Friday, December 12, 2014

Take a Break from Words: How Image Boards Help Your Writing

One of my workshop students with her image board.
Flummoxed by the main character in my novel-in-progress, I got the idea to browse internet photos to see if I could capture her in image rather than words.  What might she look like?  If my novel became a movie, who would play her?   

Scrivener, my all-time favorite writing software, allows cut and paste of online images.  I found my main player, then I went on to create a gallery of faces of everyone in the book.  Once I saw them, they came alive in a new way. 

I printed my gallery and pasted them on a large foamcore board to put on my writing office wall.  In the months that followed, these characters were a LOT easier to write about.
Image boards are used by many professional writers--they can chart the plot points in your story, detail the setting, or allow you to visualize your characters better.  Call them storyboards for the right brain--the image brain--they work when words can't.  Often, images open up deeper levels of story for me.   

Sue Monk Kidd, author of the novel, The Secret Life of Bees, and the memoir, Traveling with Pomegranates, spoke about how a single image helped her write an entire novel.   She found a magazine photo of a black Madonna, and she placed it in the center of what would become an image board. She used it for her writing, to remind her about her goal.   

Image boards also reveal surprising information about your writing.  Check out this week's writing exercise, a favorite in my online classes and workshops. 

Your Weekly Writing ExerciseImage Board Analysis
1.  Search magazines or internet sites for photos for your story as a whole, a character you're struggling with, or your setting.  Gather at least 20 photos.  Don't overthink the process--sometimes you'll be attracted to an image without consciously knowing why.  Choose it!

2.  Arrange your images on a board or blank document.  Place them in a way that's pleasing to your eye.

3.  Squint at the image board.  Using this analysis exercise, adapted from writer Sheila Asato of Monkey Bridge Arts, (, ask yourself these questions:

* Where does my eye travel through the images?  Where do I begin and where do I end?  Note these images:  see if they relate to the beginning of your story and the possible ending.

*  Close your eyes and open them, quickly look at your image board.  Where does your eye land first?  This image may relate to your book's "inner story," or its deeper meaning.

*  Locate two images that contrast the most.  They could be two pictures that look strange together, or one could be black and white while the other is color.  This often refers to the point of highest tension in your story, the question that remains unanswered, or the unmet challenge your book speaks of.

*  Look at the types of pictures you chose. What are they, mostly--images of people, places, animals, landscapes, buildings, the ocean, the sky, abstracts? How does this predominant type of image tell you something about your book's main focus, the aspect you feel most comfortable with?

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