Memories are those things sitting in the back of your mind collecting dust … until something in the present triggers them forward. Some of the best books act as that trigger; they awaken those memories that represent “universal truths”. These truths are what you want to capture in your writing.
So where do you find these universal truths?
They are happening all around you every day! They can be a little tricky to spot especially when you are rushing to pick-up the kids, rushing to meet a deadline, rushing to cook dinner, etc. But if you stop to listen to the singing child at the check-out stand or observe the toddler watching the mall Santa from behind his parent’s legs, you will see the universal truth standing there naked in front of you.
How do you know what experience is worth capturing?
Look for the emotional clues in any situation.
Search for the unusual in the usual. Is a child practicing their handwriting interesting? Probably not, but what if there was a rip in the paper from being erased upon so many times (frustration) or a drawing of a rainbow unicorn in the margins (boredom). These little details can be the key to something bigger.
Notice repetitive behaviors. Lately, whenever anything goes wrong for my 6-year-old daughter—stumbles, makes a mistake on her drawing, breaks something, stubs her toe—she blames it on me. I also noticed my daughter spends a lot of time on her penmanship (determination). Or that she worries about not getting a 100% on a test (nervousness). By noting down these observations, I realized that my daughter is a perfectionist who can’t handle making mistakes. Now I have the seeds for developing a strong character. And because I wrote down those incidents, I have a springboard upon which to generate other zany challenges/obstacles for my character.
How best to save the memories?
For the past few years, I have kept a journal where I store my observation of kids. I have a terrible memory, and my biggest fear is that once my kids are older I will forget what picture-book aged kids are like. So I write down any tidbit that is interesting, odd, funny, or sad so I can refer to it later. These observations will help make my characters feel alive.
Here are some examples:
- 5-year-old dances in front of mirrored closets, at the dinner table, in-line at the grocery store, teaches her classroom teacher, etc.
- 3-year-old told me to whisper since her Minnie baby doll was sleeping.
- Both girls cried the day the ducks at school left for the farm. The 6-year-old said “I will miss the ducks” while the 4-year-old said “The ducks will miss me.”
With the prevalence of smart camera phones, it’s easy to take a video anytime, anywhere. My husband took a ton of movies when our girls were babies and toddlers. One of my favorite videos, from their pre-school era, is a two-minute rant of “I Want Pizza” for dinner.
Once in a while, I still eavesdrop on my school-aged girls’ conversations with my smartphone or journal. Fodder in case I ever decide to write a chapter book. (Note: Do not take videos of kids other than your own without permission from their parents.)
Don’t have kids? No problem.
If you don’t have kids, no problem! There are plenty around – storytime at the library, afternoons at the playground, babysit for a neighbor. Just observe them.
Also, in this day of the Internet, there is soooo much on-line. You can get ideas from other friends’ Facebook posts, websites such as the Honest Toddler, and YouTube, which has a plethora of silly, quirky, and inspiring videos.
Here is video that went viral. It’s just full of awesomeness.
Hope you find these tips helpful of how to look for ideas, save them, and find the universal truths within. Have a wonderful PiBoIdMo!
Darshana Khiani is constantly journaling about her silly, adorable daughters and the world from her home in California. You can find her on-line at www.flowering-minds.com and on Twitter @darshanakhiani. She is represented by Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary.
Darshana is generously giving away a picture book critique! Leave one comment to enter. A random winner will be selected at the conclusion of Pre-PiBo!