Monday, March 28, 2011

Finding Inspiration

Writers often get asked what inspires them. Sometimes shockingly little can get us off on a wonderful story or an entire book. If you're just beginning to write or your muse seems to have moved and you have no forwarding address, life as a writer or writer wannabe can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes your muse needs a nudge. Sometimes it needs a whack with a switch.

Effective writing is about dramatizing, drawing the reader into your story. Making your characters so realistic, your readers won't forget about them very soon. Even if your story is quite short, there are ways to make that character endearing. Then, by engaging the senses, your writing becomes vivid. It is the distinct difference between telling (boring) and dramatizing (connecting).

Let's look at this picture.

Pick an individual or look at the entire group. Make some notes as you read these questions. How do you imagine this music sounds? Do you get shivers or do your ears hurt? Can you smell the walking taco the guy next to you is eating, or sweat from previous basketball games? Are you anticipating what happens next or hoping it'll end fast? Does the scene or the location evoke memories? Good ones or bad ones? Something hilarious perhaps? Look at your notes. Can you pull them together into a little story? Can a couple of the people in the photo add some dialog to liven things up a bit more? Sit back and think about what you've got. Could be a few paragraphs; might be a page. A single photo has turned into entire novels for me. It takes practice.

Try something else.

Did you mom or dad bake bread? Maybe your grandma did. What was that like? Think about the way fresh bread smells coming out of the oven. Do you remember the sound of the oven opening and the precise color of the loves when they came out of the oven? Were you lucky enough to have a slide when it was still warm? With butter or peanut butter? Both? Ah, I've died and gone to heaven.

These kinds of tricks help you think in terms of dramatization, not just telling.

Telling: Grandma opened the oven door and took out three loaves of bread when the oven timer range.

Dramatizing: Gradma peered into the dark oven, its door making an angry squawk as she opened it.

"They're ready," she said, her voice triumphant. Using her white, flour sack dish towels, Grandma pulled each loaf from the oven. The scent permeated her small kitchen. Chocolate-brown crusts begged for a slathering of butter, which she spread on as soon as the door was shut and the oven off.

Make a habit of writing every day. Don't worry about what you write or how good it is. The point is to write every day and push yourself to improve over time. And if somebody sees my muse, send her home. It's past curfew.

How do you get your muse to cooperate? What inspires you? I'd love to know.

Until the next time.
Margaret Rose