To be honest, I haven’t been doing much with writing for the past two weeks – aside from poetry, which, for me, is a purely personal medium. I’ve been picking at my NaNoWriMo novel outline, but not wracking my brain over it. In times of considerable change, I think in images more than in words. Art projects have been big these past few weeks. Poems come out like finger-paintings. I just express and express and express, without trying to construct anything but my own mindframe, healthier and stronger than ever before.
Primarily, this blog is based in writing fiction (or at least prose), so art projects and expressive and personal poetry hardly seem in my usual line for posting here. However, imagery is something that transcends the boundaries of each of the arts – it’s vital to writing evocative prose. Without imagery, we’re “just stating the facts, ma’am,” and it’s dry as an office memo.
Imagery gives prose a tangibility that can make the words more than just words to the reader, that fires the imagination and makes the people and places and events of the story so clear that the real world slips away – and that’s our goal, as writers, really: to create something that, for a time, is larger than life and more real than reality. Fiction is hardly about accuracy. It’s about believability, which has far less to do with how likely something is than how interesting it is. Sensory perceptions – particularly visuals – are important to us humans (yes, that is grammatically correct) and, obviously, with the written word, description is your only method of communicating those. Factual description falls short, though. Comparisons, contrasts, metaphors, connotations, juxtapositions, and even letter sounds (hard consonants or soft, repetition of letters, etc.) are our canvas and our paint, bringing the story world to life for our readers. One of the most inspiring users of sensory evocation of the story world, for me, was F. Scott Fitzgerald, when I read a collection (and The Great Gatsby, naturally) of his for the first time at seventeen. I went metaphor-crazy for a few years, and although I went over the top with it sometimes, it was good practise. Writing exercises that challenge you to think in sensory terms and metaphor are excellent for getting you in the habit of thinking that way – once you form the habit, it’s second nature, and if you find yourself slipping out of it, you can always do a few more writing exercises and get it back.
The other valuable thing that image-based thought does for me as a writer is part of my brainstorming process. Ideas start to come to me in flash images, and putting them together has frequently yielded rich, intricate storylines for me. Sometimes it’s just an imagined photograph lying on a kitchen floor in the sunlight, and my brain starts churning out questions like, “Why is it on the floor? Who dropped it, and why? Did something bad happen to them? Or were they upset about something to do with the picture? Who’s in that picture, anyway?” Boom. Characters start to jump out of the woodwork. A scenario is created out of one simple image, and my brain is off and running full speed.
With writing fantasy, this type of image-thought has been particularly useful in getting ideas and getting unstuck. I can’t tell you how many characters and plot points have been born of one quick visual popping into my head at random. My NaNoWriMo project for this November is chock-full of scenes that originated with nothing more than a sudden visual of a character making a choice, struggling with an emotion, reacting to another character, or acting on decisions they feel conflicted about. Sometimes I hadn’t even thought to have an internal conflict for a particular person over a particular choice, but when I played the idea through in my head, it was there on my character’s face. And then I’d realize, of course that would bring this or that out in this character. What I hadn’t considered in words or abstractions was so obvious in images that I felt silly for not realizing it before. I had stumbled right over it.
Essentially, the more angles you can consider your writing from and the more you can give your readers to hang their imaginations on, the better off you are. So I’m not regretful that my brain is taking a vacation in the land of symbolism and visual metaphor. I’m digging in as far as I can to see what I can glean from this unexpected journey.