Monday, January 24, 2011


By Maria C. Ferrer

Years ago, I did a workshop with one of RWANYC’s Founding Mothers, the late (and great) Kathryn Hayes*. We called it “Paper Dolls” because we gave out paper cut-outs of magazine photos—women and men. From these “paper dolls” workshop participants were encouraged to develop a character. Like Mister Geppetto, they were to create a ‘real’ person.

It was amazing to see what writers focused on. For some it was the eyes; for others it was the clothes; and yet others focused on the attitude of the person in the picture. The backgrounds for these characters were as wide, as they were varied.

I still play Paper Dolls. In fact, that’s were a lot of my story ideas come from. A picture. A face.

I always start with a character. It just happens that way. For example, I was looking through last month’s Cosmopolitan magazine and saw an ad for hair coloring. In the ad, the Lady proclaimed that “she was worth it.” The slogan and the woman’s face triggered a story and my Paper Doll came to life. For the past three days, she headlines the marquee of my creative mind.

I can see her in front of her bedroom mirror. Naked. Taking stock of the merchandise and bemoaning the fact that she has hit the Big Four-Oh, and how her life seems to be heading south – her age, her sex life, her curls, but worse of all, her boobs. Her boobs facing south really get to her. Can't you just see her? The beauty, the grace, the frustration.

But my Paper Doll has spine. She is going to think positive. There has to be something positive about turning 40. Right? 40 is the new 30, right? (“Who said that? Is it true?!”)

So she’s thinking positive. Great things about turning 40:

• Closer to menopause and no more cramping. (“Woo hoo.”)

• The shutting down of the baby machine. (“One was more than enough, Thank You.”) [She made that clear as I was typing this post!]

• Closer to retirement. (“It won’t be much, thanks to those damn politicians, but, hey, every penny counts!”)

• Perfect age to become a cougar. (“Hmm!”)

And so the story begins.

How do you start your stories—with a character or a scene or an emotion? Let us know.♥

Maria Ferrer enjoys playing Paper Dolls and What-if? Visit her at and at

*Kathryn Hayes was a Founding Mother of the RWA New York City Chapter.  She sold her writings to numerous publications, and wrote children books under the name of Kathyn Hitte.  Kathryn also mentored many a Chapter Member since 1989 until her death.  RWANYC’s annual contest carries her name—Kathryn Hayes Love and Laughter Contest.


  1. What a marvelous idea-paper dolls. I loved playing paper dolls as a child. Now I can enjoy playing with them in a whole different way.

  2. What a teriffic idea! I get story and plot first; characters come second. And right now having a tough time nailing down a couple characters. Now I can't wait to get home and flip through some magazines to see what jumps out at me. Thanks for the great tip.

  3. I like the "Paper Dolls". I remember playing with paper dolls as a little girl and making up stories for them. Guess it's no different in adult hood, which makes me happy.
    Each of story ideas come at me differently whether a picture or word even a dream. Just have to be open to them.

  4. I remember that presentation. I also remember the storyline I came up with that day. Still haven't finished that manuscript. But, you're right; this is a great way to come up with ideas for books!

  5. Glad to know that others love Paper Dolls as much as I. Happy Writing, Ladies.

  6. I can honestly say that my stories come to me in a number of ways. But a great percentage of them come through a character that pops into mind. Perhaps because I've gotten a glimpse of a handsome man on the subway, or an intriguing woman with a unique fashion sense on the street. Maybe I spot someone who has that thousand yard stare looking at me in the elevator. It gives me the chills and I think, "hmm, what would my heroine do?". Sometimes it is a name that is too perfect or a line - in a very distinct voice - that, when I hear it, conujures up with it a classic character. I love seeing pictures - both of people and places. I collect "paper dolls", too, and pictures of terrific locales, houses, rooms - esp. bedrooms - that I think will make a fab background for a story that, someone, begins to coalesce as I study the photo.

  7. I remember your "paper dolls" presentation at the chapter meeting, too. It was fun and really got the creative juices flowing!


  8. This works for me, glad I'm not the only one. I go through lots of magazines to get faces, hair styles and clothes for my main characters. Then I usually put together a scrap book of people and places, helps with description.