Today I’m going back over fifty years
Between cultures, in fiction, in all our lives, childhood can have similarities and differences.
Teaching the theory is a wonderful thing, and something I’m prone to. I will teach how to create a particular culture and how to configure childhood as part of it, I will teach how to translate that theory into a real culture or use it to understand the culture we walk in every day, and I will teach how to find the most appropriate (not always the cutest) aspects of all of this to put into that precise place in a story in the exact way that will bring it to life. It won’t just bring the culture into the story. If it’s done properly, it will bring with it the burdens of childhood, the memory of an era, the people who played a role in a person’ early days.
This is fictional marvel, or it can be, done well. A small apparently inconsequential object that is a pivot for culture, life and person.
To teach this, I have a series of objects. They each have important emotional carriage for me which I do talk about. I respect the privacy of others, however, especially when it’s a complex narrative. I invent a family for the purpose, for example, drawing on my real history for the emotions but not for the people or the story, which is what I do in a lot of my fiction where it looks autobiographical. I let my students play with family toys and they hear the stories then they apply the theory to their own writing.
It’s a simple technique, but it works every time.
One of the toys I bring is from my own early childhood. I don’t have many dolls at all from that time, and I’ve never thrown one out (that I remember) so the emotions regarding it are very sharp. When other children talked at primary school about playing certain types of game with dolls I used to mentally measure if I could play that game with my dolls. Mostly, I couldn’t. This six centimetre darling was difficult to have a tea party with, for example:
She was wonderful for plays about her, things she did, but not so good for playing with me. Given my head was also large for my body (not as large, but enough!) she become my surrogate in stories. The first dress I made myself as a teenager was that dress with sleeves and without braid. I thought I was being trendy, but I was agreeing with my childhood play. I was allowed to play in stories. It fits that I’ve wanted to write fiction since before I was eight, because I had a fictional self when I was much younger than eight.
Once my students know my path, they can follow their own. Even the “I ddin’t have any toys” works, because a childhood without toys is no less of a childhood and how they live that childhood and what objects they interact with and how they interact says so much about the person and their surroundings and their personality. Establishing a relationship with a given object is a marvellous way into writing story because it’s a marvellous way into understanding a person and a culture.
I was going to give you a photo of the front and back, without the dress, for the dress is not sewn at the back. If anyone really wants, I can take those pictures. It feels a bit like revealing myself, however, so I won’t do it unless someone asks. This is the downside of using ones own life as a springing board for story: we all have baggage. and there are emotions tied up in the oddest places.
Let em give you one more view, however. This one reveals why I was interested in science fiction at a bizarrely young age. Aliens with big heads were a favourite of mine when I was around four or five.
Childhood toys are so very, very powerful as a path into fiction.