My Muse, The Alien, With Bonus Writing Exercise

Alien Before we begin this brilliant post about my (ahem, sideways) alien (does anybody know why my Iphone turns photos sideways when it sends them to my computer?), I would like to point out that I'm once again offering free coaching sessions.   You heard me.


All you have to do is head to this link, where you can click on a time that works for you and we will chat.  About your writing, your life, whatever is not working for you.  Can't wait to talk to you!

And now, to the real meat of this story, my sideways alien.  Who is actually right-side up in my office where he hangs, watching over me as I write.  I bought my alien at a Rose Festival parade umpteen years ago now.  And he has been my muse ever since.

What brought him to mind was a Saturday night stint working as a Rose Festival Star Light Parade marshal.  Those of you who subscribe to my newsletter already heard me talking about this.  (If you don't subscribe, just fill in your name and address in the form on the right.  Plus you get a cool Ebook.)  Briefly, being a marshal involves crowd control and radio-ing into the mothership on issues of parade pacing.

One of the crowd control issues, besides herding drunks, was to move along a vendor who had parked her cart laden with blow-up dolls of various sorts amongst the crowd, thus blocking many people's views and pushing them out into the street onto the parade routes.  In my efforts to get her to go on her merry way, I had the opportunity to inspect her wares.

Her cart was bedecked with some flags and banners of no import and the afore-mentioned blow-up dolls.  Sponge Bob and a variety of lame animals seemed to be the order of the night.  No cool weapons and no aliens.  Not that I was looking to replace him or anything, because if I did I'm not sure I'd be able to write.  My alien has been with me so long, and he's worked so hard to inspire me. Plus, he is purple.  Need I say more?

My alien is also the inspiration for a writing exercise that I might have shared before, but if so, it doesn't matter, because a few clients have lately told me how helpful it was to them.  And so it is worth mentioning again.

Here it is:

Practice writing description as if you were describing to an alien.

The great beauty of this is that it forces you to go deep.  It forces you to really think about the essence of what you're describing.  It forces you to push beyond the first words that come to mind.  So, for instance, I have a red file folder on my desk beside this computer.

But, what's a file folder?  A folded over piece of paper used to organize papers.  But, what's paper?  Something we write on.  What's writing? What is red?  A color?  Great, thanks, but what is a color?

I know, you can drive yourself nuts doing this.  I may have just driven you nuts in that last paragraph.  And most likely it is not description that you'll actually end up using.  But what will happen is that it will get you thinking about the world you're describing (or creating).  It will allow you to get not only more understanding of that world, but more creative about bringing it to life on the page.

And that is a worthy goal for all of us.

What's your favorite writing exercise?

And don't forget those free coaching sessions.


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15 Responses to My Muse, The Alien, With Bonus Writing Exercise

  1. Square-Peg Karen 06/10/2011 at 08:27 #

    I love the writing practice you shared, Charlotte — I can see how it pushes us to think – reflect on – words/phrases we can wind up using mindlessly — because, really, what’s the point of writing, sharing with an audience, if we’re not CLEAR.

    “The great beauty of this is that it forces you to go deep.”

  2. Charlotte Dixon 06/10/2011 at 09:19 #

    And you raise another great point, Karen–clarity. It is so important! Not only in the way we write, but in how we approach our writing. Thanks for coming by!

  3. J.D. Frost 06/10/2011 at 12:29 #

    Hi Charlotte,
    This is an exercise we do as homework? Is that right? We shouldn’t post our result? You’re right, it does force me to go deep, so deep this could take a couple of days.

  4. Zan Marie 06/10/2011 at 13:01 #

    You offered and I took you up on it. I made an appointment. Now to tell my inner editor to back off. ; )

  5. Charlotte Dixon 06/10/2011 at 15:18 #

    I should require you to do it and post it here, J.D, because I know it would be entertaining!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 06/10/2011 at 15:20 #

    Zan Marie, I’m so pleased that you booked an appointment! We’ll kick that inner editor to the curb!

  7. GutsyLiving 06/11/2011 at 06:58 #

    I was there at the Rose parade in Portland and wanted to ask you if you saw the adorable floating pigs outside Blue Sky photography on NW Davis St.? Has the weather been sunny since then?

  8. Lucy V Morgan 06/11/2011 at 16:34 #

    You know, I think good fiction in general casts the protagonist as an alien (or suggest that the reader is, especially in the case of paranormal). A lot of literary fiction hinges on this idea, actually. Fascinating stuff. Thanks :)

  9. Charlotte Dixon 06/11/2011 at 17:28 #

    Lucy, love this comment, hadn’t thought of it that way, but you are correct!

  10. Charlotte Dixon 06/11/2011 at 17:40 #

    GutsyLiving, that’s right, you were in town for the World Domination Summit. So glad you went to the parade–I love the Starlight Parade! I did not see the floating pigs but I love Blue Sky gallery. And we’ve had off and on sun (read: its been mostly cloudy). Today was the Grand Floral parade, which I popped in on, but it is not as much fun as the Starlight. Thanks for visiting!

  11. J.D. Frost 06/11/2011 at 18:32 #

    This is tough business, Charlotte, this describing characters to an alien. I gave it a whirl. I’m not pleased with the result but the exercise really made me think about choosing they right words. Here is Jeb’s Nooner.

    Jeb Kelly hadn’t leaped from the adultery cliff but his toes were hanging over the edge. His wife, Sylvia, had hired me to make record of the whole sordid mess. In my other life, I worked for the newspaper. Following Sylvia’s husband was my first gig as a snoop. I wasn’t crazy about branching out, but if you haven’t heard the newspaper business is like an airliner down to one sputtering engine. My chute has more than a few holes. Jeb had pulled into the parking lot of the local Bouncing for Bucks motel. I wrapped my hand around my LS-862. The camera had taken a chunk of the money Ms. Syl had paid me. I looked at it as an investment in my career. With that camera, I could take a picture of the Mars rover and tell you if there is gum on one of the tires. A device like that comes in handy if you’re chasing people with itchy feet. I had called Syl to tell her we were close but there was no answer.

    Jeb stepped from his car. I picked up the LS and touched the zoom. It was like I was five feet away. I saw that his head barely cleared the roof of the Lincoln. Genetics had placed most of Jeb’s mass at his equator; gravity had taken it a bit south. I had written stories about Jeb in his other life, an attorney-general up for re-election. His rheumy eyes scanned the lot. He was leaving nothing to chance. I could’ve set my calendar by the frequency of his blink. He nodded. I scanned right and watched his paramour step out of a new Mustang. She was tall plus she was wearing heels, which meant Jeb might need a ladder. She leaned back into the car with one knee on the seat. My finger quivered over the zoom. I held off. She stepped back and closed the door. Her light brown hair hung to her collar. The sun or something else had streaked it with blond. She slipped on large, dark sunglasses. She looked across the two cars at Jeb and gave him a knowing smile. He waddled across the parking lot on his stumpy legs, his hand with its blunt fingers riding atop her posterior. I took that shot and another when he opened the door for her and a third when he scanned the lot one last time. He followed her inside.

    I wondered if she knew who Jeb Kelly was. Did she know that he could take her to the Ritz Carlton instead of the dump he had rented? She didn’t seem to mind at all. There was no definition to Jeb’s physique, no layered muscle. Even with a woman who looked like the blonde, I thought their little romp might take a while. Though I knew what they were doing, I needed proof. I needed a coup de grace shot. A shot of him kissing her goodbye at the door would do nicely. I laid the camera in the seat and waited. Five minutes later I was scrambling for it when the blonde opened the door—alone. She walked, taking smart strides, clicking off the distance, perfectly balanced on those heels. I captured her getting into a car under the portico at the end of the hotel but I couldn’t even tell the make.

    I waited for Jeb. Fifteen minutes later I was still waiting. Three police cars rolled into the lot at once. I watched as they retrieved a key and went inside. One of them then came out and put a cell phone to his jaw. It was Dick Rector. I stepped out of my car and locked the camera inside. I skipped down the landscaped embankment, across the highway, and through the parking lot.

    “How the hell did you know we were here?” Rector said.

    “Word gets out.”

    Jeb Kelly lay on his back. He wasn’t moving. He was keeping erect the long and slender knife that protruded from his chest.

    “You got anything?” Dick Rector locked his eyes on me. Even in the afternoon sun they were black as onyx stones.

    I thought about the pictures. The exclusive I was about to call in would be a temporary boost for the paper. If I printed those pictures on page one, it would save my job, but nothing would save the paper. It was doomed. Those pictures were worth more to some people than to a dying institution. There was only the small detail of to whom. I could work that.

    “No,” I replied.

  12. J.D. Frost 06/12/2011 at 05:07 #

    Great thought.

  13. Charlotte Dixon 06/12/2011 at 08:29 #

    Oh my God, J.D., this is fantastic! So many wonderful details that brought the entire scene vividly alive. Thanks for my Sunday morning entertainment–and for sharing this result with us. More!

  14. J.D. Frost 06/12/2011 at 14:54 #

    Thanks Charlotte. Those are kind words. Your blog is so instructional. That’s not really the right word. It’s more dramatic than that. The exercise you suggested is just fantastic. I appreciate what you bring here every day.

  15. Charlotte Dixon 06/12/2011 at 17:43 #

    Ah, thanks J.D. And I SO appreciate your loyal readership!

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