Since I teach music, I have a variety of students – my youngest are three years old, and my oldest are in their 60’s. I find interesting and unique inspiration from all of the different people I encounter, but no one beats the sheer uniqueness and openness of children. I have leaned into the delight and madness of childrens’ imaginations, and have been surprised and gratified to find continual inspiration. Here are three ways you can channel that creative energy too:
#1. Offhand genius:
My favourites aspect of working with children is the absolute nonsense they come up with. In fact, I now actively work to incorporate nonsense into my teaching, because they just eat it up. But I’ve found an added bonus – the offhand creative ideas that come with this sort of free association.
For example, when kids ask to go to the bathroom, I tell them, “be quick like a bunny”, so they don’t dawdle. Most children are very quick to correct me, and remind me that bunnies are not very fast. On one occasion, a serious young four year old, told me I ought to say “quick like a cheetah,”, and then an even more precocious four year old told him that actually the fastest mammal was a blue whale, so I should say “quick like a blue whale.” So I thought they would find it amusing if I said something truly ridiculous; “quick like a potato,” which they did indeed find hilarious. But this led to a very serious discussion of exactly how a potato might actually be the fastest. At first they thought the potato would need legs, but then they remembered the blue whale – a creature that doesn’t have legs at all. That’s when they started brainstorming how the potato might be the fastest. In the end, they determined that the potato could create some sort of forcefield around itself, and then could tunnel through any material faster than light, in a maneouver akin to Sonic the Hedgehog.
Iterating in this fashion, without self-imposed restraints is something children do naturally, and well. It’s also something I am making a concerted effort to do in my writing.
#2. Discerning character:
Children are experts at disassembling the facades that we adults love to adopt. I think this is why so many adults have a difficult time with children. Still, you always know where you stand with a child. They have absolutely no compunctions about telling you exactly what they think of you, or someone else, and their insights are often incredibly perspective. I’ve found that these insights can be helpful in creating complex, multifaceted characters.
Even the way children describe character traits can be interesting and inspiring. I had a child once tell me he didn’t like another teacher because that teacher was “tricky.” Upon further probing it turned out the teacher would say one thing to the student in the lesson, and then turn around and say something entirely different to the student’s parents, often while that child was standing right there. It was intriguing to me, that the child viewed it as “tricky”, but I found this description to be piercingly accurate, and helpful in creating “tricky’ characters in my own work.
#3. Magical rules:
If you ever spend any time watching children play by themselves, you will quickly observe that their play together has implicit social order, and they quickly construct, and adhere to their own rules of play. In my classes of young children, I have seen them determine that different coloured mats are equivalent to different topologies: blue = water, green = forest, orange = deserts, and pink = lava/volcanoes. The kids are fastidious in only stepping on the coloured mat that they have designated as ‘safe’, and with one small gesture, they all change which mat is ‘safe’.
Creating ‘magical rules’ is essential to world building for fantasy writers, and I have found that channelling the way in which children make magical rules for their games, and then adhere to them to be very inspirational for my writing. The worlds children create for themselves are vivid and completely real to them, and this is exactly the effect I want my writing to have for my readers!
Have you ever tried to channel the creative genius of children before? Tell me how in the comments below!
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