May 04

Children Are the Best Source Material

Howells Family

Howells Family

It’s hard to balance being a mother and a writer. One of the ways that I’ve adjusted is that I put my kids to work for me. And not just by making them my slaves and having them do housework for me (although I’ve done that, too). I’ve found that children can provide the best source material for writing.

Dialogue. A funny thing happens when adults try to write Young Adult fiction. They tend to sound like adults trying to write Young Adult fiction. There’s a cure for that, you know. All you have to do is let your teenager invite her friends over for a movie night. Then, eavesdrop.

Teens have their own cadence and rhythm, their own slang and phrases. Pay attention to the topics that interest them most. Notice how and when they punctuate their conversation with giggles.

But DO NOT get caught. Seriously. You do not want to live with a teenager that believes you were spying on her and her friends.

Conflict. Have you ever watched two toddlers playing in a room full of toys? One picks up a toy and starts playing. The other zeroes in on it, as if THAT toy were the only one in the room. He loudly proclaims his ownership: “Mine!” A fierce battle ensues, with tears and tussling. The loser stomps off, and only then does he notice there are other toys all around him. He picks one up and starts playing. The victor suddenly loses all interest in the previously most-coveted toy. She drops it and goes after the obviously superior toy that her friend/opponent is amusing himself with. And so they go, around and around, until the parents are exhausted and take them home.

You can’t have kids and not expect conflict. My children argue over video games and television. They compete with each other. They vie for Mom and Dad’s attention. They fight about whose turn it is to take out the trash. And sometimes, they do things merely for the pleasure of torturing a younger sibling.

Grown ups fight over the same things. By watching your children’s conflicts, you can learn a lot about motivation, character, and technique. Just be sure to step in before there’s any blood.

Humor. Kids are hilarious. Like that Saturday morning when my husband and I were trying to sleep in, and our toddler came in and started jumping on our bed. “Sweetie, why are you so evil?” I asked. She cackled and said, “Because I’m alive!” Or the time that my husband took our youngest son to the park. As he was playing, my husband signed “I Love You (ILY)” to him. My son gave a loving smile and flipped him the bird back.

Let’s face it — you have to have a sense of humor to raise children. Because, what’s the alternative? When you notice your little one has been surprisingly quiet for a bit too long, and you come looking for her, and you find her playing with honey…on the stairs…which are carpeted…you either laugh, or you cry. I choose to laugh.

And then I start thinking of ways of working that scene into my next novel.

Imagination. When my son was in Kindergarten, he had an imaginary friend. His name was Soccer Man. He was really old, but he could still play all the games that my son wanted to play. Soccer Man helped my son clean his room, and like most imaginary friends, he tended to get in trouble a lot.

This same son would come home from school and tell me about his day. He’d tell me how he did a double flip off the monkey bars, or how his teacher was being mean so he body-slammed her to the floor. I’d tell him, “Wow, that’s a great imagination story, sweetie.” He’d be annoyed that I didn’t take his narratives at face value, but I reassured him that imagination stories were awesome, and I hoped he’d always share them with me.

When you’re a kid, you don’t know much. So, you tend to fill in the blanks yourself. You don’t know that there are limits to the possibilities, and so those blanks are filled with magical things. As a writer, I know that I need to forget about limits and welcome magical things into my stories.

Emotional resonance. Children are without guile, and they feel things more strongly than adults. Especially teenagers. Love, heartbreak, rejection, betrayal, guilt, and pure, unadulterated joy — they wear it all on their sleeves. By watching our children, we can learn how to “show, don’t tell” many different emotions.

We know how to connect with the souls of our children; we can learn how to connect with the souls of our characters. After all, children are the ultimate teachers.

It can be hard to juggle raising children and writing, but I believe my writing is better because of everything my kids bring into my life.

How have your children influenced your writing?

Please visit the other bloggers participating in the Writer Mama Bloghop. If my Linky List isn’t showing up, go here for a full list of participants.


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  1. Christine Rains

    What a wonderful post. My son has helped me look at everything with wide eyed wonder again. The newness of it all and his way of seeing it can at times be awesomely hilarious or strangely just like me. A sense of humor is definitely a key trait to being a parent! 🙂

    1. Shelli Proffitt Howells

      Thank you, Christine! Yes, I love the way kids reawaken our sense of wonder.

  2. Eydie

    Darn right! My middle granddaughter is often the source of my blog posts. When she was younger, she would come out with the most profound statements and I would always relate them to business. She’s a smart cookie.

    1. Shelli Proffitt Howells

      The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Eydie! 🙂

  3. Jessika Fleck (@jessikafleck)

    This is great! Kids definitely provide so much writing fodder 🙂

    1. Shelli Proffitt Howells

      Thanks! I bet you’ve got some funny stories to tell, too.

  4. Melanie Macek

    I’ve picked up a few things from my younger co-workers. Don’t have any kidlets of my own, by I tend to adopt other peoples kids 😉 Great post Shelli.

    1. Shelli Proffitt Howells

      Thanks, Melanie. You can borrow a couple of mine from time to time if you’d like. They are pretty hilarious. 🙂

  5. Samantha Bryant (@mirymom1)

    My girls are at the heart of a lot of my writing these days. Even when I’m not consciously or directly influence by them, there’s the way they’ve changed the way I see the world. What I worry about, what I want to make happen, what makes me angry, what breaks my heart. And that’s what I write about.

    1. Shelli Proffitt Howells

      Me, too, Samantha. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  6. Ann Noser

    I agree. Kids are inspiring (and exhausting, and a lot of work, etc, etc, haha)

    1. Shelli Proffitt Howells

      A lot of work, but it’s worth it! We eventually get rewarded with grandkids. 🙂

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