This isn't the first time I've written about art informing art. Way back in July of 2005, I wrote a post called Writing From Art to Art about a workshop my daughter Grace and I attended at a local art museum. As part of the session, each attendee took a pen and paper and sat before a painting of her choice, letting the artwork speak until it inspired words -- a story, a poem, a memory. Then we shared our pieces with each other. It was beyond cool to look at one artist's painting and hear what it had spoken to another artist.
Then, in January of 2006, I wrote Building Character, a post about watching a theater professor work with actors to help them embody their characters. I was on site as a choreographer, but I found myself sitting at his feet as a writer, learning secrets to make my characters live on the page.
I don't know about you, but my writer brain comes alive when I immerse myself in other arts. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery, a switching of mental channels, and story problems that seemed insurmountable solve themselves. I just needed some distance and a fresh perspective.
This weekend I'm photographing a wedding. I love photography, and I love weddings. But I don't particularly love traditional wedding photography -- lining up the players in front of the altar, everyone looking at the camera and smiling. Most young couples these days hire photographers with a journalistic style, someone who will capture the moments as they happen. I much prefer to shoot that way. Even when people are posing, I find I capture a lot of the best shots in between the "real" ones.
A couple of days ago while making mental notes for the coming event, I thought about my favorite wedding photos and had a little epiphany. Photographic strategies not only apply to writing, if we think about what we love in certain photos, those insights can help us approach writing with fresh eyes.
I know the following list is incomplete, and I'd love to hear any additional ideas that occur to you, but this will get us started. (I included some of the wedding photos that inspired the thoughts.)
1. Zoom out for context. Place matters. Setting often becomes a character.
2. Zoom in. Let subtle choices and external details reveal your characters' values.
3. Focus on something ordinary while the important action happens in the background.
4. Sometimes abstract impressions work better than strict realism.
5. Let body language speak for itself.
6. Lovable secondary characters can steal a scene. That's okay as long as they deepen our understanding of the main characters and enrich the story.
7. Make room for humor and serendipity. Always be on the look out for fun, unscripted moments.
8. Look for fresh angles and unusual perspectives.
9. Purity can be mysterious and even provocative.
10. Be intentional. What you leave out says as much as what you put in.
Okay, now it's your turn! Can you think of some other ways photography informs writing? You don't have to be a photographer to make suggestions, and you definitely don't have to stick to wedding pictures. If you have photos that illustrate something about story telling, feel free to share a link. I'd love to learn from your insights.
Jeanne Damoff loves beautiful stories, whether they're told with words, images, paint, music, or movement. She also loves to laugh. (You know the drill. Points, people. Earn them.)