I watch my daughters play with their toys, watch them make them move and speak, and watch her create her own world and characters.
Huh. Sounds familiar. Doesn’t it?
They colors her characters, creating personalities and dialogue through their imagination. They bestow them with triumphs from capture by evil enemies, and rescues them from mortal peril. They talk about their favorite clothes, yummy treats, and special animals they love.
Mermaids sing and have under the sea adventures in the bathtub, while Lightening McQueen and Mater have racing adventures competing for the Piston Cup. Umi-Zoomi drive around in Umi-Car solving mighty math problems, alongside Dora and her friends who save animals and explore the world.
At times, their characters aren’t even a toy. With a marker in hand, they’ll etch in little pads of paper, orders from patrons at their restaurant. They serve them pretend food they prepare in their pretend kitchen, and then asks the imaginary people if they would like ketchup on their fries or mustard on their hamburger.
While I don’t act out my characters lives, like my daughters, I still color them. I sit down in my comfy office chair and color. I give my characters personalities, sincerity, flaws, triumphs, and struggles. I bestow them with friends and enemies, likes and dislikes, and love and heartbreak. I am bonded with my characters, and I know them inside and out.
But what are characters without a world to play in?
As my daughters play in the tub with their mermaids, I watch their imagination run wild. They aren’t sitting in a porcelain tub. They’re sitting at the bottom of the ocean with the mermaids swimming all around them.
They talk to my daughter, and my daughters talk back. They go on their adventures with them, meeting their fish friends, swimming with whales and dolphins, and running from sharks.
When they sit in their rooms playing with princess dolls and castle sets, they aren’t in their super cute painted bedrooms. They are in the walls of the castle, cooking and baking with Snow White, changing ball gowns with Cinderella, dancing the ballroom with Belle and the Beast, and sliding down Rapunzel’s hair to the grass below. They paint themselves an imaginary world for her their characters right down to the last detail.
When I open my manuscript, I dive into a foggy forest, walk the dirt streets of an Indian village, ride in a carriage down a long pathway lined with giant scarlet oak trees to the southern plantation manor. I’m not sitting in my home, but instead I’m sitting beside a warm fire up in the cold snowy mountains of the Yukon territory sipping bad coffee and pushing chicken livers around my plate.
Through my words, readers know if it’s night or day, if it’s raining or if the sun is shining bright in the sky. Of course, everyone has their own imagination. My forest is probably different from the forest a readers sees. Does it matter? Not at all. As long as I paint a world they picture in their mind, no matter what it looks like to them. As long as they travel up the Klondike with Cora, smuggle slaves with Alexandra, and fall in love with William and Flynn, I am content.
My daughter paints and colors her own pretend world and characters.
And so do I.