WRITING HACK: Harvesting Kids’ Ideas

Writing is theft.

We steal mannerisms and snippets of dialogue and memories and life experiences all the time. It’s what we DO.

And you know where the very richest seam for creative inspiration can be found?

In the bizarro, no-holds-barred world of a child’s imagination.

We’ve talked before about the benefits of writing like a kid and letting go of all that boring, grown-up self-doubt and imposter syndrome, but for this exercise we’re going one step forward. We’re gonna harvest some young brains.

Wait. Wait… PUT DOWN THE TREPANNING TOOL. Not like that. Like this:


Easy as taking stories from a baby…

Look. Kids are WEIRD, okay? Kids don’t think before they speak. They have a direct connection between their right brainal lobe and their mouths. They don’t question if their ideas are possible. They don’t self-check or self-edit or self-deprecate their ideas. They’re like:

“Yeah but what if every time you touched another person a portion of your memories got transferred into them and after a while you were completely made up of other people’s memories instead of your own and you had to try and track down your REAL memories but then how would you even know they were yours and can I have some cereal and what if all the cats in the world talk to each other telepathically and are forming a secret army to take over humanity when we’re sleeping and what if they could like combine into one giant megacat and wait I need a wee don’t eat my cereal okay?”

As a parent, or a child-carer, or sibling, or random person having to listen to the inane chatter of small humans on the bus, this is the kind of shit you usually tune out. And yes, most of the time, kids’ weird ideas are just… weird. But if you put your writing hat on, it’s totally possible to extract a thread or two of pure, literally unadulterated genius.

Gif of Steve Buscemi dressed as a teenager holding a skateboard, saying: "How do you do, fellow kids?"

Kids are the perfect sounding boards for your own ideas, too. There’s no shame or embarrassment in sharing half-baked story ideas with a kiddo. In fact, most of the time, they’ll go “Cool! And then what if THIS happens?” Because that’s how they’re wired. They’re the embodiment of the golden rule of improv: “Yes, and…” They accept every weird possibility and focus on its potential for MORE weirdness. (Plus, they will not hesitate to tell you if you’re wrong.)

But the best way to utilise the endless creativity of a youthful mind is to engage with it. Find a kid (preferably one you know – safeguarding, y’know?) and create a story together:

  • Grab some action figures or stuffed animals or Lego and craft an adventure.
  • Lie belly down on the grass and consider the secret life of bugs.
  • Turn a walk to the shops into a fully-formed narrative.
  • Invent your own bedtime stories by taking turns asking: “And then what happened?” over and over again.
  • Play an RPG (role playing game) – we thoroughly recommend Honey Heist – and marvel at how quickly and expertly your pint-sized companions craft an entire world around their characters.
  • Make a comic book or storyboard and think visually instead of, erm, literarily.
  • Take your favourite characters from a film, book, TV show or game and make up brand new stories for them, live-action fan fiction style.
  • Canvas their opinion on everything, from “Why do you think that guy is buying twelve cans of soup?” to “Why don’t birds have arms?” to “What would you do if you found out you were an alien?” to “What if people could use their feet like monkeys?” to “If love was an object, what would it look like?”

Then, take all those weird and wonderful kid ideas and see if you can somehow wheedle them into your own writing. Ask: WHAT IF? And don’t be afraid of getting it wrong, because in the childlike wonderland of creation, there is no wrong – only endless exploration. It’s only when we grow up and start imposing rules and restrictions on our imagination and insisting on logic that things become difficult to figure out.

So, just for a while, untether your adult brain and let it run wild for a bit. ‘Borrow’ some of that childish weirdness and see what happens. At the very least you’ll have had a blast of a time with one of the small humans in your life. And that’s never a bad thing.

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