When this inspiration involves children, it is particularly good fun and last week I had the great pleasure of presenting my kids’ creative writing workshop, Story Stew at the Imagine Festival on London’s Southbank.
Story Stew is essentially a ‘recipe’ for basic story structure for primary school children. Necessarily, it involves much anarchy, running about and farting along the way, but the idea is to give kids a simple formula to hang their stories on. It is always enormous fun and this time, as always, I was left awe-struck by the sheer brilliance of a child’s creative mind.
There is much we can learn from the children – not least where they put the remote control – so here are a few thoughts on how to access your inner child’s imagination:
Anything is Possible
I don’t know precisely when the notion of ‘impossible’ enters a person’s psyche, but I’m glad I neither remember it, nor especially adhere to it. Younger children particularly are blessed with a limitless scope of imagination and refuse to shackle themselves with arbitrary rules.
At Imagine last week, one young boy started writing a story about a wizard who wanted 10,000 wands to replace his current one. We devised the idea that he would go up into space to get them, but one child raised the objection that ‘wizards don’t have rockets’.
Before I could insist that no such decree had been laid down, the young lad simply pointed out that, ‘My wizard does. He magicked one with his wand’.
Don’t decide something can’t or wouldn’t happen without thinking 360 degrees around it until it can. There's always an answer somewhere and when you find it is a joyous thing indeed. Fyi - it works pretty well in real-life too.
Make Sense of the World
When I work with children, many of their stories – most I would say – are used in some part to order their universe. The wizard in the above example was denied planning permission for his wands by the council. A little girl I worked with in a school last year wrote a heart-wrenching story about a magic house where separated parents could live together in the wake of her parents’ divorce. Many children exorcise their grief at a lost pet or late grandparent through their writing.
Stories are how we have historically made sense of what it is to be human – and to pass our experiences down the generations when we didn’t have Twitter to do it for us. ‘Write what you know’ is standard issue advice for all writers, but I believe that ‘What If?’ is rather more helpful.
Using our creative writing explore what if we’d said that thing we didn’t think of at the time, what if we’d had the outcome we wish we could have done or what if we could make amends for something we now regret can create powerful narratives. But even if your story stinks, you might just feel a whole lot better about life.
Life is Stranger Than Fiction
For all their fantastical imagination, kids are very firmly rooted in truth – just ask a child how you look if you want a very real answer. Kids rapidly absorb the world around them and moments of the most grounded real-life often pop into their stories, however imaginary. Simon the Giant in one workshop I led was unable to go and eat all the onions in the world because his boss wouldn’t give him the time off work. A knight was recently thwarted in his quest for the magic dragon because his sat nav didn’t work.
One of my favourite moments from Imagine came when we were working on a story where a princess really wanted a hamburger. We conjectured why this burger was so special and what the ingredients might be.
Once we’d gone through the inevitable permutations of ‘farty sauce’ and ‘itchy bum cheese’ I asked what was the strangest thing that someone might find in a burger? A hand shot straight up at the back.
‘Horse DNA,’ the young girl shouted to my pelvic floor-threatening amusement.
Sometimes life can offer an idea far more bizarre and fantastical than even the most fecund imagination can conjure up. There are colourful stories, characters, inventions and injustices happening all around us. Kids pick up on them with extraordinary ease – and if we open our eyes and ears, there’s every chance we grown-ups can too.
To book a Story Stew workshop for your event or school, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While I'm on, I must thank Mel from Little Star Writing, Amber from Tiny Pencil and Vanessa from London Dreamtime as well as Bea at the Imagine Festival for all their support and hard work up to and on the day. It was enormous fun to work with them and I cannot recommend their services highly enough - inspiring, brilliant and downright fabulous girls.