Write Like a Photographer

I am a writer with a background in photography.  In creating a photograph, I consider every corner of the frame, along with every item within that frame. I look to see if there are any annoying objects, or things that detract from my final product. Is there a tossed away cup in the background? If so, does it contribute to the whole, or is it just a trashy distraction? If it is just a distraction, then the cup is removed, the shot tossed, and the scene re-photographed.

When you write a scene, visualize it like a photograph. Be sure all the pieces contribute to the whole. Look at every character, smell, and sound. Let’s say your protagonist is walking through a village square where there is a cacophony of activity. A mason toils over a piece of granite. You might be tempted to go into great detail. After all, this mason is sweaty, dirty, and a detailed description of him is a metaphor of the square. Ask yourself why is the mason there? Does the mason support the scene by adding to the mood or is the hammering just an annoyance like the discarded cup in the background?

Now, take the mason and widen the scene out and up. There is a window above him. What do you see? On your first draft you may have missed the window because you distracted by the mason. Is there a shadowed figure at the window? The mason is a good tool to help your reader visualize the scene as a whole, but don’t spend too much time on him. After all, the mason was a small tool to add flavor to a scene and draw the reader to the point that is most important, the figure in the window. A scene should have color that brings your story to life, but don’t over paint it.

View your book in a series of still photographs. Check each one to be sure there are no discarded cups hiding in the background. Look for anything that doesn’t fit and crop it out. These small (and sometimes large) changes will make the difference between a so-so manuscript and a dynamic one. When a photographer shoots, there are thousands of images that fall into a scrap heap. The same is true in writing. Thousands of words will spill into the trash and overflow onto the floor. That is OK. Keep taking words out, and putting words in. Write and re-write until you get that feeling; that giddy feeling when you know that you have written something amazing.

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