“A picture is worth a thousand words,” is a century-old slogan claiming that an image can capture the true essence of a message, story, or moment better than any language can. From an etymological standpoint, even with the many word combinations that can be used, formulating sentences that speak so closely to what we really mean, sometimes our descriptions can still fall short.
I know personally as a reader, I want to draw out imagery and a visceral experience from the narrative, transporting me to a specific time or place. But as a writer, I know the feat which is taking simple black words to white paper, and trying to craft a literary exposition; writing that is both stimulating and aesthetic and fresh. After all, as writers we are competing with other forms of art, and now also digital media, to hold our audiences captive. Films, television, music, graphic design, even the culinary industry, have more of an active immediacy for their audience than literature does.
So, what can we do to bring our writing to that next step—from one or two dimensional, to multi-dimensional? How can we possibly translate the tangible, physical world into a creative outlet and artifact where the imagination rules supreme?
Authors like Jessica Anthony, have found ways of incorporating other artistic mediums by collaborating with graphic artist Rodrigo Corral, to create the multimedia novel Chopsticks. And in Jonathan Saffron Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer used visual aids to tell the story of Oskar Schell, his endearing nine-year-old protagonist. Another fine example is the epistolary and illustrative story of, Griffin & Sabine.
But what about those of us who are not artistically adept or don’t have an artistically-inclined friend at our disposal; the writers who have to actually rely on their grasp of English (or first language) to bring their perspectives of the world in which we live, to light (or to life).
Here are a couple of ways I have found visual aids useful in my writing:
Photography- It can be as simplistic as using the camera on your phone to snap images you can write from later. Whether it is a person on the subway (of course be discreet about it, so you don’t come off as a creep)– a character that stands out to you, or something as basic as the colors found in a field or the alignment of windows in a building, shooting photos of everyday life will make you more aware of the finer details around you, help you to amass a visual inventory, and in turn, provide you with more nitty-gritty to write about.
Pinterest- There are all kinds of Apps out there now to assist people in organizing their image files. Tumblr and Pinterest are a couple of market leaders. Pinterest is a virtual clipboard that allows people to share personal and publically accessed photos in neat little categories and collages. Many of my internet savvy friends, who also write, utilize this site to inspire them. Say, if they are working on a scene about a farm (and won’t be making a trip to a farm anytime in the near future), they will go on Pinterest instead and put together all the images of farm life they can find, and then refer to their collection every time they need to add a believable element that grounds the scene that is unfolding.
Youtube- This online resource is great for tutorials– How-to’s. I have used this site for everything from writing about how glass is made, to how to fly fish. I am definitely a writer who believes that experiencing something firsthand is the best way to write about anything, but we don’t always have the opportunity or time to line up a lesson, seek out an expert, or jump in with our own feet. Youtube can fill in the gaps where more information is needed. Obviously, use your discretion and make sure it is a reliable and relevant resource.
Mapping- Faculty mentor, Mark Sundeen, facilitated a workshop on Star Island this past summer, on memory mapping. With crayons and colored pencils, he had us draw places that stood out in our minds as important to our characters. The instructions for this exercise were taken a variety of different ways by the students—basically we got creative. However, we unanimously agreed that just by sketching the spaces and places that occupied our thoughts, no matter how rudimentary this was done, gave us more orientation in our writing and also it made it easier to explain to others what these settings were like.
Having knowledge about a subject is one of the most essential pieces of being a writer. Knowledge can be retained through many facets, and the more understanding one has, the better they are at communicating their information in writing and verbalization. Having an interdisciplinary approach to the art of writing, can broaden this retention of knowledge, and also help convey to a wider range of readers, just what you are trying to say.
Related article: Do pictures add to a writer’s vision? http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/may/23/imagesinbooks
By Sarah E. Caouette