Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Painting with Words

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Today, I'm gonna be talking about art. Not with colors on canvas, but with words on paper. I know you've all heard me go on and on about too much description. Well, today I'm gonna talk about imagery. You can still give great description without going into minute details. Wanna know how? Grab your pens and notebooks and let's get going!

Look at the image above. See how it's all over the place? What works for art, doesn't necessarily work for a book. You could write long passages about the image, but what will your reader see in their mind? How do you describe something so chaotic so the person devouring your text gets a good idea of what the scene looks like? You don't. They can decide for themselves. I bet you're scratching your head, huh? Keep reading!

Let's go for an example or two, shall we?

Using description:
On white canvas that covered an entire 8'x14' wall, splatters and thin lines of black, pink, magenta, yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, brown, peach, teal, cerulean, hunter, and ocher overlapped. In the top left corner, pink, hunter, and magenta were deeply concentrated, set off by large spatters of black. In the center, only thin lines were present, drawing the eye in and allowing for a central concentration of the viewer's mind.

Now, I took an art class (okay, I took many art classes) in college, and that's what they want you to write when you're describing a painting. Note that word: "describe."

If I came across a passage like this in a book, I'd become bored as the writer went into every detail of the scenery. Did you read every color word? Probably not. Rather than tell your reader what to see, leave it to their imagination. Books are good at activating that little node in the back of your brain that paints its own pictures. Let's try again.

Using imagery:
It was a riot of every color in the rainbow covering the whole wall. Colors danced together in thick and thin lines, overlapping like freshly fallen leaves on a snowy lawn. I became lost in the chaos of it all as I tried to ascertain what the empty space in the middle was trying to tell me. Reminiscent of a Pollock painting on steroids, it drew me in and left me breathless.

Now, your reader's brain is activated. They paint the image in their head as they read. You aren't telling them what to see, you're letting them decide for themselves. Is it exactly what you see? Probably not. But, that's what's beautiful about it.

Paint vivid pictures with strong verbiage and allow the reader to feel the scene, rather than just be a bored onlooker.
  • Riot
  • Chaos
  • Reminiscent
  • Breathless
Those are all words that make the second passage much stronger than the first. Needless to say, I got fussed at a lot in design school for my creative briefs. I would launch into something like the second passage and not be succinct enough. They wanted straight and to the point. Blah. Bland. Phooey!

Let's not be bland. How about we strive to be artists of a different kind: Authors.

What about you? What do you prefer when reading?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!


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