Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weekly Inspiratioon

If you need a little writerly inspiration in your in-box every week, Children's Writer eNews is free from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Each week it's crammed with encouragement and advice -- like this bit about how to take writing advantage of the busy schedule and sensory overload of the holidays (no author given but probably authored by Jan Field, the writer who puts this e-bulletin together)

8. Sensory Snapshots

I'm not a big fan of writing exercises -- if you are, I respect that. For me, I'm lazy. If I'm writing, I'm probably going to try to sell it at some point. But sometimes a writing exercise can help us hone skills and get a bit of writing in during a really hectic time (like the holidays?) So here's an exercise I do a lot and one that frequently finds its way into my published work: sensory snapshots.

No time of year offers more sensory impressions than the holidays with rich foods and much more contact with people and places. So I try to take a moment and write a quick sensory map of something different every day. I might jot down connections, impressions, figures of speech, and pure clinical description about the act of eating my first Clementine of the year or my first sip of egg nog.

Equally, I might make the same kinds of sensory lists about the stores I'm in, the lines I wait in, the airport...all of these offer me a chance to capture the moment in words so that I can retrieve it later. Then, if I need to build a scene in one of these settings, I have a “record” of the kinds of sights, sounds, smells and textures my characters might encounter. I keep these “sensory records” in a notebook with tabs for different categories. Then when I write a scene set at a zoo, for example, I can pull out several “sensory records” – one made at a small zoo, one from a nature park, and one from the National Zoo in Washington. They remind me of small details I might use.

So, this year, consider a few of these sensory records so then when you need to put your teen characters in a crowded mall full of whiney kids, you can make the reader beleive it completely. Or when your character catches snowflakes on her tongue, you have the exact words to capture the taste and feel. Memory is great, but how much better is it when you can pull the actual moment from your file.

Here's what the current bulletin looks like.

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