Posting this photo has set me off on a little train of thought, creative writing-wise. For one thing I’m reminded how my artist friend Sheilagh Jevons once expressed surprise at how predominantly visual my blog often is. ‘But you’re a writer,’ she said. ‘I didn’t expect to see so many images.’
I didn’t really have a good answer at the time, but I have often pondered on her remark since. It’s an interesting paradox: a writer who struggles to translate into words the fictional worlds she summons as if she were watching them; as if she were there, taking part in the narrative.
This is not to say that the envisioned people, places and events arrive in-brain in sharp focus. Far from it: the circumstances are often very blurry, slippery even; all that is viewed is presently in the foreground; the overall context hazy, unformed. But something in an imagined scene will have caught my mind’s eye; triggered the story alert. It is usually a person, never anyone I know, but always a particular someone who belongs to particular place and thus could be from nowhere else; although this is not to say that they might not be, in some sense, displaced when I first notice them. Otherwise, I probably don’t know much about them, only their general looks plus a certain something that snags my attention.
I know at once I should follow them. I may already know their name, and even if that name should later change, the ‘fact’ of their existence will not change. Once fixed on, these people subsist forever in conscious memory (as real to me as my relatives or neighbours), lingering there and waiting for their story to be told. Some have been waiting a good long time.
So what happens next? Fantasy and Science Fiction writers call the process world building. But then I feel that all story telling involves world building: the subtle articulation between physical circumstances (setting in time and space) and the events in a character’s life; their reactions, the ‘what happens next?’. This construction must be seamless; appear authentic; have ‘the ring of truth’; integrity; whatever you wish to call it. It is a bit like conjuring, but with much substance. And, to pursue the magician image, it is also a grand performance, the sustainedly active ‘suspension of disbelief’ wherein the audience/reader/viewer should be so engaged as to not start wondering: How did that rabbit come out of the hat.
And here is where the looking comes in; or perhaps a better way of putting it is schooling oneself to see (and by ‘seeing’ I mean engaging all the senses); honing the skill of it in the real world as a piece of daily practice; learning how to express the experience in another medium (in my case the written word, but it could be any of the arts). Such exercise develops world-building muscles, refines powers of discretion; helps you know what to look for in the fictional environment; where to shine the spotlight, how to manipulate light and shade, enhance texture, condense or expand detail in order to give a scene (in some sense) reality.
It is a lot to think about. And for those of you struggling with your own powers of creativity, no matter the medium, here is some wonderfully creative play to spur you on. It is a New Year’s gift this morning from blogging chum and artist, Janet Weight Reed. Please pop over there and have some fun. Who knows where it might lead you next, or what blocks it may release.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell