Monday, December 14, 2009

A Little Visual Stimulation

By Catherine Greenfeder

Where do you get your ideas?

Right by my computer, I have a cork board with a photo montage of what I'd consider cover art hero material. This reminds me a little of my teen years where I'd post magazine photos of male idols I crushed on, it helps me with visual stimulation for story characters. Whether clipped from ads, Avon brochures, or an autographed postcard, such as the one I recently received from the hunky, dark-eyed Billy Freda, the male cover model for Ellora's Cave -- they inspire. It might come out as a scene or in dialogue.

Visual stimulation in nature helps me too. A walk in the park, a hike in the woods, and a stroll along a beach to collect seashells and listen to the surf can all stimulate the subconscious and aid with writing a scene later on. When I wrote WILDFLOWERS, set along the Oregon Trail in the late 1840's, I had not walked the harsh prairie like those courageous pioneers, but I definitely had hiked enough woodlands and mountain trails to get a visual sense of setting and feelings about that. My experience with the hiking, camping, canoeing, and horseback riding definitely gave me more visual stimulation to picture the setting and the scenes that I created for my characters. In addition I toured the Canadian Rockies and danced among Native Americans in a tribal celebration.

When I see images, be it photos I've clipped like my "pin-ups", postcards, or film, it gets engraved on my memory, and then I can use it to create a character, a conflict, or a scene.

The idea for my paranormal ANGELS AMONG US came while visiting the Neapolitan Christmas Tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I focused on one particular angel ornament. It asked me, "When will you write my story?" Somehow the seed got planted. That angel became Eviance in my book, protector and guardian angel of my heroine, Kay Lassiter. In addition, I've made stained glass as a hobby and used this to create the heroine's character who was a gifted artist with psychic ability which she uses to solve the mystery of her parents' death.

Currently I am working on a paranormal set at a Victorian inn in New Jersey. I visited an inn similar to the one of my setting, took photographs of the surrounding homes, beach, and parks. I also visited the historical society's museum and purchased books of vintage photographs. I put the pictures into an album along with my outlines and notes for the novel. So, when I get stuck, I can take a look at a photo and envision the scene enfolding then start to write it.

As a child living in Greenwich Village, New York, I had been surrounded by artists. Frequently sick with bronchial asthma, I found relief in drawing, coloring, and playing with paper dolls. So, it's small wonder that I'm still fascinated by coloring books and paper dolls. Both are good visual stimulators for writing. Coloring books and paper doll books from Dover Publishing are absolutely wonderful for providing ideas for fashion, architecture, and setting. Among my collection are THE VICTORIAN HOUSE COLORING BOOK, illustrated by Daniel Lewis, Written and Researched by Kristin Helberg; ANTIQUE PAPER DOLLS, THE EDWARDIAN ERA, produced by Imagerie Pellerin at Epinal; and Tom Tierney’s GIBSON GIRL PAPER DOLLS in full color.

Also as a child in the Village, I wrote and illustrated my "first book", a picture book, called GOLD DUST, about a girl who loved horses and wanted one to come live with her. My inspiration, I believe came from the rodeo which visited Madison Square Garden and my favorite book and movie, NATIONAL VELVET. That first book, like my Barbie dolls, ended up in a box which got lost during my family's move to Staten Island.

So, visual stimulation has been and is one of my primary sources of inspiration. When I get stuck, I can pull out the "pin-up" guys, glance at some old photographs or postcards, take a walk in the park or along the beach, or watch a movie. Then after a little inspiration I have to get back to the writing! ♥

BIO:    Catherine Greenfeder is a published author of two e-books, WILDFLOWERS and ANGELS AMONG US and has completed work on three other books which she's hoping to publish soon. She holds a B.A. in English from St. John's University, and an M.A. in teaching from Montclair State University. She is an eighth grade literature and writing teacher in Cranford, New Jersey. She’s married to her high school sweetheart, and is the mother of a college-age son. Catherine enjoys writing, travel, and visual stimulation.


  1. Thanks for this post! Wonderful ideas!

  2. What a great idea to keep a photo board alongside the computer. Since I usually keep the images inside my head where they get jumbled up most times, this would be a great help to keep the story going.

  3. Great post, Cathy! As writers, every image or other form of sensory stimulation (sight, sound, touch, smell...) can inspire ideas for a story, setting or character. I keep my inspirational hero photo on my desk right near my computer. He's a very good-looking, retired baseball player (Todd Zeile) who looks coincidentally like the hero in my soon-to-be-published novel.

  4. Cathy:
    I do the same thing... take a walk in the park and feel nature when I am writing a scene in the woods or country. I also have lots of pictures but they are in a file. I need the cork board. Thank you for the post.

  5. Dear Catherine,

    How delightful to know that you liked my book, The Victorian House Coloring Book when you were a little girl. Please visit my website at and you will be able to see my artwork as well.

    Cheers, Kristin Helberg