Do you remember the story of Stone Soup? A group of weary travelers, with nothing but a large cooking pot, arrive at a village. They are hungry and tired, but the villagers are reluctant to share a meal with the strangers. The travelers rely on their own inventiveness and soon fill their bellies with a delicious soup that the villagers have unwittingly provided.
Writing reminds me of this story. Sometimes I find myself carrying around a big empty pot where ideas should be stewing. Or perhaps I have the beginning of an idea, but it needs additional seasoning before it becomes savory. That’s when I surround myself with children, and tune in to their creativity.
Kids are great inspiration for writers. If they are young enough, their inhibitions are few, and they will rant freely about everything that interests them, or about what Uncle Arthur did that made Mom decide he can’t come to any more family Christmas parties. Older kids are great sources of what’s interesting or what’s new – it seems as though their imaginations are limitless. And if you tell them upfront, which you should do, that you’re looking for ideas for your latest WIP, they’re usually more than willing to share their wealth of information with you. They’ll also become your fans. Kids are much more observant of human behavior than many people give them credit for. That’s probably one of the reasons they have so much to offer.
But I’m certainly not advocating the exploitation of children. Not by any means. The travelers in the Stone Soup story did no harm to the villagers while gaining their cooperation. Rather, they engaged with them and piqued their natural curiosity. That’s what we need to do with kids, but we have to be genuine in our interest, for kids are often much more discerning than adults, and can spot a fake in less time than it takes to say, “Pass the salt, please.”