Writing kid’s books comes hand in hand with reading kid’s books, whether you are published or pre-published. It’s like breathing, reading is inhaling, and writing is exhaling. But here another thing which I believe to be intrinsically linked to with writing books for children – PLAYING WITH TOYS.
It’s about two things, firstly channelling your inner child in order to write a more authentic children’s voices. The second is far more particle as toys can be utilised in the writing process.
Toys are a kind of time machine, helping your mind to travel back to your younger self. In fact for my birthday I was given a He-Man and Skelator, which I had wanted since I was six, and I instantly felt that I was that age again!
This is why, when you look at the places I write, they always indulge my inner child. In fact we have one very grown up steam-punk style bookcase (kindly made by my husband out of scaffolding poles and 1930’s floorboards that we saved from landfill), but despite the fact that at a glance its appears very adult, when you look closely you’ll see Garfield lazing about, Orinoco taking a nap and even a dodo. Plus other toys and characters from the 1980’s. I even have the top draw of my desk stuffed full of toys. I do this as I find that being surrounded by tangible motifs of my childhood really helps me reconnect with my younger self, and therefore aids me in creating a more convincing child’s voice.
But toys are more than time machines; they often help me when I am stuck. Toys can be the ladder out of a plot hole, the device that saves you from the abyss of uncertainty, or help you navigate your fictional world, or even be the tools that construct it in the first place.
Recently I was doing some edits on a WIP and I came to screaming halt, and stayed there stuck steadfast. It was a gapping plot hole that hinged on the motivations of the antagonist, and after struggling for weeks, I got the toys out. I started to play with toy animals and plastic soldiers. Within no time I’d worked out the solution and how the protagonist figures out who the baddy was. Maybe this was the freeing nature of imaginative flow. Maybe it was just the key which released what was already there. Either way it got out of the rut I had been stuck in for weeks.
I also use toys for world building and understanding the geography of my world or in a recent case – the EARTH. One of my current WIP is about cloned mammoths living in the arctic tundra. So playing with mammoth figures on an old map helped me understand just how close Russia is to Greenland, and aided me in plotting the herd’s migration routes. I also used toy figures of artic animals to think about what other creature the mammoths may meet and interact with on their journey.
All in all I find toys a very useful tool in the children’s writers’ arsenal. If reading kid’s book is inhaling, and writing them exhaling, then playing with toys is that peaceful moment between the two where you relax and see things with clarity. They can help you craft believable children’s voices, and aid in world building, character development, break through the barriers of mental block, and raise you out of plot holes. So if you write and you don’t already, I urge you to grab a toy and play!