This wonderful guest post is by the fabulous John Inman, author of ‘Spirit’, on his favorite childhood stories and how they influenced him. John’s words really touched me. Thank you so much, John.
I was one of those kids who spent his childhood with his face happily stuck in a book. I read continually. The way I remember it, I graduated immediately from Dick and Jane, and See Spot Run, to a set of classics I found tucked away in a steamer trunk in the attic of our old Indiana farmhouse.
That was like the most incredible collection of books ever. Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Lassie Come Home, Misty of Chincoteague, Bambi, Rascal, Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers, Kidnapped, and on and on and on. They were beat up, they smelled musty, but god they were great.
Without question, my favorite was Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss. I read that book so many times it finally had to be held together with scotch tape and rubber bands. I can remember lying in the front yard on a summer day, ignoring the chiggers and the bees and the ants, with my dog’s chin resting on my belly and Swiss Family Robinson propped up in front of me, lost in the adventures of Fritz and his brothers and his mother and father, carving a life out of the wilderness, building that fabulous tree house, keeping the family together through every sort of adversity imaginable.
And I never cheated on the story. I never flipped ahead to find the best parts, like when the sharks followed the raft, or when the humongous snake ate the donkey. Every time I read that book, I followed the story from page one, just as the author intended me to do. Trembling with excitement, even though I knew what was going to happen next, I forced myself to experience the adventure as it unfolded. Time after time after time.
I learned a lot during the long hours I spent with my nose in that book. I learned about reading, how not to undermine the storyteller’s craft by skipping pages and jumping around like a cricket. How to appreciate the play of words, and how mere words can create a mood, a scene, an emotion. How to not be afraid to take the tale to whatever odd destination it wants to take. How to write characters that people can relate to in some way. Whether you hate them, or love them, or admire them, or would aspire to be them, or would never want to meet them in a dark alley in a million years, you still related. A connection was made between the reader and the character on the page. And to this day I think that is the most important goal for a writer to strive for.
Characterization. If your characters are alive, your story is alive.
Sometimes I fail, of course. We all do. Still, as long as you are trying to do the right thing, trying to make your characters breathe actual life onto the page, trying to find a way to connect your reader to your protagonist or your villain or any one of a hundred other characters, then, like the poor struggling Robinson family, you can at least rest assured you did your best.
By the way, I’m an old man now. But still, when I go to Disneyland this weekend (which I am), the first place I’ll head for is the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, just like I do every time I go. I’ll creak my way up to the top on arthritic knees, and looking down far below, I’ll see a scrawny little kid in filthy blue jeans with patches on the knees and his dog at his side, reading in the grass in front of a weathered farmhouse in Indiana. And I’ll smile, knowing that somewhere deep inside, that little kid is still me.
Funny. After writing this, I have an uncontrollable urge to read the story again. Happily, I still have my battered copy on the bookshelf. It’s been with me my whole life. How many friends can you say that about?
You can contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org,
on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/john.inman.79,
or on his website: http://www.johninmanauthor.com/.