Sunday, December 9, 2007

The visual side of writing

Gail's post a few days back got me thinking about motivation and writing...and drawing.

I'm a visual sort of person--maybe we all are. In writing, I always "see" what's happening to my characters, I picture scenes, see the tension in the room through the posture, the space between two characters, the expressions on their faces. I see characters in action and I write what I see. Pretty much the way it works for me.

I have sketched scenes and characters for years, and it helps me in several ways:

Drawing scenes helps anchor the future plot, keeps the plot from straying. Drawing also helps keep the characters fresh. Characters grow during the story. They're rarely--or perhaps shouldn't be--unchanged when you reach the final chapter. An early character sketch can show characters smiling, untroubled by all the bad stuff your plot's going to hand them a moment later. It's good--it works for me anyway--to have character studies at key points in the story.

I also use character studies to keep them fresh in my mind. There's the old writing rule: don't go back and read or edit everything you write. Move forward or you may stall and never complete the book. For the most part I do write forward, but I do look back--mainly for motivation. I go back and re-read my work. A lot. I may read the first 3, 5, 10 chapters a hundred times before I've completed the book's first pass. When those chapters become unbearably dull through over-reading, I usually move on to the middle of the book. And this is where those early character studies help me. They're the inspiration to keep going without having to re-read anything. I don't have to read anything to get a fresh picture of the characters and how far they've come. I just browse the sketches.

I've been drawing and painting for years. I have no formal training. It's mainly just me goofing with a pencil or pen or brush. For a novel, I'll typically draw or paint fifty or sixty pieces, some not much more than quick character outlines in pen or pencil. Others just seem to require more effort, and need to be completed. Here's an example. Click the pic to see the detail view.

Posedonis_by_the0phrastusAt last year's Boskone (Great F&SF convention in Boston every year), Wen Spencer led a room full of us through her sketches--which weren't much more than stick figures--but she didn't need more to show us swords swinging, blood flowing, characters falling, parrying desperately, biting, going in for the kill. With a few pages, she choreographed an entire fight scene. I thought this was brilliant, and reinforced my own views about all the good things a writer can get out of drawing.

It really works for me. What about you? Do you have good (or bad) experiences drawing your characters or scenes? Do you find them helpful?

Here's a quick sketch from a chapter at the end of my current work. It's sloppy, but that doesn't matter. I treat sketches like this as visual counterparts to the stuff in my writing journal. I write notes on them, names, what's going on, where the scene's taking place. It helps keep the scene in mind--even seven chapters away, because it's that scene--that sketch--that's leading me. In this form, the sketch is like a map. It shows me where I need to go.

Click the pic to see the detail view.



No comments: