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The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: August 2008

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Thursday, August 28, 2008

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

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

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....


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Thursday, August 21, 2008

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

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Getting to Know Your Characters

The best characters, whether heros or villains, are those you know intimately. So how do you get to know them? Different methods work for different people. Here are a few tricks that work for me and for other writers I know:

  • Head to a public place and borrow character traits from the people you see.
  • Journal from that character's point of view.
  • Tell the story from another character's point of view. This is especially helpful for understanding your villain. After all, most villains think they're doing the right thing.
  • Fill out a "character questionaire." Numerous are available on the web and in writing books (for ex., --or you can design your own.
  • Take a particular scene and free write the character's emotions in that scene. What is her reaction to events? Does the event trigger any memories? What are they?
  • Sometimes it's helpful to start with your knowledge of a real person (or, preferably, a few real people). Put together your character based on the characteristics, quirks, and speech patterns from your real-life observations and go from there.
  • Act it out. Bring your whole body into the experience by donning a costume, a walk, or an attitude taken from your character. Walk down the street as your character (mentally, if you're worried what the neighbors will think....) Journal about your insights.
How do you get to know your characters? I'd love to hear!

:) Cheryl

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Rewriting from the Inside Out

I've been thinking about one of the secondary characters in my current novel rewrite, a character by the name of Khess. Khess needs a "tell," something that will help her character come to life as unique and distinct from the other characters. I realized that I'm going about it the wrong way. I've been making lists of speech patterns, expressions, and character quirks, trying to find one that fits. Instead, I need to start inside the character, so that the quirk/expression/physical characteristic extends naturally from who she is. I need to figure out where Khess is coming from.

So I did a little journaling from Khess's point of view. She's not the main character. How does she feel when the main character comes waltzing into her life? What's her family situation? Who are her friends? How does the prejudice of her city affect her?
I'm not big on those "lists" people fill out to gain insight into their characters--you know, the ones where you fill in name, age, occupation, hobbies, car make and model. The list concept is a good one, but the list needs to be personalized for your particular characters and your particular story. The key is to get inside your characters' heads so that they become real people to you. When they're real to you, they can become real for the readers, too.

Khess is a much fuller, rounder character now--which is both good and bad. Good, because she's much easier to write. Bad, because I think I might have to rewrite a few scenes that I'd thought I finished. I'm not sure the Khess I've gotten to know would be quite so cheery and eager-to-please--and flat--as I've drawn her. More work (sigh), but definitely on the road to a better story. And after all, that's what it's all about!

:) Cheryl

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back to Re-Writing

I'm finally digging back into the rewrite of my WIP, after the various distractions that come with summer, kids, life, and coordinating a contest. I feel as if I'm getting together with a long-lost friend, all happy and hyped and full of too much to say.

I'm busy incorporating the changes I've outlined (which will keep me busy for a while) but I'm wondering it I should dive into a few writing exercises on the side as well. For inspiration :). I've had great luck with the exercises in Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel workbook. For worldbuilding, Lee Killough's Checking On Culture: A Checklist for Culture Building is unparalleled.

I also just stumbled across a series of blog posts designed for the novel-revising writer. So far, they look excellent. So if you're busy revising your own WIP, check out Darcy Pattison's "30 Days to a Stronger Novel" series at:

Happy writing!


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Monday, August 11, 2008

Ze Puppy

Did I mention we have a new puppy in our house? Beau (short for Beauregard) is amazingly cute and very cuddly. He's part boxer (read: very little insulation) which means he'd prefer to sleep in someone's lap. Preferably under the covers in their soft bed.

Beau has been very busy during the past week and a half (the amount of time he's spent living with our family). Here are a few of his accomplishments:

  • Explored kitchen

  • Dismantled blockade #1, designed to keep him in kitchen

  • Leapt over blockade #2

  • Discovered baby bird

  • Carried baby bird around by head (very gently; the bird was fine, albeit slobbery)

  • Discovered poodle ears as chew toys

  • Discovered manuscript pages as chew toys

  • Savaged one ball of yarn

  • Set world record for extreme napping

  • Discovered that peeing on grass makes humans act goofy
Hmm. Think he'll work up to being a full-fledged inspirational pooch?

:) Cheryl


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday afternoons

It's Sunday--a day of rest (at least, I try to stick to that general concept)--and I've taken the afternoon off to follow my muse. no errands, no to-do lists, no should's or have-to's allowed. I drift wherever the moment takes me.

Usually, the moment leads me to paper in some form: something already written or something to be written.

The wonderful thing about starting to make a living as a writer is that people pay you for writing. The difficult thing is that writing then inches into the practical area of your life. It can become work. It can lose its glittery magic.

Sunday afternoons, I get a chance to remember writing as a love a treasure found in stolen moments. It's a time to pull out that writing book I've been meaning to read (Page after Page, by Heather Sellers) and scribble through the exercises. It's a time to lie blank-minded in the hammock until a new story idea forces me to move so I can jot it down.

It's a time to be still, waiting to know what I want to do with a few hours' free time--and to take delight in the discovery that, after all these years, what I most want to do is write. With a splash of reading for seasoning.

:) Cheryl

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Summer endings and beginnings

Summer's coming to an end where I live. The weather's still gorgeous--more gorgeous than it's been, in fact, since the temp's decided to quit setting record highs. But school is right around the corner, school year programs are starting back up, and we're busy with those last minute preps we make every year just before life kicks back into high gear.

I have mixed feelings about the turn of months this year. I've been enjoying some lazy days without schedules, when I get extra time with kids and books (and a new puppy! Hurray!) I've been enjoying the weather that permits long evening walks and bike rides, often ending with the lure of our local ice cream shop. (What can I say? My family works for food....) In between the lazy days have been plenty of busy ones when the kids went to camp and I went to the local coffee shop to dive into the latest writing project. In many ways, I'm not ready to click life's metronome up to a faster speed.

But...but, at the same time, I'm looking forward to cooler weather, the thrill of acting (I play a continuing character in my church's children's ministry), donning wool shawls, burning candles with spicy autumn scents, crocheting long fuzzy scarfs. And I'm looking forward to spending more time on the projects of my heart, the books and stories that don't have an immediate promise of a paycheck. :-)

Many writers have different writing styles to fit the different seasons of the year--or seasons of their lives. Maybe I'm at the golden spot: I'm enjoying the current season enough that I'm sorry to see it go, but I'm looking forward to all that the next season will bring.

Happy writing!


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