Exercise #1

To get started with your own great ideas, brainstorm a particular year, grade, season. It's harder to do this if your target is your whole childhood. Go for a specific period, mine it, then move onto another.

Start with the words, "When I was five..." or "seven.." or "in Grade 3..." Write down anything you remember. Use sentence fragments, words, whatever comes. Once you get started, one memory will trigger others you had no idea you even had.

Exercise #2

Try to recall, in vivid detail, the last time you were truly upset/shocked/afraid/joyful. The circumstances are not that important. Just remember the experience as it went through your body. Write it down. How did it feel as the emotion left you? Did you feel the ends of these feelings much later? Which parts of your body were affected? It may be difficult to remember the experience, but you can use it to your benenfit as a writer.

This is the kind of observation that will make your writing riveting and unique.

Exercise #3

By putting two contrasting images together, you create a third one. It's bound to be powerful, as it's brand new, never been seen before, open to interpretation and all yours. Dirty rainbow. Itchy glasses. Nailbiter factory. Foot song. Silver sister. Television rain. What do these mean? Our minds naturally try to figure out what's meant, and so will your reader's.

Pick one of these and briefly explain what it could mean to you.

Then try one of your own. Does it belong in your next story?

Exercise #4

Recall a distinctive smell from your childhood. Start your description with a statement that shows how this smell makes you feel. For instance, "Cotton candy is adventure". Then write a few lines that describe the sounds, sights and other sensory images that you connect with that smell. Here's an example:

Tangerines are family and love. I can smell their tartness hanging over our extended family's Christmas Day. We have already eaten so much rich food that the only thing more we can stuff in is something fresh and clean like an orange. Still, it's just eating for eating's sake, pouring a wash of citrus over a stomach full of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, gravy, gravy. But we are singing carols together, and we all know the words and it feels so great. Some sing much louder than others, because they love the music, or their own voices. Others sing softly, but with the same twinkly eyes. This time is so precious.

Now imagine someone having a different reaction to this smell. Think up reasons for your character to respond this way. Develop this thought...does either angle give you material for a character, or a whole story?

Oranges are the epitome of garbage. What's worse than that horrible citrus smell hanging over a discarded peel lying outside the high school? I guess the kind of person who'd actually eat such a vile thing would be the kind who'd throw their garbage on the ground.

I'm often asked about inspiring picture books, ones that I think are wonderful to read and emulate. Here are a few ideas:

Patricia McLaughlin's All the Places to Love

Eve Bunting's picture books

Sheryl McFarlane's picture books, especially Jessie's Island and Waiting for the Whales

Sheree Fitch's No Two Snowflakes

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