Sunday, November 05, 2006

Story visuals

This week's blog topic is on story visuals. I find these to be a very important part of my pre-writing process. I need to know what people look like before I begin a story. Having a photo or drawing gives me a starting point on which to build character traits. I have a collection of folders, all of which are stuffed with pictures. I collect pictures from everywhere, from newspapers and magazines, from advertisements. Sometimes it's the face that draws me into a picture, sometimes it's a mood, but most of the times, it's the eyes. So, getting back on topic, I have these folders of pictures that I already have a connection with. When I narrow down the choices by gender, age, and ethnic group, I can usually people a story in an hour or so.

But, since I also have this arts and crafts muse, I don't just stop with the picture of the character. I take great joy in creating a story collage. I mount the photos on foamboard, label them with charcter names, and stand it up behind/beside my monitor. That way, I never have to search for a piece of paper with names on it, or try to remember who has brown eyes and who has blue eyes.

Nearly ten years ago, I was quite moved by a group of elderly British ladies who, very tastefully mind you, posed nude for a calendar. I lost that calendar when I moved, but it made an impression on me. I learned that naked could be very well done, it didn't have to be sleazy or slick pin-up quality. Since then, I found a photo of a group of lady friends in a hot tub laughing and having a good time. You can't see anything but heads, necks, and shoulders, but it certainly appears they are naked. I snipped that picture and placed it in my files. Every now and again I'd come across it and wonder why in the heck I'd cut that one out, but I hung onto it. Then when I started writing about a murder in the nudist colony, that picture came out and went in the story collage. That spirit of personal freedom the women exemplified, that pure joy in being themselves, that's what I wanted for my fictional nudists.

So, I've learned to cut out pictures that appeal to me. I also clip story ideas out of newspapers. Here's a truth: life is much stranger than fiction!

Until next Monday, Maggie Toussaint

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