Childhood Memories and Writing Books

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about a book club that I started with a few other people.  We read books on the craft of writing. The club has been beneficial so far.

The first book that the members of my book club decided to read was Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin.  It was published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2000. CCKWL is more for those who are writing books for middle grade, but I think that one will find some useful information on writing books for other age groups. Since CCKWL contains a lot of information, we divided the book into sections to read and discuss. I read Part 1. (In the future, I think all of us should read the entire book, regardless of the length or content.) This is not a full review of Elaine’s book, but I will share something that made an impact on me.

Elaine suggested recalling your own childhood and drawing from those experiences to create your characters and stories.  Diaries, journals, scrapbooks, and photos from your youth may help you remember your life and provide ideas. Talking to friends and family can also offer some insight into your early years.

Throughout the book, Elaine included exercises to help inspire the writer. One exercise in particular, really hit home for me. This exercise concerned emotions that a character might feel. The reader was asked to make a list of possible emotions, situations and sensations. An example that Elaine gave was the emotion of fear. A very common emotion of course, but it was her example of a situation that jumped right out at me. She mentioned an unleashed barking dog. Whoa!

When I was a child, I had a fear of dogs. Elaine’s exercise brought up some old memories. I don’t remember the initial incident, but I was told that a large, friendly neighborhood dog wanted to play. I was little and frightened by this animal. As a result, I grew up with a fear of dogs. Whenever I saw one, I tried my best to avoid it. I can remember screaming, I was so scared. I was never bitten or attacked, but the emotion that I felt was very real. I felt this way around most dogs. As for dogs I knew (ones owned by friends for example), usually I was fine and could even make friends with them. However, in most cases, the fear would overtake me and ultimately, I would have nothing to do with the dog.

Eventually I out grew most of my fear. However, I continue to avoid dogs. I make friends with very few of them. I do not like dogs jumping up on me or trying to sit in my lap. When encountering a dog I do not know, I freeze, and those old feelings come rushing back.

I wasn’t expecting all of this from reading a book on how to write a children’s book!

Writing can help one resolve old issues. My fellow club members suggested I use my childhood fear as a basis for a story. Perhaps then, I can better come to terms with these long ago experiences.

I recommend Elaine’s book. I borrowed a copy but will probably purchase one eventually. Even if the book you are writing is not for children, you may still find “CCKWL” helpful.

I wonder what the next book on the craft of writing will bring forth!

Debbie A. Byrne has a B.S. in Mass Communication with a minor in History. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is working on her first children’s book.


Magdalena Ball said...

I think it would be a rare writer that didn't make use of childhood memories including (maybe especially) our fears. They might not come out in a literal one for one form, but it's all part of our material that we draw on. Not only is it cathartic, but it makes for rich, emotive, and 'true' writing.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Not only my own childhood memories but memories of my children's experiences end up in my writing.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Magdalena, I have to agree with you. We can only write who we are--and as we know more about who we are, we become better writers.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Excited about how much the new edition of the Frugal Book Promoter (expanded! updated!) can help writers with the tried and true and the new media, too. Now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right ( it the original edition was also a Reader Views winner and an Irwin Award winner.

Shirley Corder said...

Yes, I make use of not only childhood memories but also adult memories of times that made an impact on my life. Most of the devotional material I write is drawn from such events. e.g. Strength Renewed, my book of meditations for those on the cancer journey is based on memories of events from a traumatic time of treatment, linked to spiritual input. Not only is this type of writing cathartic as Magdalena mentions, but others can then benefit from your experiences.

Debbie A Byrne said...

I realize this, but I wasn't expecting that particular situation/memory/example at that time in that book.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Odd how buried memories can surface recalled by seemingly totally unconnected stimuli.The example in the book obviously had a powerful effect on you. Must have been most disconcerting.

Karen Cioffi said...

Memories can be very powerful and you never know what will trigger one. CCKWL sounds like a good book for us MG writers!

Debbie A Byrne said...

Yes, Karen, I think this book would be good for MG writers. I liked it, but I'm not writing a MG book. Annie, yes, exactly! You just never know what is going to hit you a certain way.

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