Monday, September 13, 2010

Cassandra's Writing With Visuals


Today I welcome Cassandra Jade while I visit her BLOG in Cassandra’s absence. (Like Freaky Friday without the body switch.)

Writing with Visuals

Thanks Alex for hosting me today, it is great to be visiting your blog as part of my tour. Today I’m am looking at visuals, and how they can help the writing process.

I absolutely love movies. There are some scenes that are so powerful that years later you can still close your eyes and just see every single moment. They stay with you and no matter how many times you see these scenes, they always affect you.

When writing, we usually don’t have an accompanying visual, so we have to use our words to create the strong image for the reader. If they can see our story unfolding in their mind, than we’ve probably done a good job. But sometimes it is really hard to get what we are seeing in our minds into words that then translate into a clear picture for someone else.

I have this problem a lot.

One suggestion I was given was to try to draw or sketch the images and then describe them. I’m going to point out at this stage what an absolute terrible artist I am. My stick figures are unrecognisable scrawls. Trying to draw an image of a fantasy setting that I can see clearly in my mind is well and truly impossible for me because it is even less clear once it is mauled by my lack of artistic talent.

Then someone told me to find someone who likes to draw and describe the image for them. Kind of like a police sketch.

The obvious problem – if I could describe it I wouldn’t be trying to draw it in the first place.

However, I was told to stop being sarcastic and to sit down and describe what I could see.

I’m now going to explain why I have learnt to never dismiss an idea out of hand, even if it seems completely illogical to me. At first I was very impatient with the process and very vague. “It’s like, huge, and there’s all this stuff…” Then my friend, who was trying valiantly to ignore my obvious sarcasm, asked me to focus on one part of the image. Working out from there, I described what surrounded it and what surrounded that and focused on each part individually. When I wasn’t trying to put it into words that could be read and understood by themselves, I could easily describe each part of the image.

Eventually, I had a sketch of the setting that more or less matched what I had been visualising. And suddenly I could see exactly what I would need to say if I wanted to describe the feeling of the place to someone reading a story. Plus, the process of explaining it in bits and pieces to another person, had helped sharpen my own idea of what the place should look like.

Writing is an incredibly visual task. Even though the images we create are with words, behind the words, there is a picture we are trying to share.

How do you go about turning the images in your heads into words?


Cassandra Jade is a fantasy writer from Australia. You can visit her blog, Cassandra Jade in the Realm or follow her Twitter. Her debut fantasy novel, Death’s Daughter, is available from Lyrical Press.

56 comments:

Will Burke said...

This is a great exercise. I could see this working with other readers too; just taking the time to describe it would work to solidify the images in my mind.

Jamie Gibbs said...

I'm completely with you on the artistic front, I can't create visual art at all. I did try the 'describe to an artist' method, and it worked out really well in portraying the hometown of my protagonist. It's also good to see how others interpret your words too, so it's doubly beneficial.

I tend to take a cinematic approach; I imagine how it would look if I were watching a movie of my story, and what each shot would focus on etc. That seems to work for me.

Glynis said...

Great tips. I cannot draw to save my life. I have taken to using paint to create character images for my children's book. They are pathetic but do help me visualise a bit better.

Interesting post, thanks.

Matthew Rush said...

Great post Alex and Cassandra, thanks! I actually struggle with this a lot, not because I have trouble describing visual things, but because I tend to overdo it. I actually get a lot of praise for my descriptions when I get feedback but that praise also often goes along with something like:

This description is great but goes on so long that it draws me out of the story.

Or:

This doesn't really gel with the voice of the rest of your story.

Still, this is great advice, thanks all!

Journaling Woman said...

I love this. "Even though the images we create are with words, behind the words, there is a picture we are trying to share."
When I write I get into the picture in my mind and write what the characters do what they do and see what they see.

I love sketching. I need to try sketching out what I see.

Thanks, Alex for hosting.

Gail said...

The true art...helping us see with your words what you see in your mind.

Christine Danek said...

This is a great help. Thank you. I'll check out the links.

DEZMOND said...

Hello to Australia!

Misha said...

Luckily for me I'm blessed with artistic talent (as well as modesty ;-P), so I can quickly sketch a scene that I'm struggling to describe.

On the other hand, I tend to just store images in my head and draw from them as the need comes. Luckily I remember things in pictures, so I pretty much sketch things in my imagination...

Ellie said...

Thank you Alex and Cassandra. Like Cassandra, I'm hopeless at drawing. However, I found I can make collages of scenes from magazine/internet images. They may not be exactly how I perceive the scene but they do help.

p.s. I’m holding a film-related blogfest in November, which I think you'll like!

Mason Canyon said...

Very helpful post. This could work with a variety of writings.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

lbdiamond said...

This is a great tip! I, too, wish I could draw better than I do...perhaps I should pull out the ole sketch pad and start practicing, LOL! :D

Hannah Kincade said...

I google myself through a ton of images. There's always something out there I can find to help me effectively describe what I'm seeing in my mind. Although, I've never been that way with characters. I have an idea in my mind and they don't look like any famous person or anyone I've ever met. But that flaw is an acceptable one. :D

Great guest post!!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

This was great Alex, or should I say Cassandra, I enjoyed the read, very well written. yes, in all a very pleasurable post.

Yvonne.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Jamie, that's how I visualize it as well.

Thanks for visiting, Cassandra!

Clarissa Draper said...

I love pretending I'm Hitchcock (no i'm serious) because I think he's a great director and I try to write how he'd direct.

CD

Charles Gramlich said...

I very much wish I could draw enough to capture the things I see in my head, or in my dreams. Rich prose, though, can create them for me, and typically better than movies can. For me at least.

Helen Ginger said...

What a fabulous idea, Cassandra. It's almost like you created a still-shot of that scene and then, having the visual, you could then turn it into words. It reminds me of storyboarding for a movie.

Michele Emrath said...

One of the toughest and most important things we do as writers--creating pictures in the minds of readers. I think this is one reason books appeal to so many different people: each one sees something different. Also, in my opinion, this is an advantage books have over movies. Movies are spectacular (oftentimes, anyway) and they give great stories and images to viewers. But they give ONE story and ONE image. There is little room for interpretation (not of meaning, there is tons of room for that!) of what you actually see and how a character looks. Ties in with my perception post today on my blog.

Congrats on your publication! Heading to your blog now to rag on Alex...

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

Ellie said...

Great post; I do think we have to be open to trying other creative endeavors. I think creative people
if exposed to other mediums can find other avenues to shine in.
You can write, you play guitar...it is never one avenue.

You make me think about sewing(I'm not great at it),but it is fragmented pieces, cut and then stitched, arranged into place. Then the final details...writing is like sewing. Words stitched together to create a visual scene.
I think I will go write, I mean sew...

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I know a couple artists I could bug. (I mean, ask!)

Karen Walker said...

Oh, I just love this idea. I so struggled with descriptions when writing my memoir. It is just not my forte. And now, in fiction, I'm going to have to do so much more of that. Thank you Alex and Cassandra.
Karen

Laura Eno said...

What a great exercise! It's something I struggle with as well, so I'll be trying this approach.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad everyone's getting so much out of Cassandra's ideas!

Mayowa said...

Great post,

I use The Sartorialist to help me visualize characters.

It' worked wonders.

Hart Johnson said...

I think my artistic skills about match yours. I try though, to use real places I've been, sort of cutting and pasting parts so that they are remixed to be different, but the visuals are still there--far easier to describe something you can envision really well. I think it's especially important for consistency. (I also make a lot of maps!)

Julie Dao said...

What a great exercise! I think that's a fantastic way of really visualizing and knowing your own story for authenticity. Thanks for sharing, Alex and Cassandra!

Elana Johnson said...

I'm such a visual person. If I can see it, I can usually make it work. So in a book, where I have to paint my own picture with words, that's much harder. I know I see stories differently than others. And I have a hard time writing what I see in my own head. Good thing I have fabulous CP's!

And what a great cover! Congrats on your book, Cassandra!

BryStearns said...

That's absolutely brilliant. I never thought of going about it that way. Now I just need to find someone who can draw. Great post Cassandra!

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

I "draw" it in my head but not on paper. I think because I can easily make changes.

RaShelle said...

Hey Cassandra - Great information. I enjoyed your exercise. I usually try to find pics on the internet, which can take hours. This would probably be easier in the long run, even though my drawing skills are terrible. =D

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

"Watery Tart Maps" - I can see it now, Hart!

Holly, I like your reasoning.

The Old Silly said...

A fine guest post, and excellent exercise/advice, Cassandra. Thanks for sharing, and thanks, Alex for having Cassandra here today. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I really like the idea of a starting point for describing something. It's a method I'm going to try. Thanks!

Raquel Byrnes said...

What an interesting idea, the sketching. I can't draw, but just focusing on something and working out from there seems like a solid way to start a scene. I give it a try!

Edge of Your Seat Romance

cassandrajade said...

Thanks everyone for you comments. I'm glad this post has been helpful to some, and I'm glad also that I'm not alone in sometimes having trouble getting those ideas in my mind across.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great idea. I tend to see the scenes in my head as I write, but I never thought of doing it this way.
I'll have to try it. :)

arlee bird said...

I enjoy a good description in parts of a story that have to do with descriptions and establishing settings and characters, but in the course of the action they can sometimes interfere. That's when I think a writer needs to just latch on to what is essential to move the action and let the reader fill in with imagination as much as possible.

lee
Tossing It Out

Lynda Young said...

I agree that writing is an incredibly visual task. It's probably why so many writers are also artists in some form.

Lyn
W.I.P. It: A Writer's Journey

Liza said...

The best writers can describe a scene so that it brings a visual to the reader's mind...I wonder if by dictating you thoughts to an artist, if what the artist imagines then becomes the scene. Does that make it any less yours? Anyway, I tear things out of magazines when I see something or someone that looks how I think a character or a place should look. Then I describe it.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Like you, my lack of artistic ability would keep me from making sketches. However, I often lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and try to visualize the scene that’s unfolding in my head. It does seem to help.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Like you, my lack of artistic ability would keep me from making sketches. However, I often lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and try to visualize the scene that’s unfolding in my head. It does seem to help.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Lee, I like your way of thinking!

Liza, that's good trick as well.

RawknRobynsGoneBlogWild said...

I'm a decent artist, but description is always hard for me. These are good tips. Thanks,
xoRobyn

Karen Lange said...

Good advice. This is something I need to try.
Thanks a bunch!
Karen

Amanda Sablan said...

It's simply a matter of taking your time. Once you have a visual of your setting or whatever else it may be in your mind, take your time thinking about how to put it into words. Rushing through any kind of writing will not yield the best results possible, no matter how good you think you are.

Snazzy post!

Stephen Tremp said...

I use the five senses to paint a visual picture for the reader. And the weather. And I'm descriptive about the view too. Paint a picture using the sense and you have helped to win the heart of the reader.

Stephen Tremp

Talli Roland said...

Another great post, Cassandra - I just read your post today over at Mason's.

I think of my novel in terms of 'scenes' - it helps me get to where I need to go without meandering too much!

The Golden Eagle said...

I can't draw people at all; I love writing descriptions, since that's really what makes the image in my head come alive.

AlexOngNYC said...

Thankfully enough I also took stage and screen directing classes, so visuals can come easy to me. But when I get caught up in finite details is when I get shaky. Thanks for the insight! I've always wanted to be able to draw.

Alex

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks again for visiting, Casssandra. Looks like you've inspired many!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Love the guest post! I'm fairly horrible at drawing. But sometimes I'll try to find pictures of existing people or places that seem to resemble what is in my head. It's impossible sometimes, so I like the idea of getting someone else to draw them for you!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Another post that makes ya think! Thanks.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Hi Cassandra! I'm a very visual writer, too. I have a design wall behind my computer monitor. On it I tack up pictures I cut from magazines or photos I shoot, postcards, maps, greeting cards, drawings by the kids, anything colorful and inspiring that may jumpstart my descriptive voice when I'm writing.

Great post!
~Nicole~
*waves to Alex*

Kelly said...

Great post. I was just thinking that I might sketch my characters as a reference throughout my wip. Even though I'm not artistic, I'll get the jist of hair length, color of eyes, hair, maybe even wardrobe...

Old Kitty said...

Thank you Cassandra for relaying the power and skill of creating visuals through words! When I first started my creative writing course I too was impatient with the seemingly pointless exercises -
(oh there were many) but soon realised that they were a way to make me focus, to make my writing stronger and disciplined and to "think outside the box"!

I wish you all the best with your novel!

Take care
x