It’s the first week of a new month, and with NaNo now fully in the rearview, it’s time to shift gears and move on to new topics. But somehow I managed to let the week get away from me, and here it is Friday already, and I have no idea what I want to write for this week’s post. As I’m staring at a blank page trying to decide what to write about, I realize just how spoiled I was having NaNo as a preset topic every week. Oh, I’ve got a (somewhat short) list of topics to choose from, ones I came up with during November and jotted down to save for later, but it turns out that having your topic and deciding what you really want to say about that topic are two different things. Ah, the joys of writer’s block.
Of course, plenty of people will tell you that writer’s block is a poor excuse for not writing, so let’s see if I can power through this thing. Today I am going to write about the importance of visual aids as a writer. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes I think having that picture is just what a writer needs to get those thousand words written. So I want to talk visual inspirations in general, and then detail a specific example that recently proved essential to moving my current story forward.
I’m going to start my discussion of visual aids with a site that I have embraced as a rich source of inspiration – Pinterest (a social media site I initially expected to be as much of a pointless time waster as I find most social media sites to be). A friend had been trying (unsuccessfully) for a while to get me onto Pinterest, but she mainly used it for crafts and cooking/baking ideas, which didn’t really interest me at all. And so I ignored her repeated comments about what a great site it was to spend time on.
A while later I came across a writer on Scribophile who had a link to her Pinterest account, which got me curious (especially since my friend was still regularly telling me I should be on the site). So I took a look at this writer’s Pinterest page, just to see what a writer might do with the site, and found a number of boards all dedicated to story inspiration, and broken down into different categories.
Perusing these boards was all I needed to convince me of the usefulness of Pinterest. From there I setup my own page, and started 4 boards – fantasy characters, fantasy landscapes, sci-fi characters, and alien worlds. For the moment I’m mainly just having fun collecting cool images that catch my eye (especially on the sci-fi boards, since I’m much more focused on fantasy for my writing at the moment). But as I add images to my boards (and potentially expand them into more specific categories) and as I continue my writing, I can see more and more turning to those images for inspiration.
But visual aids can provide more than just simple inspiration – they can also give you the concrete details you need to flesh out your story or to help move your story forward. There’s one specific example of this that I wanted to touch on in relation to my current WIP. For the section of the story I’m just finishing up (which was originally planned as one chapter but has expanded to a full three chapters at this point), I had put one of my main characters into prison, and need to devise an exciting – but at least somewhat believable – prison break to get him out. And so began my research into prisons and famous prison breaks.
I’m not going to go into the details of all the research I did (going to save those for a future post on the joys and fun of research). Suffice it to say, after much researching I’d found the inspiration for my prison (Colditz Castle – a medieval castle that the Germans used as a POW camp during WWII). What I didn’t have, however, was any real idea of how my character was going to escape.
I’d probably still be sitting here weeks later trying to wrap my head around this particular dilemma, if I hadn’t discovered one particular visual aid – a simple blueprint of Colditz Castle (shown at left). As I started looking over the blueprint, I started figuring out where the characters would be housed and what the potential weak points/points of escape from the castle might be. From there I started finding obstacles to those points that the character would need to overcome. The more I looked over the blueprint, the more the ideas came to me.
Now I won’t claim that what I ultimately came up with is necessarily the most exciting, original prison break ever written (and odds are I’ve got more than a little bit of editing/tweaking to do before I’m completely happy with how the prison break works), but I am very excited and happy with what I did come up with, and it never would have happened without that blueprint. And just as important, every time I adjusted and expanded upon my prison break, I could refer back to that blueprint to help me map out the where and the how of my escape.
So in closing, I’d just like to say that I love both the inspiration and the specific details that you can get from a good visual – be it painting, photograph, map, blueprint, or whatever else. Whether it’s characters or landscapes or creatures or specific locations/set pieces, the right picture can do amazing things to not just fire the imagination, but to also give you something concrete to aid in the little details of your writing.
And even if you don’t find that image that’s just what you’re looking for, let’s be honest, looking at pictures of interesting characters or fabulous landscapes is just a fun way to take a mental break from your writing. So has anyone else ever had this sort of experience – some visual aid that inspired a character, setting, or scene in your story? And where do you go when looking for visual inspiration? Let me know in the comments!