Monday, February 9, 2015

Drawing/Painting and Writing

Power of the Pen writing conference is March 7, 2015 in Spokane, WA. The keynote speaker will be Mary Buckham. There will be several editors and agents taking pitches and giving workshops. The workshops will be geared toward writers of all genres of fiction. Here's the link to the website: The fee is $95 nonmembers, $70 members of Inland Empire Chapter of Romance Writers of America for this day long event.

A person cannot sit down and paint the perfect picture immediately. You are painting a woodland landscape and you have trouble with the deer. You work on that area for a while, work on the clouds, return to the deer or walk away and read for thirty minutes. When you again start to paint, your ability to render the deer has changed and it works or it is worse.

The same goes for writing. You cannot sit down and write the perfect first draft. In fact, the harder it is to write a certain part the more effort it will require. Every writer faces this situation. Janet Evanovich says that it is difficult for her to write sex scenes. It requires champagne and copious supplies of M&M’s. For another writer, writing tension in a murder scene may be difficult. All writers stumble on a different aspect of the story. Do not try to be Stephen King, Flannery O’Conner,  John Grisham or Elizabeth George. Write the story you want to tell.

 Although The Starry Night  (left) by Vincent Van Gogh was painted during the day in Van Gogh's ground-floor studio in a mental institution Saint Paul-de Mansole, now a convent in St.Remy, France,  it would be accurate to state that the picture was painted from memory. The view has been identified as the one from his second story bedroom window, facing east (lower right) a view which Van Gogh painted variations no fewer than twenty-one times, including  Starry Night.  The other two painting are of the
 same field facing east from his bedroom on the second floor. "Through the iron-barred window," he wrote to his brother, Theo, around 23 May 1889, "I can see an enclosed square of wheat . . . above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory."
View today of mental institution
St. Remy, France
Van Gogh's room,
second floor middle window
View today from Van Gogh's
room in mental institution
 Van Gogh depicted the view at different times of day and under various weather conditions, including sunrise, moonrise, sunshine-filled days, overcast days, windy days, and one day with rain. The hospital staff did not allow Van Gogh to paint in his bedroom, but he was able to make sketches in ink or charcoal on paper (like a writer's rough drafts), and eventually he would base newer variations on previous versions. In fifteen of the twenty-one versions, cypress trees are visible beyond the far wall enclosing the wheat field. Writers cannot use the same theme twenty-one times but we can write various drafts of the same theme from different points of views or by making one the people the main character in one version and a secondary figure in another.

Van Gogh used the same inspiration for many paintings. Writers can do the same. We can combine our fourth grade school field trip to a California mission with a family vacation to the Santa Ynes Mountains in the same area years later and produce a scene for our story. What we cannot do is sell the same scenes in different books like Van Gogh could sell the same scene with only slight variations. If you do that, your books sounds like a well known author whose main character drinks Knob Creek at Elaine's with the same pal almost every night, bedding different women combined with a sketchily filled in mystery plot. It is a formula that has worked for him but readers get bored quickly and quit buying his books.

Writing takes a plot plus a subject and turns them into a story. A book has a flow just like a painting. Artistic scholars tell us we take our eyes on a journey through a painting starting at the upper left of the canvas and work our way toward the center. I disagree feeling that I look at the largest or brightest part of the painting first and work my way spiraling out from that point. The artist has a story she wishes to tell and devises a one dimensional way to do it. There may be several stories going on at the same time via smaller sections of the painting; these are likened to subplots in books.

Books tell stories with the luxury of more space, i.e., pages and multiple characters and subplot(s). I expect the main character to be introduced in the first chapter. I prefer he or she to have a name and an accurate physical description. The artist wants you to understand the main subject of the painting and then fill out the story as your eyes travel around the canvas. Painters repeat themes in various spots so that it is satisfying to the viewer. Books do the same. We repeat the struggle the protagonist is having by having him try different solutions and failing.

Think of your story like a drawing or a painting. Visualize your story then write down what you see. Add the details. Rewrite and fine tune. Publish.

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