all those insights, revelations and chuckles that I get when I look through the pages. And, of course, to pilfer all those unforgettable, juicy-squishy words.
|My "Lance and Mason" notebook|
This is perhaps the best writing assignment I could ever share with you. Follow through with it, and I promise your writing (and mood) will improve.
But just remember…
“When you are dealing with a child, keep all your wits about you, and sit on the floor.” - Austin O’Malley
Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6th, 2017) is National Read a Book Day. To celebrate we are invited to grab a book and spend the day reading.
Alert your boss as to this important directive immediately.
Resources for this post included:
Children Say the Best Things in Bookshops, Jen Campbell
What Kids Say, Bill Peet