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How to Write Like an Artist

March 19, 2012

I have no artistic ability. When I draw or paint, I recreate what’s in my mind and it comes out a jumbled mess of colors. I know that artists build up to the finale. By watching my father draw, I’ve seen skeletons become shaded outlines and then clothed people in a world also built on geometric shapes and colors. But I don’t understand how to do all that. I just know I want a field of lilies with trees and a pretty sunset.

New writers are like this. They have ideas and know the fundamentals of writing–words on a page (the paint) creating an image of a character (the lilies) in a situation (the sunset). Like artists, though, writers need those unseen and unknown backgrounds. They should sketch out their characters, plots, and scenes before and during the writing process. You can’t begin a story with a painted canvas.

Here is a recommendation for developing those characters and scenes. You can do this briefly at the beginning but will find it more useful once you’ve already gotten to know your character, plot, and scenes. Interview your characters. Find out their likes and dislikes. Learn their childhood memories and the people who shaped their personalities. Your characters should answer in their voices, not yours. This will help you create convincing dialogue, thoughts, emotions, and reactions. You will find the flaws in your work before a reader does: “Joe wouldn’t be angry about his son taking the car on a joy ride. He did the same thing at 16 and his parents went off on him, too.” As you write the story, the characters “memories” will come out and influence their development. It also will help with descriptions. You will picture scenes with family members, for example, that will influence how you describe them.

The same goes for your settings. A man in a nursing home shares his experiences as a spy with his friends and nurses. You focus on the character–who he is and what he did–but what about the nursing home? Why is the nurse so irritable when she comes into his room with his medicine? You don’t tell the reader, but she is fed up with being lectured AGAIN for not filling out the paperwork just so. No need to go in depth, but have some reasons for others’ emotions.

Good luck!

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