Children instinctively know what makes a satisfactory story: if that knowledge isn't coded into our genes, it's certainly wired into our brains. But I've been wondering what else in my childhood has fed into my writing self, and I realise that one thing I'm grateful for is childhood paper games.
Adverbs: The first person writes a column of quantities - a hatful, a fathom, a milligram - and folds it to hide them. The next writes a column of adjectives, the third writes nouns, then verbs, and so on. When it's unfolded you have the basics of rows of mad sentences to be read aloud: 'A mouthful of motherly ping-pong tables waltzed distractedly towards Richard Nixon holding a machete.' It would probably give a nervous breakdown to the doctrinaire avoider of adjectives and adverbs - the kind who takes endless Creative Writing courses but never actually reads. The rest of us just enjoy it.
Dictionary: Not Call My Bluff, but made-up words, the madder the better. The next person writes a definition, complete if they like with faux-grammatical details and invented illustrative quotation, and folds over the word. The third writes a new word, folds over the definition, and so on. Some chains of word-and-meaning evolve a long way from their origins, others stay remarkably true to the kind of thing the first word evoked. A lot keep one foot in convincingness, so they sound like IKEA product names, words that Tolkein discarded as too silly, or what you think Pingu might be saying. Which isn't coincidental: we have a hard-wired sense of what the building-blogs of language are. This is like building a house out of bricks of cake, or designing some mythical beast: tiger's tail, eagle's wings and tortoise's paws, but you still know it's an animal.
Bouts Rhymées: You start by writing a line of poetry in an agreed metre (iambic tetrameter - 'The boy stood on the burning deck' - is traditional), and the next person writes another, rhyming line, and then a third which doesn't rhyme, folds over all but the last, and passes it on. The third person writes the second line of that couplet, and then the first line of a new one, and so on. However daft or dire the resulting verse (let's not call it poetry), learning to manipulate words so they rhyme and scan is incredibly good training for learning to manipulate the sound and rhythm of any writing.
Surrealist Poetry: On the LH side of the paper you write the first line. Opposite it on the RH side the next person writes a line reversing as much of the meaning as possible ('The black crows fly' becomes 'A white sparrow swims') and then continues with another line below it. They fold it so only that second line is visible, then hand it on. The third person writes a reversed line across on the LH side, and another line below it, then folds over... When it's all unfolded you have two poems (and these usually are poems) of wonderful, surreal sense. It makes connections where the writers couldn't possibly have meant them, and it's salutary to realise how much of a poem is what the reader makes of the words and their juxtaposition.
Title and Paragraph: The first person writes a title, the next a paragraph from the book and folds over the title, the third writes a new title, and so on. The Pratislovickirika Incident by Otto Plog, Not Wisely but Too Well by Pandora Rosemeathe, or With Faithful Fowling Piece in Hand, Memoirs of a Duck-shooting Life by Maj. Gen. Sir Crombie Smythe-Gordon (Retd.) is the kind of thing we handed on for the next person to write paragraphs for. Voice is one of my most cherished technical tools: The Mathematics of Love has two narrators of different genders and centuries, and one review praised its 'bilingual dexterity'. For that, clearly, my thanks go to Otto Plog, Pandora Rosemeathe, and the Major General.
PS: inventing those titles makes me realise how the standard booktrade genres have changed since I was ten. Now it could also be Winning Balls by Wayne Broome, as told to Jonathan Smugge, Hard Man in Helmand by 'Joe Crown', Oh No, Where Have I Put My Choos? by Sacha Brilliant, or Bashed-Up Brat, my life in Hell by Jane Brown.