“If This Was Easy More Boys Would Do It”
I was on the train today into New York and sitting opposite me was an adorable little girl of about eight or so wearing a T-shirt with this slogan on the front. When I finally was able to sneak a peak at the back of the T-shirt, it proudly proclaimed “Girls Rule.” This kid was a little firecracker. The two younger boys with her were definitely archng to the beat of her drum. I assume they were her brothers because she was ordering them around and they were following her instructions – more or less.
She was feisty and fun. Her moments of sober reflection were punctuated by bouts of quiet laughter, as if she were telling herself inside jokes. Not surprisingly, she made me think of the heroine of my children’s novel – and also of its readers. I loved thinking that this sharp, spunky little cookie might be a model for my character – and that she might also be one of my book’s readers. It really gave me a boost!
This brief encounter made me think of all the times I’ve seen someone by chance who suddenly called to mind a character in my story and even gave me an idea for it. I saw one young teenager in a play who had the kind of strong, chiseled face I think of my heroine as having. And I’ve seen several girls with gorgeous, flowing, long, voluptuous corkscrew curls that are exactly the kind my feisty heroine had before her guardian – sadly – chopped them off so that she could play the part of a boy.
And just recently, while walking in the park, I saw a boy coming toward me who caught my attention. He had the huge muscular body of a teenager, but the small head and face of a little boy. He looked a little like two different people who had been pasted together. Suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration about how to describe one of the characters in my book in a more colorful, memorable way.
One of the joys of writing fiction is the serendipitous way in which seeing someone or reading something can trigger an idea or an image that ends up being woven into your story. All these little patchwork quilt pieces somehow end up fitting together and informing the whole. It’s an exciting, mysterious process – and every time it happens, it feels like a gift from the universe.
I remember hearing a very prolific YA writer talk about how he created a scrapbook for each of his novels in which he pasted photos of teenagers and scenes as visual prompts. I’ve heard other writers talk about using bulletin boards on which they pin quotes, lists, pictures, newspaper clips – you name it – and used them as narrative triggers. It’s a big world out there – and there are countless sources of inspiration waiting for us. Write on!