Finding inspiration…

Rewriting (yep, still doing that) requires a constant influx of creative inspiration. That’s when the writer gets to discover the perfect sound to give the reader chills, the perfect smell to fill the reader with warm fuzzies, or the perfect phrase to make a character come to life.

Perfect. Arg. That word can be the bane of any writer…but we still want to get as close as we can, right?
I think the key to finding those perfect sounds, scents, and phrases is to fill up your mental toolbox with lots of choices. It’s always easier to pick and choose from a given set of options (think multiple choice) than it is to start from scratch (think essay question). With all the rewriting I’ve been doing lately, I’ve had to refill my mental toolbox a lot. Here are some of my favorite places to do so:

  • For the perfect smell, I visit the Demeter fragrance library: If I find one particularly inspiring, I suppose I might buy it–but usually, it’s enough to read through the list of names. (Did you know you could buy laundromat-scented cologne? Or baby powder?)
  • If I need to sample some scents, my local natural food store is a great resource. I can wander the aisles and smell fresh kumquats and star fruit; or I can skip straight to the essential oils aisle for a sensation explosion.
  • For the perfect voice, I visit the shopping mall and hang out on the plaza outside the movie theater. Kids, parents, and sweethearts of all ages meet and talk and laugh. Friday night’s especially great for eavesdropping on the teen crowd….
  • Another voice pick–check out the pizza parlors or other eating establishments within walking distance of the high school.
  • The perfect sounds can be trickier. My choice here depends what I’m writing. Right now, I can hear goldfinches arguing over sunflower seeds; a chain saw; traffic noise like the surge of the ocean; warbling sparrows; a scolding squirrel. For something more exotic, I’d have to travel–or hit the Internet, where you can look up just about any sound bite imaginable. Ever heard the call of the New Zealand bellbird? (

There are more sources I could list, but there’s a fine line between research and procrastination. I need to get back to my own rewriting! Meanwhile, the next time you need a little of your own rewriting inspiration, trying filling up your mental toolbox with a sensory excursion.

:) Cheryl

My picture book muse…

Remember when I said I adopted a puppy? I was wrong. I think I’ve adopted a toddler in disguise.

Oh, this little guy might have fur, big paws, and a mock-ferocious puppy growl, but his behavior is 100% toddler. He pulls out all his toys and leaves them all over the house, gets into everything, constantly wants to be held, constantly wants to be played with, constantly wants attention. He goes nonstop, high speed, until he crashes for a nap. And then he’s up and ready to do it all over again.

Toddler, all over again. Even if he does like to have his tummy scratched.

I think he’s my picture book muse, incarnated in puppy form. Time to polish up my attempts at picture book prose.

What’s that you say? I’m supposed to be working on a rewrite? :) Oh, well. Back to work….


Live Theater, continued

Watching live theater may be great for character creation, but participating in it (with a mentor or in a class) might be an even better tool. Acting gets you up close and personal with yourself, your physical body, and other actors. And, if you’re anything like me, many (most?) of those other actors are better than you are…which makes them great material. (Don’t worry, Phil, I would NEVER turn you into one of my book characters. Much. At least, I wouldn’t tell you about it….)

Think you don’t have anything to learn from theater? Try this exercise (from a recent acting workshop) on for size:

Get together a group of people to participate. Prepare a “stage” so that only the actor’s feet are visible. The actor receives an emotion card–sad, happy, impatient, fearful, etc.–and must portray that emotion using only his or her feet. The rest of group guesses the portrayed emotion.

Did you try it? Hmm? Or at least run through it mentally? I bet you never knew feet could be so expressive. And I bet using feet to portray fear definitely frees you from all possible cliches.

:-) Cheryl

Live Theater…A Tool for Creation of Great Characters

Have you ever been to a professional play or musical? I recently went to see a live production of “The Three Musketeers” with my family. Aside from being a ton of fun, it also was an inspiring exercise for writing.

In live theater–much more so than in films or TV–the characters develop clear body language to help portray character and emotions. Facial expressions are exaggerated. Speech and tone of voice are larger-than-life. Why does this benefit us as writers? Because we spend so much of our time creating characters’ actions, movements, quirks, and so on–nonverbal insights into what the character thinks and feels, into who the character really is.

Attend a live show and pay attention to how the actors portray their characters. You might be inspired!

:) Cheryl