Skip to main content

How to Be a Kid Again—or at Least Think Like One

Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey provide several idea generators to help you get inside the mind of your younger characters. Here are five sense activities to help you recall the vivid experiences and emotions of childhood.

Finding compelling ideas for today's young readers is imperative to creating successful stories. One of the best places to find those ideas is your own childhood. Don't worry, you don't have to cry out, "I can't remember what it was like to be a kid!"

There are ways to be a kid again. The following techniques will help you recall things you haven't thought about since you were young. Use them to generate new ideas and to expand the ideas you already have. Once you dig up memories, emotions and ideas using webbing, letter writing, your five senses and what-iffing, you'll be able to write vivid stories that kids can't wait to read.

Webbing goes by many names, including ballooning, clustering and mind mapping. No matter what you call it, webbing is one of the most effective ways to ignite idea sparks. Webbing's non-linear format encourages creativity while providing visual logical connections that help organize your thinking.

It's simple. Simply start with an idea, word, memory or phrase and put it in the middlethe centerof your paper. Then, free associate around your "central idea." Whatever your brain blurts, jot it down anywhere on the paper. Circle the brainstormed ideas and draw lines to the central idea as a reminder that all your ideas are connected. Keep going until you sense a shift from random association to a more focused cluster around a specific subtopic. The end result looks something like dandelion seeds ready to be scattered by the wind.

Webs are great for developing ideas, but are also helpful for discovering your focus.

Your five senses
Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Can you smell Dad's chicken coated with pepper-seasoned flour then slow-fried on a cold Sunday afternoon? Listen. The cardinal is perched on Mrs. Springgate's television antennae again. Can you hear it singing, "purty, purty, purty"? And if you look out the window, can you see the fall breeze ruffling flame-tinted leaves on the sugar maple tree?

Your five senses can be an exciting starting point for ideas. Using your senses will help trigger dormant ideas as you're transported back to your childhood memories. Call on your five senses to help you recall those memories and emotions.

One of the easiest roads to new ideas is to take a normal childhood situation and say, "What if?" In our first book, Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots, we took the ordinary situation of a third grade class and said, "What if the third grade teacher really was a vampire?" We kept "what-iffing" until we had the beginnings of a story. Take a look at the progression of our what-iffing exercise to see how our story developed.

"What if a group of kids were so bad they chased off their teacher?"

"What if they suspected the replacement was a vampire?"

"What if she moved into a haunted house?"

"What if the kids suspect she has magic power?"

"What if one of the kids pushed her too far?"

What-iffing is incredibly easy and fun. It's also one of the most powerful strategies available to writers.

Do you remember the excitement of going to the mailbox and finding something other than bills and advertisements? Rekindle that excitement by writing letters and work on story ideas at the same time.

Take the time to write letters to family and friends. Fill you letter with the details of your life, memories of the past and hopes for the future. After writing your letters, examine them closely. Our lives are filled with story fodder. Detailing how the drought has killed your garden in a letter to your grandmother might provide you with an article idea. Jotting a note to your best friend from the third grade could give you an idea for a poem. A letter to your sister remembering the fight you had over a card game could be the spark you need for a story.

The great thing about real letters is that you receive answers. Those letters can be filled with story ideas, too!

Writing fictional letters encourages a natural writing voice, keeps you focused on the audience and helps you clarify your purpose. Writing letters from the perspective of a child will generate fresh ideas and help you ease into actual drafting using a natural voice.

Webbing, letter writing, five senses and what-iffing will help you recall vivid experiences and emotions. Those memories are the key to generating fresh ideas for your children's stories, articles and poetry.

Read more idea exercises from Jones and Dadey

Check out other books on writing for children

Marcia Thornton Jones and Debbie Dadey are the authors of Story Sparkers: A Creativity Guide for Children's Writers.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let a character lose their powers.

Sharon Short | Point of View Quote 1

Managing Point of View: Mythbusting

In the first of this three-part series, novelist and WD columnist Sharon Short breaks down 7 of the most common myths about choosing which POV is right for your story.

Channel Your Inner Authorpreneur for Your Writing Labor of Love

Channel Your Inner Authorpreneur for Your Writing Labor of Love

As self-publishing continues to become an attractive and popular options for writers, it’s important to know what you’re getting into and to have the right expectations. Here, author and entrepreneur Tom Vaughan shares how to channel your inner “authorpreneur” to help your book find its readers.

Mark Kurlansky: On Coincidences Driving Memoir

Mark Kurlansky: On Coincidences Driving Memoir

Award-winning author, playwright, and journalist Mark Kurlansky discusses the experience of channeling Ernest Hemingway in his new memoir, The Importance of Not Being Ernest.

In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner

In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner

Congratulations to Alyssa Rickert, Grand Prize winner of the 2nd Annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards. Here's her winning essay, "In Between."

Things To Consider When Writing About Ghosts and the Supernatural in Fiction

Things To Consider When Writing About Ghosts and the Supernatural in Fiction

From maintaining subtlety to visiting haunted places, author J. Fremont shares everything to consider when writing about ghosts and the supernatural in fiction.

6 Effective Steps To Promote Your Forthcoming Book on Social Media and Feel Good About It

6 Effective Steps To Promote Your Forthcoming Book on Social Media and Feel Good About It

Social media is a daunting albeit important aspect of promoting our work. Here, author Aileen Weintraub offers six steps to promote your book on social media authentically.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 609

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a world-building poem.

Writer's Digest Presents podcast image

Writer's Digest Presents: World-Building (Podcast, Episode 5)

In the fifth episode of the Writer's Digest Presents podcast, we talk about world-building in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including interviews with authors Whitney Hill (fiction) and Jeannine Hall Gailey (poetry).