Sparking Creativity Through LEGO & Other Tangible Objects

This week’s post comes from YA author Lyn Miller-Lachmann whose exciting and daring book, ROGUE, is out now!


I was That Girl who played with dolls well into my teens. I gave them up when I found myself regularly hanging out with eight-year-olds, to their and my mothers’ dismay. I was already writing fiction at that age, and the dolls were the tangible objects with which I acted out my stories.

When my son was in elementary school, he became interested in LEGO Pirates, and we turned the top bunk of his bed into a kid’s (and aspiring writer’s) paradise of ships, islands, forts, and hideaways. He outgrew these toys too soon and ended up selling them to pay for his college fraternity membership. On the other hand, I wrote a short story called “The Pirate Tree” that I’m now turning into a picture book.


Around the time he left for college, LEGO came out with the Modular towns, and the cafes, apartment buildings, shops, and public buildings became the backdrop of my writing life. At first I thought I could become one of the writers for the LEGO series books for kids, but other authors had already taken this gig. Nonetheless, I’m a writer who likes to do things my way, so I began to create stories with my minifigures in the form of a graphic novel, photographing scenes and writing captions, which I’ve posted on Instagram.

HotSpringsDoing things my way has taught me a lot about writing and expanded my repertory in ways I could never have imagined. The economy of language required (because no one on Instagram reads captions more than a line or two long) has prepared me to take on the challenge of writing picture book texts in which the words are supposed to complement rather than describe the illustrations. I am also using LEGO to teach the concepts of writing – not only showing vs. telling but also characterization, layered narrative, point of view, and finding the center of your story.


People learn in different ways, and for some learners, the manipulation of tangible objects works as well as or better than lectures, discussions, and PowerPoint presentations. I consider myself a visual person, and objects help me to generate ideas and visualize scenes, whether those objects are minifigures in a LEGO town or items on display in a historical museum.





Think about the objects in your life. Did you play with dolls or action figures long after your peers gave them up? Do you have collections that are important to you today? How do you incorporate these collections into your writing? Whenever you travel, what are the places toward which you gravitate? How do these special places find their way into your stories?



Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of Rogue (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013), a Junior Library Guild selection, which portrays an eighth grader with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and an X-Men obsession, whose effort to befriend another outcast after being expelled from school leads her to some difficult and dangerous choices. Her previous young adult novel Gringolandia (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2009), about a teenage refugee from Chile coming to terms with his father’s imprisonment and torture under the Pinochet dictatorship, was a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults and received an Américas Award Honorable Mention from the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. Lyn is a summer 2012 graduate of the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and reviews children’s and young adult books on social justice themes for The Pirate Tree. Lyn blogs about LEGO, writing, travel, and culture at

8 thoughts on “Sparking Creativity Through LEGO & Other Tangible Objects”

  1. Linda W says:

    Great post, Lyn. When I was 12, my dolls and stuffed animals quietly disappeared. My mother had given them away, believing that I was now too old for dolls. So I haven’t written about that experience. But I enjoy reading about your LEGO collection.

    1. Cori McCarthy says:

      Oh no, Linda! That breaks my heart… You should go buy new dolls. I still have my American Girl Doll right next to my desk. Not to mention a few dozen action figures 🙂

    2. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

      I used to hide my dolls so my parents wouldn’t throw them away. They weren’t very good at finding stuff if my brother and I put our minds to hiding it. My brother hid all kinds of things from them.

  2. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

    Thank you for inviting me to be part of the blog, Cori! The pictures look great too! If you go to my blog, the current post features the entire Thanksgivukkah Advent Calendar Challenge.

    1. Cori McCarthy says:

      Thanks, Lyn! I really enjoy using tangible objects when I write. I’ve been building a jet fighter model of my own design for my new YA, BREAKING SKY. The process has really put an important spatial awareness in my writing of the flight scenes.

      Thank you so much for contributing to the Tollbooth!

      1. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

        When I read THE COLOR OF RAIN, I thought of the LEGO Death Star set. It would have made a great book launch for you, but it’s one of the biggest sets out there and costs $400.

  3. Sandra Nickel says:

    Creativity and the manipulation of tangible objects–fascinating stuff Lyn. I love the inspiration that comes from the tactile and visual elements!

    1. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

      Thank you for stopping by, Sandra! By the way, we believe Karlijn has gone missing, so her father and Patricio are going to Amsterdam to find her. No telling how much trouble those two are going to get into there.

      Note that like characters, these tangible objects — LEGO minifigures — end up taking on a life of their own.

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