Thursday, July 30, 2015

Truth in Imagination

I write for kids, aged 10 to about 16 or 17. Some of my short stories and books are for Middle Grade kids, and some are for teens. I was recently asked if, while I was teaching, I got a lot of ideas for these stories from the kids themselves. Hmm. Well, no, not really. Other than a couple of years working with sexually and physically abused children, I taught at the university level, so my students were juniors, seniors, and grad students. Yeah, there were a lot of stories there, but not exactly the kind you'd want kids in middle school to read about!

I've always wanted to create a world of imagination for kids, but one in which they could find some measure of truth, something that would ring true just for them. I want to write stories that spark the child's imagination, but also those in which the child can find a Truth. A truth about friendships, relationships, family life, the environment, nature, or maybe nothing more than a truth about this specific child and his or her  life.

Let's look at this a different way: when you were reading a story as a kid, and it really interested and excited you, didn't you get lost in that story? Didn't you, even for a short while, imagine yourself as the hero or heroine? Did any of those stories ever make you realize something about real life? If so, isn't that a kind of "truth in imagination?"

Several years ago, I published a short story about a young boy who, after his parents' divorce, had to go live with his father on a horse ranch. The boy hated it. He hated the horses because he was afraid of them. One night during a bad storm, the father had to go into town to get a vet for a newborn foal. He told his son that he was counting on him to get out to the pasture and keep the foal alive until he could get back with the vet. What would the boy do? Would he stay in the house, frightened of both the storm and the mare and her foal, or would he make himself go out to the pasture and take care of the foal? To a young boy reading this story, wouldn't he put himself in the character's place, and wonder what HE would do in the same situation? Would he go outside into the storm and brave an upset mare and her foal? If he did, how would he try to keep the foal alive until Dad got back? And if he simply was too scared to go outside at all, how would he feel about betraying the trust his father had put in him? How would he feel if the foal actually died before the vet could get there? The boy reads on. He finds out what the boy character did, and then he asks himself, "Is this what I would have done?"

The story sparks the imagination. It does more than that. It leaves a measure of truth in the reader's mind for him to figure out for himself. Is that young boy learning something from this story? Is he learning, or at least, thinking about what can happen in real life, and how that might affect him? I never intend to "teach" in the pedantic sense of that word, but I always hope I put a grain of truth into an imaginative story, and that the reader will pick up on it.

Truth in Imagination is just a concept, but in every story I've ever written, and in the three books I've had published, I have always tried to instill that concept and keep it alive and well. What about you? Have you thought about what you write, and how it will affect the child or adult you write for? Even if you have never thought of "truth in imagination" in so many words, don't you put into the imagination that makes up your stories just a little bit of truth somewhere?

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.