10 Tips for Tapping into Your Imagination

Imagination Tips

For a fiction writer to maintain a continuous stream of ideas flowing both on and off the page, not only is a huge imagination a requirement with a dash of silliness and absurdity but also some trusted prompts to encourage those ideas to keep popping into your head.

For me writing requires a combination of the six senses being sight, smell, touch, emotions, hearing and taste. These are the foundations which pull together a piece of writing and create a moving, believable and inspiring story. So if you or your child loves to write here are my ten tips to try over the summer holidays and help trigger your limitless imagination.

  1. Observing: Foremost, always be aware of your surroundings by observing your day. Use all six senses to listen out for funny comments, interesting situations and unusual reactions to inspire charismatic characters and empathic situations to write about.
  2. Looking: Study the images in a magazine, of your favourite painting or on a poster more closely to help inspire you to create an original story.
  3. Listening: Put your own spin on a topic you’ve heard on the radio, whilst on the phone or in a conversation.
  4. Tasting: Pretend you’ve won a competition which allows you to eat whatever you want in a supermarket for a day or write about your experience of accidentally eating soap, sour milk or grass maybe. The English language can be very limiting when describing taste so it’s often overlooked in writing. Learn to take it further by writing about the sensations, physical reactions and textures of food to convey the whole experience.
  5. Feeling: Imagine yourself in a fictitious situation, for example crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope! Write about the emotions you feel in your chosen situation. How you might approach it and deal with your feelings and how your feelings might change as your situation changes.
  6. Smelling: We are surrounded by smell every day. Write about how the smell makes you feel, any memories they trigger and the ones you’d prefer to avoid!
  7. Touching: Our sense of touch, whether with a person, animal or object creates a physical and mental connection with the world around us. Touch triggers emotional feelings and physical reactions which are clearly visible for you to notice if you look closely enough. Writing should make the interaction and sensations feel real.
  8. Brainstorming: Choose a topic you like to write about such as water sports then keep asking yourself questions about the topic and write down all the words and phrases you associate with that topic whilst keeping in mind your six senses.
  9. Creating the Absurd: Mix things up. Put a familiar character in an unfamiliar setting such as a postman on TV; imagine an animal, person or object possessing skills or characteristics which are the opposite of what you might expect such as a sprinting elephant or a purple skinned person. Now use your six senses to make this story idea into a believable scenario.
  10. One Word: For one day write down one word related to every place you visit throughout that day. You will then have inspiration for either one story which includes every word you wrote down or several stories based on each single word. Draw on your six senses to remember your experiences surrounding these words throughout the day. Over the summer holidays I’ll be posting some one word writing prompts on my Facebook page to challenge you or your child’s creative writing mind.

To support this blog I chose the following two picture books by children’s author Pippa Goodhart (author) and Nick Sherratt (illustrator) as they help young children discover their imagination, look for ideas by asking questions, being prompted with suggestions, observing pictures and encouraging them to imagine something different. Both books are packed with vibrant illustrations, presented in a clear and simple manner and have proven to be excellent books for fun guided discussions at bedtime.


Just imagine – Published: Corgi Children’s Jun 2013.

This is a book which encourages children to think about situations they’ve never experienced such as imagining being magical, living in the wild, flying in the sky or travelling through time. Imagination can take you anywhere.

CLICK TO BUY Just Imagine


You Choose – Published: Corgi Children’s New Ed. July 2014.

If you could have whatever you wanted, what would that be? Where would you live? How would you travel? What clothes would you wear? This book teaches children that what they imagine is their choice. There are no rules or limits to their imagination.

CLICK TO BUY You Choose!

 

Source: Private copies.

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

#BFCB #BooksForChildrenBlog

@lonerganbooks

Advertisements

The Best Invented Characters in Picture Books

My favourite part of writing children’s picture books is creating and developing fun and likeable characters. The characters are what steer the story and give it purpose and a meaning to exist.  However, to date I’ve never attempted to create a new creature in its own right. For now I’ve concentrated on humans or animals. So like many before me I often wonder what the right ingredients are that make an everlasting and memorable make believe character. Is it just a single magic ingredient or a mixture of many? To investigate this I chose six original and well known picture book characters which have stood the test of time.

Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs (author / illustrator). Published: Penguin Books ed. 2012.
This edition is set out like a graphic novel and as the title states, Fungus is a Bogeyman who bizarrely is lovable for the very thing we dislike about him; his grimy, grubby lifestyle. His manners and habits are so disgusting that we can’t help but grimace out loud and revel in his yucky, sticky mess. Fungus lives in the deep, dark tunnels of Bogeydom and this book devotes a double page spread to Bogey anatomy. Bogeymen sleep in the day then like to stir up trouble and be a nuisance at night by waking babies, making as much noise as possible, frightening people and even giving them boils as Bogeymen do everything humans despise. Fungus lives in a world which seems topsy turvy to us but completely mundane to him so he soon begins to question the reason for his existence.

The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My by Tove Jansson (author / illustrator). Translated by Sophie Hannah, 2001. Published: Sort of Books, ed. 2001.

Moomin is a lovable Moomintroll who lives in the woods and helps his friend Mymble find her sister Little My and the fillyjonk. Right from the start Moomin is the one leading the searches and not afraid of adventure. Moomin is portrayed as kind, helpful and supportive to the others whilst remaining a tiny bit vulnerable. What is there not to love about Moomin?

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (author) and Axel Scheffler (illustrator). Published: Macmillan Children’s Books, 1999.


The Gruffalo is a creature that also lives in the woods, whose distinct physical characteristics are clearly described to create a memorable image (and rhyme). The woodland creatures talk about him liking “roasted fox, owl ice cream and scrambled snake” but his description turns out to be more intimidating than his actions as he mocks the mouse and gladly follows him. The fact that the reader is aware but not the Gruffalo, that it’s the Gruffalo scaring the other creatures and not the mouse only adds to our sympathy for the Gruffalo. He’s lovable because he’s not very bright and is easily manipulated by the mouse.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (author / illustrator). Published: Harper Collins Children’s Books, ed. 2009.

Dr. Seuss is the master of creating characters including The Grinch, the Once-ler and Wockets but The Lorax has to be my favourite by far. The Lorax lives in a tree trunk and looks like a wise but jovial and cuddly grandfather figure. He speaks for the trees and isn’t afraid to follow his principles and ethics when the Once-ler starts to destroy the Truffula trees and their Truffula fruits. So much so eventually all the creatures are driven out of their home. It’s a serious story about the importance of looking after the environment but as always with Dr Seuss, it’s told in a clever and entertaining way. The Lorax is a strong, individual character.

Larf by Ashley Spires (author / illustrator). Published: Kids Can Press; reprint ed. Jun 2015.


Larf is a vegetarian sasquatch described as a 7-ft tall manbeast who lives in the woods with his bunny friend Eric. He’s an unassuming guy who doesn’t like attention and enjoys a quiet life but deep down feels a little sad that nobody seems to want to acknowledge his existence.  Larf feels different to the humans so keeps himself to himself to avoid drawing attention to his differences. However when he meets Shurl and Patricia he starts to feel they might be able to understand him so he becomes more open to changing his life and sharing his time with them.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (author / illustrator). Published: Random House Children’s Books, Red Fox Ed. 2000.

Although the Wild Things are not the main characters I thought they deserved being included as they still play such a central role to the story. Of all the characters I’ve mentioned The Wild Things are probably the most fearsome with all their roaring and gnashing, sharp claws and rolling of eyes but as Max is able to tame them and play games with them, they quickly lose their frightening image. The Wild Things live on an island in the middle of the sea and although they are physically gigantic and unruly animals we soon understand that they are just doing what comes naturally to them.

What do all these characters have in common?

Having gathered all these creatures together in one room I started to try and decipher what I’d learnt from these characters? What do they all have in common? Although not an exhaustive list, I picked out the most important points which stood out to me and thought I’d share these observations with you.

  • NAME – something easy to pronounce but with no other meaning.
  • APPEARANCE – they cannot be a human or animal but must be recognisable as a creature with eyes, legs and arms for example.
  • SETTING – where does the character live? Somewhere hidden from the human eye.
  • RELATABLE FEELINGS / ACTIONS – ensure the reader can empathise with the character’s reactions and reasons for doing something.
  • PERSONALITY – the character needs traits that we admire, love or sympathise with.
  • SOMETHING UNIQUE – there needs to be something unique or distinct about the character to make them stand out. Either through physical or personality traits, a particular interest, passion or belief or being unconventional in their outlook.
  • GROWS – the character needs to change, grow or learn something since the start of the story.
  • EFFECT ON OTHERS – they need to have an effect on the other characters, stir up feelings, instigate behaviours etc.
  • INTERESTING EXPERIENCES – they should experience a range of feelings and events in the story which surprise or capture the reader’s imagination.
  • NEVER MEDIOCRE – the character should be clearly defined with distinct personality traits and an individual appearance. Nothing vague or wishy-washy, these characters are different, unusual, with a purpose and the reader knows it.
  • GOOD OR BAD? – Are they a good or a bad character? They can be bad, but not intimidating, good but not weak or they may grow from being a bad character to a good one but never remain in between.

Looking at the characters within a story in this way isn’t easy and it’s obvious there are a number of factors to consider but breaking the character down like this can help to determine their motives, dreams and behaviours in greater depth in order to understand who they are.

Maybe now I should attempt the trickier part of creating a character of my own…

 

Source: Library or private copies.

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

 

Nature Narratives

Encouraging your child to write doesn’t mean they have to be stuck in the house chained to a table and told to churn out dozens of accurate lines. Writing is about conveying experiences, observations, reactions and feelings and one way to help children bring all these responses together onto one page is to get them outside and interacting with nature.

Today I’ve simply put together a mini scavenger hunt which purposefully includes things to collect for reactions and feelings, things to spot for observations and things to do for experience.

These templates can be printed and laminated for use in the garden or in the woods. They are best suited for A5 size. I then hole punched the corners and tied them together so they were easy to carry around.

Scavenger Hunt to Collect

 

Scavenger Hunt to Spot

 

Scavenger Hunt to Do

Your child will also need a small bag containing a piece of coloured or plain paper and coloured chalk for the bark rubbing and to collect and carry any of the scavenger items pictured. You can also include a piece of paper for the petal picture or it can be put together on the grass or ground. If possible take a photo of the petal picture to take home with you so your child can remember what it looks like.

Scavenger Hunt 2

When you return from the scavenger hunt ask your child to write a short story using items they saw or found on their scavenger hunt to inspire them. Tell them they can include as many of these things as they like. Let them think about the following questions to give them more ideas.Writing Nature Narratives

Don’t concentrate on grammar or sentence structure too much this is a light-hearted activity designed to encourage your child to use their imagination and create some crazy stories by showing them how to look for new ideas in unlikely places.

Reading Should Come with a Government Health Warning!

Image Boy Questioning

What if I said to you that reading could be bad for your mental well being? Would you believe me? Yet books are addictive, they talk about theories which we base our reality around as though they are facts; they constantly lie to us about worlds and characters that don’t really exist; they tell of depressing, upsetting stories which we may never have been affected by otherwise. It’s well known a good book can make your eyes blurry and your thoughts explode. The contradictory facts, figures and opinions inside have even been known to cause confusion on the brain for some but most of all, beware that reading can make your children repeatedly ask WHY?

Image Why

I’m not trying to create my own conspiracy theory here but I am hoping to demonstrate that it’s not always what is in the book that is good for us; it’s how we react to it, use it and question it. It’s the power a book gives us as individuals to exercise our free thinking. Think about the alternative. For instance when the Nazi party ordered the burning of certain books during the 1930’s they were attempting to control how much information the layman had access to; to limit awareness and segregate nations; prevent the people from writing about the truth or opposing ideologies.

Teaching our children to read and write gives them the tools to question and question then question again. They can investigate a topic of interest, read alternative views; see emotions put into words; draw from people with first hand experiences; learn to make their own judgements and not take everything at face value. It is then that they are better equipped to follow their own route to understanding the world.

WARNING: reading books may be hazardous to your health. Side effects may include extreme laughter; uncontrollable thinking; deep emotional reactions and unexpected changes of opinion.

Writing with Purpose: Thank You Box

It is often said that to be an author you should write something every day. However I find it very difficult to produce a comprehensive piece of writing when there’s no purpose. Writing needs direction from the start, a path to follow, a place to arrive at and a means to an end. This could be to write a story, fill out a form, to convey an important message, to provide others with useful information, write a cheque or to record a memory.

For children on the other hand, writing can be like drawing. Their newly found fascination of putting pen to paper is sometimes what drives them to pick up a pen and write as they experiment with forming various shapes and marks to create meaning out of an otherwise blank page.  Others instinctively love to record their thoughts or label their pictures but like adults, many children too have no inclination to write unless it is for a purpose.

So if you’re looking to encourage your child to write remember that first they may need a purpose to write. I put together this writing prompt in the aftermath of the Christmas mayhem, the time when my boys have a long list of thank you letters to compose. I’m not going to lie, I always find this a painful business of constant reminders and impatient hovering but I persist in putting us through the ordeal because I believe appreciation and thankfulness is a lesson worth learning. So this year I’ve attempted to make the whole process somewhat more light-hearted!

First I bought two plain craft boxes in the shape of books and filled them with brightly coloured blank cards and envelopes.

Writing Box 1

I then gave both my children a pack of mixed postage stamps, character and thank you stickers, self-inking stamps, printed paper, a small glue brush and a novelty pen each to make up their own thank you box.

Writing Box Stamps

Writing Box Tools

I then suggested some ideas of how to decorate the boxes and left them to it…

…and perhaps that’s where I made my fatal error!

I’d had an image in my mind of a perfectly covered book box, a kind of decoupage with postage stamps!

Oh silly me! Of course that’s not what we ended up with!

So here are some close ups of the decorating results, no frills, very little sticking and certainly no decoupage in sight! Some might say the quickest route to completion was sought!

Writing Box Decorated

I thought about scrapping this blog but only very fleetingly because I realised that despite my disappointment I’d actually achieved what I’d set out to do and that was to provide my children with a writing box that is personal to them and one they wanted to use. Oblivious to my hidden grimaces they had enjoyed themselves and were very enthusiastic about the results. They were even swapping ideas of what to do on their thank you cards. I couldn’t help but chuckle at my desperation for perfection. All too often I see blogs on children’s craft activities which are enviously beautiful but almost to the point of being too immaculate and in practice are often far too intricate for little fingers to learn. It soon becomes obvious they’ve been designed by an adult and completed by an adult as the realistic results start to emerge once the little ones get their hands on them!

So I guess the lesson I stumbled across today was that encouraging a love of something isn’t about the ideals we strive for, it’s about providing the tools to let our children do it their way!

 

 

 

Child Authors: Learning from Children

Express Yourself Through Writing

Lately, my eldest has been devouring books like a caterpillar expecting an immanent leaf shortage. So much so that despite his shelves being laden with books his hunger for new, uncharted territory is proving hard to keep up with. With our library being a decent drive away and not wanting to rush out and buy new ones each time, I had a brain wave (they may be scarce but they do happen!). I remembered that my husband had read a fantasy fiction book called Eragon a few years back by the author Christopher Paolini who was fifteen years old when he wrote it. I thought perhaps it would be a good contender to satisfy this insatiable hunger. So we sifted through some old boxes in the garage and managed to find Eragon and Eldest, the first two from a series of four books. Both are fairly hefty books so I gave myself a pat on the back for successfully slowing him down until Christmas!

My eldest and I share his bedtime reading of Eragon and it keeps us both suitably engrossed. Some sentences sound a little over written in places to me but the story line is original and the vocabulary is impressive. It is hard to imagine a fifteen year old wrote such a book. As an older writer I like to think that life experience is my advantage in that it has given me greater empathy and expanded my mind since I was fifteen years old. However being a parent, I can also see many advantages for a child to read a book which is written by a child. So my curiosity has been tweaked.

The age of an author is not something a reader would readily know. It’s not emblazoned across their book cover (thank goodness!). Nor is it normally of particular importance to the reader – if the book is good, the book is good regardless of the author’s age. However, who is it that truly knows what makes a child tick? Who knows what is cool, awesome or totally pants? Who knows the latest hot topic in the playground? It can only be a child of course. They don’t have to rely on memory; they are the ones in the thick of it. They are experiencing childhood right now and by recording such moments their points of view can become an invaluable source of understanding for other children.

An excellent example is Help, Hope and Happiness which was written by Libby Rees when she was nine years old. Having gone through the pain of her parents getting divorced she wrote the book to try and help other children cope with divorce. Similarly nine year old Alec Greven’s idea to write How to Talk to Girls came from his playground observations and desires to help his classmates get credit for their chat up efforts. Jason Gaes wrote My Book for Kids with Cancer when he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at age seven. It’s a book which continues to help many children of all ages.

Another one I’m particularly interested to get my hands on is The Strand Prophecy written by Brianna and Brittany Winner (otherwise known as the Winner twins). The book tells the tale of Strand the superhero with a troubled past battling to save the world. Though not a self help book the twins wrote this book when they were twelve years old despite both having been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. In a past blog on dyslexia (The Dancing Book) I once wrote “if you think differently to the average person, you have the power to achieve more than the average person so how can we teach children with dyslexia to draw out their unique abilities?” What an incredible example these twins are of what can be achieved and overcome. Since publication they have also became co-founders of the non-profit organisation Motivate 2 Learn which aims to promote literacy and inspire children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Child authors have been getting recognition since way back. One of the most well known being Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl written by Anne as a Jewish teenager in hiding during the war. It was later published in 1947 and gives a true view of what it was like to live in constant fear of being caught whilst simultaneously attempting to maintain a small sense of normality in her childhood.

One of the youngest, if not the youngest writer was American born Dorothy Straight who was just four years old when she wrote How the World Began which was published in 1964. Obviously this and many others are exceptional examples of young writers. After all most four year olds haven’t even mastered writing single letters let alone a whole book! So don’t expect miracles from your tiny tot but if they do love writing let them write and express themselves in their own way. They may surprise you and have something outstanding to say. Something which could one day help many children navigate their way through the confusing path of childhood.

Dangling in the Dark

Dangling in the Dark Title

A quick blog this week as it’s half term which means less time for writing and more time for occupying my two boys with anything from days out and walks in the woods to cooking cakes and getting messy with Halloween crafts. For any of you who have read my blogs before you may remember me saying I had no plans to write a story about Colin the zombie. Well Colin seems to have wandered into this simple little story activity I made up to have a giggle with my boys. Please print out and cut out the side panels to have a go too. Each page has a choice of funny options to complete the blanks in the story.

Dangling in the Dark 1

Dangling in the Dark 2

Dangling in the Dark 4

Dangling in the Dark 5

Dangling in the Dark 6

Dangling in the Dark 7

Why not try and make up your own funny story or think up some other silly alternative endings.