Posted by: kshayes513 | January 23, 2009

Researching My Life

Fantasy and SF worldbuilders have all our fun researching the exotic stuff: what do peasants drink in medieval France? how exactly might the human body have evolved after 1000 generations in space? What’s it like to be in a sandstorm? Sometimes, though, the research process is closer to home.

For the story I’m developing, (the one that started with the “Holiday Spirits” writing prompt) I need to figure out what kinds of games children play in Khasran’s world, and more specifically, what kinds of games do the nomadic children play, living in tent camps out on the wide grasslands.  I could spend some time researching how kids play in preindustrial, rural societies, when they’re not helping with the agricultural and domestic work. I decided not to do it that way, at least not to start.

Instead, I spent a lot of Sunday afternoon just daydreaming about my own childhood, and especially about all the kinds of outdoor play that didn’t involve expensive or complicated toys. I remembered how it felt to be a kid exploring in the woods with my best friend, building sandcastles, trying to spy on my big brother and his friends, messing around with the ponies, inventing a secret club, pretending to be cowboys and secret agents and Kirk and Spock on an alien planet. In elementary school, my BFF Laura and I saw the whole world filtered through our imaginations. Even sitting at our desks in class, learning the multiplication tables, all we had to do was glance at each other to remember that we weren’t the little girls our teacher and classmates saw. We were the cowboy heroes in disguise, the teacher was the mayor giving a speech, and the snobby girl was our desperado bad guy, waiting for a playground showdown.

By the end of the afternoon, my time traveling into my own life had given me an opening scene and the central conflict of two 11 year old best friends seeking a comeuppance for a bossy older brother. I was still thinking my way back into this distant mindset, when I took my dog for an afternoon walk. On the way, we came across a boy about 8 years old dragging a big showshovel behind him as he walked across the fresh snow in his yard. His mother leaned out the door and asked, what was he doing?

He turned and explained, simply, “I’m making trails.”  Behind him, the shovel made a winding path through the powder. Of course. Everything’s magical to a playing child.

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