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Writing from artwork?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devora, Nov 4, 2016.

  1. Devora

    Devora Sage

    As a writer, I struggle with writing vivid enough description. (Too infomercial there I know.) I don't know if it's because i lost some of my imagination or I'm just not trying hard enough. I've been looking thorough others artwork, and I love how they portray their characters in the piece.

    Then I get envious because writing can't make those pictures in my head, wishing i knew how to write them down accurately enough without bogging down the writing.

    Then i wondered if using the pictures as a tool to help me find the images of my own and be able to write them down well enough.

    What's you guys thoughts on this?
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  2. I have this problem sometimes too. Either I have this amazingly vivid and detailed picture in my head and I struggle to articulate it on the page, or I can't create a good enough mental image for me to be able to describe it in a way that is clear and lucid. the latter problem is usually when i'm dealing with buildings or architecture--I love architecture and want to be able to express some of that in my writing, but i'm no good at writing descriptions of it or even creating a coherent image to describe.

    It's EXTREMELY frustrating, especially since setting is so important to me in both my reading and writing. i want to put my readers there; i want to convey a sense of place.

    I hardly ever encounter this problem with character descriptions. settings are what gives me pain. I do wonder sometimes, though, if the picture my writing produces in the reader's mind looks anything like the one in my own.

    I'm not quite sure what you mean by using the pictures as a tool. Do you mean finding images that look like the thing you're trying to describe and describing the picture? This could be a good idea. I might use it myself when trying to describe a setting i'm having trouble with. It could help.
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Yep. I do this. I use photos though, not artwork.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  4. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

    That's actually kind of genius and I have no idea why I've never thought of that.
  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I'm with Helio, I've used photographs to give my mind's eye a boost. Both people and settings. I've also had artists do renditions of what I describe, oddly enough this can create some pretty aha moments, with the artist pulling out points I wouldn't have emphasized. A for instance are the Fwôd people, I had this art done a few years ago. I mentioned them decorating their horns trophies, dangling jewelry, but until I saw it outside the mind's eye, I wouldn't have focused on it so much developing these peple.


    One writer who I can't recall, chartered a plane to fly over a volcano (I assume they took pics too) so they could better describe a key point in their book.
  6. Cool artwork! :D
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    But it loaded friggin huge! LOL.

  8. Tom

    Tom Istar

    I like to have visual references when I'm writing. I collect artwork and photos that inspire me, but I don't usually need photos to write about something. I can visualize what I'm describing in great detail. However, when it comes to characters and unique concepts that I've come up with, I get frustrated when I can't find anything like it to use as kind of a reinforcement reference. Even if the visual's in my head, I like to have a similar reference so I have something solid to work from. That's when I break out my sketchpad.
  9. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hm. I sometimes use pictures but most of the time not. I've been told that I describe the outdoors in vivid detail, but that's because I know where my strengths are when it comes to description in general. I love the wilderness, the mountains, the cold air. I have spent a ton of time camping, hiking up mountains, 4-wheeling on beaches, just being outside. My characters spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in forests. I'm able to describe those experiences from memory + we have an amazing view in this house. That's the easy part.

    Anything else, like taverns, or animals or dresses...I'll very quickly go through Pinterest and then write down what sensations I get from the pictures. Otherwise I'll waste my eternal time on BS surfing. But I'm also very lazy, so I tend to describe what I know from memory and life experience more than anything else. I won't tell you the beautiful colors on a Slavic tunic. I won't go into every ingrained detail. But I will tell you what it feels like to hike through the wilderness at night with a pack on, or what a bear looks like up close, or what it feels like to sleep in a barn, or the musky smell of an unshowered person, etc.
  10. This is the kind of imagery I love to evoke. I too love the outdoors and trees and open spaces free of the hard edges of buildings...I love forests.

    Unfortunately, I don't get a lot of outdoors where I live, so I'm left to imagine :( my writing is about the only place where I can escape to the woods and forget civilization.
  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I let images inspire me, and I look at people to get an idea of what my characters might like. Other than that, I don't use images outside of the ones in my head.

    I think the trick to creating vivid images is to not overdo it. Give the reader a starting point and some queues and then let them make up the rest on their own. The image a reader creates in their mind will always be stronger than anything that can be describe in words.

    Start with the big things, and move on to smaller and smaller details as you go.
    What's important here is that once you've moved down to a smaller scale of description you can't scale up and describe something bigger. That'll confuse the reader and they might have to revise their impression and that'll really bring them out of the story.

    I wrote an article on this a while back. Especially pay attention to the bit about blank spaces at the end: A Beginner?s Guide to Writing Descriptions ? Part 1
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    You know how we are advised that combat scenes aren't really about the combat, they're about the characters and the situation within that combat? I submit the same can be said about setting.

    True, a lifelong camper may well draw upon their experiences to write a vivid description, but vivid description alone doesn't get the story very far. What really matters to the reader is the characters who are in that setting, the situation in which they find themselves, and the mood of the moment. Thus, for example, the forest might be a place of refuge after our heroes have been pursued by the villain. Or it might be a place of ominous danger into which our heroes have unwittingly stumbled. Or a place of unearthly beauty through which we wander wide-eyed.

    You realize, of course, I'm describing Lothlorien in all three cases. What matters to the reader is not Tolkien's extensive knowledge of wood lore, nor even his powers of description. What matters is that we care about our heroes, we are deeply invested in them. We worry about them, root for them, and so are right there with them as they enter the Golden Wood.

    In short, try (it's hard, I know) not to worry about description. Chances are, if reads flat, the problem isn't with the vividness of the description but with the story itself; specifically, with the characters, the situation, or the mood of the moment. And, chances are, once you start paying attention to those, the description will follow.

    I say all this without lessening the importance of research and life experience. Those can always help.
  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Yes, I think ^^^ Skip has an important point. Don't use images to just provide a running list of details. That won't work.

    Use the artwork so you can be specific about keeping your characters or scenes distinct, but make sure that it says something about the character or scene other than just simply giving a visual.

    I had never seen Mr. Radish look concerned. Stern, perhaps, but never concerned.

    He stared at me for a long time, scratching his bald spot. He wore a blue Tommy Bahama shirt covered in large pineapples. He wore birkinstock sandals with wool socks pulled almost to his knees. He had been, in my view, the sort of person who was chronically unconcerned.

    His now wrinkled brow worried me.
  14. Shannon Leigh

    Shannon Leigh New Member


    I don't believe that your difficulties in coming up with vivid descriptions are caused by poor imagination. Though, it may be because you can't find the right words to describe them in the way you visualize these things. If you are trying to describe a character, you should know almost everything about them in your head, and if you can't figure out how to write those qualities down, try and draw them out to the best of your abilities. I'm a fine artist and I always draw my characters out. It really helps to have drawing skills when working through something like character development. So, I encourage you to practice drawing, and to also look up some new adjectives so that you are able to describe these things smoothly and effortlessly! Constantly broadening your vocabulary will be the biggest help! Also, looking at other's artwork for reference is a great way to help come up with new ideas. Just be sure that all of your thoughts are original!

    Devora likes this.
  15. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Really, you're trying to convey mood and emotion from description. How you do this is individual to your writing style and voice. It can be done in a myriad of ways, not just describing colors and intricate details. Give readers emotion and sensation and that's more than enough to fuel their imagination.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  16. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    I think images can be excellent triggers.

    The image I remember when I first came across this concept was a film noir type still of a lady in a cocktail dress pulling a gun out of a bedside drawer - and having to write what motivated that and what she did with the gun and what happened after.

    Images really do help you write.

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