Hello! Maureen Pratt here to bring another blog post to you. This time, I’m going to continue along the theme I began last month and talk more about capturing the visual aspects of writing – how working with a camera when you are writing can help you bring dazzling details to your work of fiction or non-fiction.
Sometimes, when we write (particularly fiction, but also nonfiction), we think that our work has to come from our imaginations. This is, of course, true to a point. But in order to make a place come alive to the reader, we have to draw a more precise picture of the people and places we write about. Even if our town is fictional, and our characters are all made up, they still have to resonate with connections to what readers find familiar in order for those cherished fans to relate to our stories.
Last week, I finished a magazine project (very big whoop of happiness inserted here!). I worked with a photographer with whom I’d collaborated twice before, and our final piece of the puzzle was a photo shoot last week. It was an outdoor shoot – and rain was on the way. In fact, as I was driving out to the site, drops spritzed my windshield as if to warn me of impending gloom.
But, God was with us, and the shoot finished up just in time for the rain to really begin. And on the long, but satisfying, drive home, I thought about how I could reframe some of my writing in the story to go along with the pictures that the photographer had shot. Some of them, because of the angle and the way the light hit certain things, evoked much more than mere practical, subjects on film. And with these images in mind, I was able to include more texture and atmosphere – the heart of the story.
You don’t need a photographer alongside in order to benefit from this kind of collaboration. All you need is some time and a camera that takes good pictures, both close-up and distance. Any kind of weather will do, too; it can be very useful to go to a place you want to include in your story (or the kind of place) and take some pictures, then wait and take some more of the same subject; light has a way of illuminating (no pun intended) things in different fashion depending on the time of day or kind of weather brewing.
Taking photos of places can also help you with description and perspective. To say something is “big” is generic, but to compare it to something else can help the reader get a sense of size. For example, the tree was taller than a football goalpost. Or, the room was as vast as a castle’s great hall.
Both spirit and scene can be derived from photos. For example, if you sit in a church long enough, you will see the light move across pews, aisles, the altar, and other parts of the setting. You’ll also see shadows, which can be nearly as descriptive as light. You can use either light or shadow in a setting to evoke the spirit of a scene or character arc – and if you’ve actually seen these two elements move, you’ll be that much better able to bring across the kind of feeling your story needs.
Pictures of people can be very useful, too. Especially candid shots that can give you ideas about everyday actions. The supermarket parking lot, for example, has an abundance of subjects coming and going, struggling with packages and toddlers, or parking well or not-so-well (!).
Another benefit of photographing places and people is that you can archive them and use them at other times for other work. If you look at them closely, you’ll always pick out something new. And, setting photos of the same place or person at different times side-by-side can give a powerful visual of the effects of the changing seasons or age.
I know many authors have files of pictures clipped from magazines, catalogs and other media. These can be useful, but they can also be touched up and details that give character and definition can be airbrushed out or enhanced beyond what they truly are. Home-grown pix are just that, and can be much truer exemplars of what you seek to write about.
Of course, we cannot forget the smells, sounds, and other aspects of description in our stories. But a picture can make those words breathe with immediacy and spirit!
Joy and peace to you,