• Julie Gray

Why Visual Writing is Crucial - and Fun



Words are manipulative. Words are powerful. Words can begin wars and they can end relationships. Words can woo, they can spite, they can convince or dissuade.

Words are THE ONLY tool in a writer's toolbox. They are our only currency. We get to use them like an artist uses colors and brushstrokes. Words can suggest moods and emotions -

Here's a little exercise. Jot down the first couple of things that come to mind for you when you hear this - ready -

It was France. And the afternoon was golden. Three women walked through a field of….

These were the words that tickled your brain and brought up images or emotions...

(france) (golden afternoon)

(three women) (field of)

And from those keywords (so to speak) you got a feeling, right? Those words all gave you images and feelings. "Golden afternoon" is very evocative. Does it sound relaxing - or threatening? Probably relaxing. How about the word "France" instead of the word "Russia" or "Japan"? Those places give a very different feeling, don't they?

Imagery helps your reader connect to the material.

Writers are often HSP's (highly sensitive people) who think a lot and feel emotions easily and often. A madeline caused Proust to write Remembrance of Things Lost. A cookie. But - to a writer, it's not just a cookie, it's a whole spectrum of emotions and sensory memories connected to that cookie.

That's how are are. That's why we write. We can't keep it all in.

Most people cannot do what we do nor do they have the courage or persistence to try. It takes great courage to sit and write. But we do. And when we write, we provide catharsis not only for ourselves but for our readers. We give voice to things that are hard to express.

Here's a song lyric that uses some imagery to get a feeling across:

I miss the mother and the weight of her world.

The weight of her world. What images does that bring up? What emotions does it bring up?

For writers, the color red is not just a passing thing. The rain is not without meaning or emotional intimations. Using visuals in our writing provides us with a shorthand for complex feelings.

For writers, there is sometimes obvious symbolism in words like rain (cleansing, renewal OR defeat, depression, stasis). But at other times a phrase like 'weight of her world" is a bit hard to quantify - it just moves us.

How do you employ visuals in your creativity and your storytelling? It's actually quite subconscious. You're already doing it.

It's interesting to point it out, to dwell on it a little bit, and to see how your writer's mind works without even trying. Storyboard artists are writers who come up with stories in sequences that are connected visually. They write scenes that can exist in and of themselves. They not only are inspired by visuals - they must primarily use visuals to get the point across.

I can think of so much artistry in the "cartoons" so much slapstick, so much emotion in a set piece about jealousy, competition or brotherly love. You can sometimes watch animated material and not need the sound at all.

In feature films, scripts are storyboarded as a way of breaking the shooting needs down into discrete sequences and helping the director make choices about the filming. ​Screenwriters must write ONLY using visual and cinematic terms.

A prose writer can write minimally and plainly, if that is the writer's style. For example:

"The rain turned into sleet."

But a screenwriter must write: ​Rain pelted his face and bounced off the pavement. The sky darkened and sleet began to freeze on the road…

It was has to be VERY visual and VERY active. Screenwriters don't know HOW to just say "it rained" or "it was hot" - we cannot do it.

A prose writer can - again - if that is your style - but - why would you miss out on an opportunity really paint a picture of each moment?

If it is hot, you need to make your reader FEEL that heat - to feel sticky, or dull, or sweaty or fatigued. The more your reader is engaged not just with your plot but with your every word, the better.

Using sensory writing creates an experience for the reader. It transports them. Which is what your job is, is it not? Not just to relay a plot from A to Z. If you want to do that, you can write instruction manuals. No, creative writing is a kind of magic and you have a world of words to choose from. Make them visual and make them matter.

Join The Fabulists for really great articles of interest, creative ways to procrastinate and, occasionally, six word story games. Writers who play together stay together. If you are looking for an editor, coach and story analyst to help make your manuscript excellent, look no further.

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