Annie On Writing

July 23, 2009

Engage Senses to kick start a Story or Character

This article – first published over at Write Anything in April had over 1000 hits in the first day! I could only dream of that sort of traffic here…

The idea of a story can be sparked by a number of things; a snippet of conversation, an unusual name or occupation found in a directory, a newspaper article or a setting the author experiences. Different techniques and approaches to transferring that idea into a first draft appeal to different writers and their styles. Some are very structured, utilizing a form or specific format sketching out characters, plot and theme. Others are more free flowing, allowing the story to envelop and entrap them as they meet the characters and retell their story.

However, without this initial spark of creativity, the writer faces blockages or the mundane churn out of clichéd or underdeveloped work. Its often these first glimpses of a story which fuel the writer’s imagination during later stages of writing and why its so important for the initial stage to be fully explored before moving into the first draft.

I’d like to share a technique I dub the Creative Idea Sparkle as a different format to gather or culminate ideas for your next story line. Most peoples last experimentation with collage will have been in early grade school.  It was only with using this craft with my kids that the idea sunk in on me as a tool for writing.

One of the best things about collage is that most of what you need will already be in the home or bought inexpensively.

    My Collage

  • 1 large piece of cardboard or butchers paper ( beg a piece from your local chippy)
  • 1 glue stick
  • old glossy womens magazines ( old issues are almost given away in thrift shops)
  • 1 bag of scrap material (material only need be a few cm wide – find a sewer, craft or quilting group and ask for their small cast offs)
  • a set of coloured textas/ felt tip pens
  • Sparkles, glitter etc may be utilised – but this is an advanced technique so be wary of its nefarious nature.

Set aside an hour or uninterrupted time to being this process. If music assists you in relaxing, play an instrumental piece so words don’t distract your mind as you are creating.

An important point before you start is to remember that your collage is not meant to look pretty or even organized – it is a map of the senses, filled with textures and images from which character/s and scenes will spring forth!

  • Close your eyes and set your intention. This may be simply stating that you are open to meet a new character, or that you are looking for a scene to bridge one of your already existing scenes to an idea you have in your head, but as yet unsure how to do it. Make your intention simple and as clear as possible.
  • With your intention still firmly in mind riffle through the scraps of material for something that speaks to you about that character or setting. It may project an image of an armchair, or curtains in a café, or an outfit a character is wearing.
  • Find other pieces to support these scenes or characters and glue to your paper/cardboard, supporting it with a name for your character, a personality trait or event.
  • Flick through your magazines and search for images where the colors or pictures support the material. Don’t over analyze, go with a gut feeling, the image either suits or it doesn’t so move on if its not right.
  • If a headline or word stands out – cut it out and paste somewhere on your storyboard. Words can trigger huge emotions – either for you or for your characters.

By now you will have a piece of paper or cardboard with ragged cuttings of material and images stuck in crazy angles. You may have stopped long enough to jot down a name or a few words and drawn arrows to images or fabric.

  • Use your coloured textas to draw in images or words which you could not immediately find – but feel are needed within your collage.
  • Look at your masterpiece and take in each element you have glued in place.
  • Find either your notebook or laptop and write exactly what is in front of you without editing or allowing for grammar. It might be as simple as “tweed jacket, blue curtains, What Now? Couples Report No Change, beach, puppy, red car.
  • Think back on your initial intention you had set an hour (or so) ago and review your notes and write (or type) without editing, stopping or thinking for 2 mins.

What you have created is a sensory map filled with important images and words which forms the texture of your story or character background. Its more likely by now you have a simmering story (or character) bursting to come forth…alternatively you have a piece of modern art to impress friends with your creativity.

Annie Evett uses her kids as an excuse to do all the craft and silly stuff she was too ‘mature’ to do when she was a child. She also enjoys justifying bottles of glitter and sparkly stars as part of reawakening her creativity as an author. You can catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here
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