Freewriting Exercise: Use Visuals (Photography, Illustrations)

Images are a great resource for writers to take advantage of.

With tools like Pinterest and Google Image Search, it’s trivial to dig up all sorts of useful images relevant to just about any element of a story.

The more you are able to draw from life, the less you have to invent, and the more naturally the writing can flow. Click To Tweet

For example, one great way to work on a novel with a lot of characters is to keep a folder full of images and photos that you want to draw from.

Whether it’s a photo of the actor you envision playing the movie version of your book or a conceptual drawing of one of the settings, visuals can be really helpful when it comes to generating a lot of writing on a given topic, especially when that topic is broad.

If you are writing a multi-book saga featuring a dozen main characters, it would be wise to have some references available so you can keep tabs on what everyone looks like, what they like to wear, and so forth.

So, photos and visuals are useful when it comes to having sufficient data and information about your characters and settings and various plot elements, and especially for having reliable representations that remain consistent through what might turn out to be a process that takes several years to finish.

But visual aids, whether they’re photos or illustrations or sketches or whatever, can be especially helpful as inspiration and to stir up new ideas and descriptions about your subject.

In your mind, maybe your main character is tall, broad and handsome with dark hair. But beyond that maybe you draw a blank and you don’t know how else to describe him. How much more detail could you get if you were describing an actual photo of an actual person rather than insisting that you make everything up?

But you might be saying, my character doesn’t look exactly like that. How am I supposed to find a photo already in existence that represents an imaginary character?

Get more than one photo. Make your character a combination of different aspects from several photos.

A frankencharacter. Except not really. Anyway, you get the idea: hybridize, synergize.

Freewriting exercise

For this exercise, first collect a few photos or illustrations that speak to whatever current project you’re working on. If it’s a novel, find representations for your characters, settings, and any significant items or places or moods that speak to you.

If you can find visuals that convey moods you want to evoke in your writing, print them off or make slideshows that you use as you write. You might find that it helps get you into the feel of the story and more details naturally exude through your writing.

  1. Choose a photo or a group of similar photos and freewrite about them.
  2. Write without stopping, using the following (and similar) questions to guide your flow:
  • What questions come up for you when you feel into the visual?
  • What does it evoke?
  • What descriptions naturally exude from the image?
  • What does it stir up for you about your story? About the backstory of your main character or the history of this location?

And so forth. Write anything that pertains to the photo and your story. Go back through and collect anything that feels useful. Put this into a file or onto a notecard or in a folder for this element of your story.
Whenever you need, you can consult this material and draw from it.

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