5 Ways to Write with a 3-Year-Old’s Imagination

Writing with Imagination
That’s me! At age 3, of course.

It all started with my iDog. A 3-year-old walked into my room looking to play with her imagination and I grabbed the only toy I own. Too bad the batteries were dead. I deemed the toy a bust, but she picked it up—and that’s when her story began.

What happens when we unplug from our automatic habits? We find ourselves writing with imagination.

Ask Lots of Questions

When I asked the 3-year-old question after question about the iDog, she didn’t hesitate to answer.

What color is the dog?  Purple

How does the dog fly?  With his ears!

Why is the dog sad?  Because he wants water.

Writing with imagination means holding a Q&A session.

Ask questions rapidly. Build on your questions. Avoid asking questions that already have answers. Take notes. And dance around while you ask the questions to keep your mind open.

And Then What?

3-year-olds don’t pause the action. Playtime rolls at lightning speed because active verbs control the story. Just ask, “What happens next? And then what?”

He flies to the park!

He rolls around in the daisies!

He chases a squirrel!

He misses the squirrel—just in time!

How can you keep the story moving? What happens next? And then what? Scribble it down. Don’t pause for details. Create problems and solve them while writing with imagination. Elaborate on descriptions and story gaps when you edit.

Writing with Imagination 2
Imagination in numbers!

Repeat the Exciting Parts

Notice how a 3-year-old replays a scene from the playtime storyline over and over again?

For us, the encore scene was when the dog ran away. The dog scampered out of my room and I was sad until he returned. The dog ran farther and farther away while I was sadder and more excited when he left and came back. The dog soon barked and howled on his return, and I soon cheered him on with “come here, boy!” and lots of petting (and treats).

Playing a scene out again and again isn’t redundant if you build upon it. How can you heighten the action? How can you make it more dramatic? Active? Sensory? Engage your readers when you’re writing with imagination.

Define Character Wants

3-year-olds don’t hold back with what a character wants.

The dog wants food!


To be pet!

To go to the park! (this is when the flying started)

To sleep!

To dance!

Writing with imagination is led by what each character (or dog) wants at all stages of the story. State the want. Choose the next action. Find the conflict.

Buy Toys

Dolls, action figures, board game pieces, cut-out pictures of people—find anything that you can physically hold. Voice their dialogue. Move them from action to action. Have them interact and see where the problems unfold. It’s much easier to be writing with imagination with physical character stand-ins.

Don’t expect the story to write itself for you. You are the energy behind it, so stay in control. You’re in charge of keeping the story from turning boring. And if you sob like a 3-year-old because you have to leave before the story reaches its end, you’re on the right track.


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