Friday, August 28, 2009

Monkey Magic

Chimp Relaxing
I like monkeys.

I like new shoes and chocolate, too, but that's beside the point. The point is monkeys fascinate me. (And I'm well aware of the fact that I'm using the term "monkey" for animals that may not technically be referred to as such. Let me post my disclaimer here that by virtue of my lack of primate knowledge, I will hereby refer to all monkey-type individuals by said generic term.)

I'm sure up close they smell unpleasant and have things crawling on them that I'd rather not know about, but from my seat at the zoo yesterday, eating my Cheez-its, I was amazed by them. The way they swing around on their apparatus with such incredible ease is a feat that would undoubtedly leave me in traction for six months. Which makes me confident in saying that playground monkey bars are poorly named. There is no human being on this planet that can swing around like those babies.

And the noises they make! We seriously have no right telling kids, "A monkey says, 'Ooh, ooh, aah, aah'". They without doubt do not sound like that. What I heard yesterday was far more phenomenal, and I can assure you I have never heard pipes like that in my life. They could be heard all over the park, hollering back and forth like a primate version of the Jerry Springer Show.

Combined with an occasional cry from a myriad of other animals, I could close my eyes and picture myself in the jungle. There was a slight breeze, water lapping in the moat around the monkey island, and enough bird cries for me to envision Tarzan swinging past me on vines. If it hadn't been for the kids crunching their peanut butter crackers, I would have been sold.

So why do I tell you about my monkey-happy trip to an imaginary jungle? Because that's just what it takes sometimes to get a scene right. When I'm stumped, there's no better way for me to shake off the writer's block than to find myself a good setting and just listen. That way, I can picture myself somewhere other than at my desk in the same place I've worked from a zillion times before.

You should give it a try sometime. Writing about a busy city street? Sit outside a Starbucks in the city. Quiet countryside? Find a nice park. A stormy day? A little more difficult, but it can be done. Get yourself one of those noise machines or a CD of thunderstorms. (Yes, they have those!) Whatever works. But sound is so useful for stimulating an imagination. Just think about how hungry you can get when you hear someone opening a candy bar wrapper.

Or is that just me?

Anyway, the idea is that finding some inspiration in our daily lives can sometimes be difficult so every now and again we have to manufacture our own inspiration. If we're already using said imagination to manufacture a setting in a book, why not use it to manufacture the setting we need to get into the right mood in the first place?

In writing Catching Moondrops, I'm back in Southern Virginia with Jessilyn, right smack in the middle of a long hot summer, and I was recently stumped on a scene that had to take place at night. So I went outside at dusk, closed my eyes and - with the help of some accommodating cicadas, crickets and frogs - pictured that entire scene in my head from start to finish. Then once I had a handle on it, I went inside to my desk, left the light off and wrote the scene in the dark just to keep me in that mode.

And voila! Scene accomplished, just like that. It's amazing what a little of nature's night music can do to a writer's imagination. Makes sense, really, when we think about the fact that the Creator of the universe is also the Creator of creativity. And what a masterpiece of ingenuity this universe is. There's so much out there to spur us on!

Now if only I was writing about monkeys...


Ethan M. said...

Monkeys? Jungle? Peanut Butter Crackers? Calloway Summers: Asia. Trapped in the cursed Asian jungles, Jessylin must face her biggest challenge yet. Monkeys armed with poison peanut butter crackers.

"Don't eat the crackers, Luke!" "I can't help it...They look SO good..."

Lori Stanley Roeleveld said...

Ethan is sooo funny! Nice tip, Jen! I love any excuse to go sit somewhere, stare into space and take a flight of fancy - must be why I wanted to be a writer in the first place! :)

Jennifer Valent said...

Thanks for the pitch idea, Ethan! Think it'll sell? :) Maybe Nabisco will buy it!

Nice to have a career that involves a positive outlet for an overactive imagination, eh, Lori?!