When I found out I was pregnant in July 2014 my world shifted. And not just because of the hugeness of the tiny little spark starting to grow in me was overwhelming, but my perception of the physical world regressed.
I suffered from 'morning' sickness constantly in the first few months of pregnancy and in the early weeks I spent a lot of time in the burgeoning summer weather walking in the fresh air to soothe my churning stomach. As I walked my eyes began to look at the world as they once had when I was small. My thoughts were constantly with the tiny being who was slowly taking shape inside me and I imagined future days together walking the same paths my feet trod now. And as my feet and thoughts took me forward I also travelled backwards and memories of walks with my own mother flooded over me.
The thing is children see differently from us. They are closer to the earth than we are and they see the details that adults often take for granted. I remembered how vivid life had been for me growing up and my perceptions shifted and once again took on that incredible detail and vividness that children are so lucky to enjoy. Children move at a slower pace, you only have to take one for a walk to know that. Everything can be, and is, fascinating. Grass is vibrant and thick and tough and calling out to be stroked and plucked and chewed and blown and screwed up and scattered. Bugs are accessible aliens traversing an otherworldy wilderness of boulderstrewn dirt and warm earth. Mud is dense, or crumbly or slippery or slick. It sticks to fingers or squleches under foot, it is strangely appealing to taste. Children are closer to the earth and so they experience it with a closeness we lose as we get older.
I can't help but wonder if I remember this enough when I try and write for them. As writers for children we should get down to their height, among the grass and the bugs. We should see just how far away the sky really is and how blue and deep it can be. We should notice the small details, the patterns in twigs, the smell of the pavement in the sun or rain, the weeds and flowers breaking into urban landscapes. We should slow down and loiter and dawdle and forget we have things that need to get done. We should bring back the vividness of our childhood worlds.
And this doesn't just apply to younger readers but right up to teenage
and young adults. These age groups are fresh, the world is still new and
revealing new ideas to them. They feel deeper, they are passionate,
they are scared and they are still small in a big world. They are more
Roald Dahl does this beautifully in the way he zeroes in on the details of characters - such as lingering on the food in Mr Twits beard or the agonising slowness and detail of the Grand High Witch removing her mask... children relish detail and they love to read and re-read and will devour the words that they love.
I can't find the exact quote now, but I remember Neil Gaiman saying something like 'children read every word, every detail while adults skim.'.
Inkproductions.org helped me out with this one from him though:
'When I’m writing for kids, I’m always assuming that a story, if it is
loved, is going to be re-read. So I try and be much more conscious of it
than I am with adults, just in terms of word choices. I once said that
while I could not justify every word in American Gods, I can justify
every single word in Coraline'. (http://lnkproductions.org/tag/neil-gaiman/)
So I set myself some challenges and if you'd like to join in, do let me know.
1) Go for a walk, just a local walk from your house. Head down the road into town or the bus stop or a river or lake. Have no set destination. Dawdle, look around see if you notice things that you never have before. See if you are compelled to go different ways than usual because something catches your eye. Take your time. Get down to the height of your readership to see what they see in front of them. What is too high? What feels too far? What is different? Can you smell scents clearer from the road or path? Does the wind feel stronger, does the sun beat harder? Is the world stranger, scarier or more wonderful? When you get home, take a few minutes to jot down or sketch moments from your walk which you found inspiring or surprising.
2) Lay in the grass - backgarden, frontgarden, park... wherever. Use all of your senses to really see where you are and what is going on around you. Stare into the sky, stroke the grass, feel the mud beneath you. Take in everything, slowly, without hurry and with eyes and mind open wide.
3) Write an short passage from the point of view of a child/teenager going for a walk somewhere they have never been before. Maybe they meet people, maybe they are alone. Try to capture the vividness and details that they come across. Write in first person present tense, and then try past tense and then try third person and explore how to get across the excitement of a world revealing itself.
4) Write a short, six line poem about one thing you saw on your walk and make sure every word you use is justified and making your poem flow and move and create that thing you are writing about so that it is almost there on the page as you read.
Now think about your current story or poem and consider if you have used a child's eye view to heighten and bring your story to vivid life, even if it is a dark, bleak story. Remember the details and make them count.
And now I must go because my tiny orange seed from 2014 is now an almost one year old and has awoken from a short nap and is demanding to be shown the world in all its strange glory once more.