Monday, June 10, 2013

Painting With Words Like Painting With Color

    This past March I decided to paint the interior rooms of my house.  My husband and I have lived in our home for eight years and I was tired of the same drab nondescript creamy white walls  greeting me in bedroom, kitchen and hallway, and longed for color.

    I spent hours looking through  House Beautiful , Cottage Style, and other decorating magazines for ideas,  and days going  back and forth from my home  to Lowe's to discuss color with the expert  Emily in the paint department. When I finally decided each room would be a different color, I had to laugh at myself , and was reminded of Myrna Loy's character in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House  painstakingly  telling the contractor  the precise shade of  color she wanted in each room. After all her thoughtful description,  the contractor turns  to the painter and says,  " You got that ?"

  " Huh-huh",  replies  the painter, " Red, green,yellow, blue and white".

    Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House , a  comic  novel delightfully  written by Eric Hodgins in 1946, the scene I refer to is wonderfully highlighted in this youtube video.


    Perhaps  I  wasn't quite as precise as Mrs. Blandings,  but  I did  carefully and clearly   state I  wanted  the kitchen and family room yellow. Not a bright  lemon yellow, but a soft buttery yellow.  And the master bedroom and study I wanted  green, not a hunter green or pea green, but a rich colonial green. And on it went with each  color in each  room. Thankfully, Emily  was very patient, and helpful in making sure the colors were to my liking - even if she had to remix two or three times.

   While going through the exercise of choosing color and painting rooms of my house , I  thought about a book I read last year titled Word Painting  A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. Just as I was trying to make the rooms of my home more descriptive, and interesting to visitors, so I strive to do with my writing - make the words more descriptive,  and interesting  to readers.  I must admit, painting seems the easier process with a  more consistent and better outcome; even so I write on!, and like paint that has to be mixed and remixed to find just the right shade and hue, so it is with the words we write,  they have to be written and rewritten before the completed story can be  finished.

   In her book, McClanahan tell  us The characters in our stories, songs, poems and essays embody our writing. They are our words made flesh. Sometimes they even speak for us, carrying much of the burden of plot, theme, mood, idea and emotion. But they do not exist until we describe them on the page. Until they are anchored  by our words, they drift,  bodiless and ethereal. They weigh nothing; they have no voice. Once we've written the first words our characters begin to take form. Soon they'll be more than mere names. They'll put on jeans or rubber hip boots, light thin cigarettes or thick cigars; they'll stutter or shout, buy a townhouse on the Upper East Side or a studio in the Village; they'll marry for life or survive a series of happy affairs; they'll beat their children  or embrace them. What they become is up to us. 

   Just as I thought about writing while painting the rooms of my home,  the next time I sit down to write memoir, short story, essay or poem, I'll think about the process of painting and contemplate  how similar  writing and painting are in  the  need to prepare and plot out your storyboard before starting,   paying attention  to detail and sometimes making a bold choice in choosing  character and description, adding color to the story.

*** NOTE:  Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House written by American author, Eric Hodgins originally appeared as a   short story in the April 1946 issue of Fortune magazine.  If you are lucky enough to find a copy of the book in your local library or used book store, I recommend you grab it. Reading Hodgins is 'word painting' at its best, like walking into a colorfully painted room that helps describe the character and style of  home .




Patty said...

Very interesting comparison, Kath! Enjoyed this blog!

Anonymous said...

You are always so right on! Thank You for being the writer you are....awesome !


Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Thank you so much for posting one of my very favorite clips from "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House"! Love that movie! The dialogue is fabulous.

Jennifer Rova said...

Great analogy. Thanks for the motivating post.