How to Be a Visual Writer
Sometimes I think it’s just so funny how I ended up being a writer. Because I always think of writing as being a part of that analytical, logical side of your brain that I just about never use. I am so not an analytical person! I have friends who are, and I totally respect and envy them, but that has never been my strong point. I figured out a long time ago that I am a visual learner and communicator. I have a photographic memory, and I have this constant need for things to be described and explained through pictures. This probably explains why I need to look people in the face when I’m talking to them and why I can never figure out what people are talking about through email or phone messages. It’s bad.
Anyway, somehow all of this has translated into the way that I write. A number of readers picked up on a very big aspect of my first book, Interrupted. And that is the idea that Interrupted reads like a movie. Many friends and readers told me that once they got a few chapters into it, the story started feeling more like a movie than a book. That is because I like to write with a technique I call visual writing. I’d love to explain it a bit to you all, and get your thoughts on the concept.
Interrupted is probably the first full book I wrote where I attempted to keep things very visual, but I’ve been trying to keep it up since then, because I find it so refreshing and interesting. The first thing you should probably know is that the majority of books written nowadays are not visual at all. That’s totally not a bad thing! I’m just clarifying a bit. Nowadays, there’s a big movement in literature to be as “bare-bones” as possible. That’s why you’ll find so many books on store shelves today that are gritty, gripping, and as dialog-oriented as possible. Visual writing is not dialog-oriented. You will probably never find a page in one of my books that consists of nothing but a back-and-forth dialog between two or three characters. That can be powerful and modern and fresh, but it’s not my style at all.
So let’s talk about what visual writing is, shall we?
- Visual writing is…. Not afraid of descriptions.
I actually wrote a whole post for my friend Stephanie’s blog, Go Teen Writers, on the power of descriptions. So many people are afraid of using descriptions nowadays in fiction! One of my best friends brought up the point that this is probably because writers are afraid of developing the Anne-of-Green-Gables-complex, where you start writing these huge, lengthy chunks of description that just end up being really fluffy and unnecessary. While I was at first offended by this idea–I mean, I love me some L. M. Montgomery–I know that my friend is totally right. So don’t even go there with your descriptions, people. However, the idea of a small section of a beautiful, well-written description can add so much to your book. It makes the reader feel like she’s really there, soaking it all up. She can see the moonlight bouncing off the frothy white-capped waves. She’s actually able to visualize the muddy footprints on the front steps. It’s an amazing power to add to your story.
- Visual writers must… Be able to hear music in their heads.
Or if you can’t hear it in your head, put it on your computer or something. Seriously! The only way your book is going to feel like a beautiful movie is if you can literally hear the soundtrack while you’re writing. I’ve talked before about what kind of music I listen to while I write, and I would encourage you to make a playlist of your own. Have you ever noticed that the best movies are the ones that have utterly perfect soundtracks? That’s because music has the power to evoke strong emotions in us and cause us to view things in a different way. So even though your readers may not be able to actually hear the music playing when they’re reading your book, you have to somehow find a way to capture that essence in your writing. I do it by referencing different songs in my stories. In Interrupted, Sam and Allie dance to “Cheek to Cheek”, by Fred Astaire, which is the absolute perfect song to describe their feelings at that moment. It’s bubbly, swingy, romantic, and full of promise. In the scene where Allie’s mother dies, Allie plays “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Ravel on the piano. Even someone who’s never heard that song before can probably imagine just how solemn and heartbreakingly beautiful the music was in that moment. Your readers aren’t just going to imagine this music on their own. As the writer, you have to create that bubble of music and emotion and wrap it around them so they can fully feel the moment.
- Visual writing… Knows how to slow down and freeze the best moments.
In movies we call this “slow-motion”. Now, it would be totally cheesy to talk about something happening in slow-motion in your story, but there is a way to express that idea without coming right out and using that terminology. The key is to identify the best, biggest, most absolutely beautiful moments in your book. This could consist of love declarations, sweet family conversations, intimate moments with best friends, and dreams coming true. Then you have to find ways to slow those moments down and stretch them out until their beauty just intensifies. When you’re writing, make sure to take the time to “look around” your scene and take notice of everything around your main character. Is there a breeze in the air, bending the grass and tickling everyone’s necks? Is there a train in the distance, running along on its everyday schedule despite the extraordinary things happening right here and right now? Is the tea kettle whistling, or the dishwasher running, or the windchimes tinkling in the wind? Notice those things, and write them down. Fully experience the moments and record them. By slowing down those moments and recording them, your readers will be able to see and visualize everything.
Well, in the end, I could talk about this topic forever, but I don’t want to reveal all my big secrets. 😉 Haha, just kidding. I honestly feel like I reveal so much through this blog that you all know exactly as much about writing as I do. 🙂
Oh, and before I forget, I’m planning on doing another Q&A segment soon! So if you have any questions for me about writing, the publication process, my life as an author, or just random silliness in general, ask away! You can comment below or message me on Facebook, and I’ll do my best to answer in an upcoming blog entry. No question is to random or dumb, I promise. 🙂