Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sometimes a picture is just a picture

Where do you get your ideas from?

If you're a writer--actually if you're an artist of any kind--you're going to have to field this question eventually.


 If you're a writer--actually if you're an artist of any kind--you probably don't have the faintest idea where they come from.

You might have a couple of tongue-in-cheek responses (Under my bed.  The dust bunnies build them.) or you might try a deeper approach (The Muse provides them).  But if you're anything like me, you don't really know where they come from.

That's ok.

What I can tell you is how they come to me.  Some of you out there think in pictures and some of you think in words.  Me?  I think in pictures and that's how the story ideas come to me.

I get a picture.  I get a single image like I was looking at a frame in a strip of film.  I don't get to see what comes before that and I don't get to see what comes after that.  Further complicating things, the picture that I get never shows me what the beginning (or the end, for that matter) of the story is.

It's just a frozen slice of time.

I mention this because I've spent the last week or so wrestling with one particular picture.

And I sat down today all set to describe this picture in detail and to bemoan the fact that this picture is one that I've had in my head since college and I STILL don't know what to do with it.  Then I'd try and  take some of the sting out of that thought by reminding myself (and you) that sometimes ideas need longer than others to cook and that's ok.

Then I started typing.

And as I got into the description--which would have been several lines on this blog--I realized that I didn't have a picture anymore.

I had a character.

A character is someone that I can talk to.

I don't know a name, I don't know what it is they are doing in that picture and I sure as heck don't know what they were doing before that picture was "Taken" (for lack of a better word) or what they're going to do after.

But I can ask.

And that, I think, is where stories really come from.  I still couldn't tell you where the picture came from or what it was about me sitting down and typing out the description of an image I've seen in my head for years (over a decade really...) that allowed me to begin fleshing out a character this morning.  I don't think I'll be able to tell you that if I live to be a hundred and fifty and publish hundreds of books.

I don't think anyone could tell you.

What I can tell you is that sometimes a picture is just a picture, until you look at it just right.


  1. Good post, Ken! I love visual story prompts (you may have noticed), but sometimes I do think "a picture really is better than a 1,000 words", and why do I need to describe this all out. You've hit the nail on the head - the image isn't the thing, it's the character in there (visible or not) who's got a story to tell. I love the idea of asking our characters, "What's your story?" I just might try that on a couple of stubborn points in my own writing. :)

  2. Yes, that!

  3. Thanks Margaret. I hope that approach works out for you.