Friday, September 9, 2016

Refresh Your Writing Brain (and Inspire Your Book) with an Image Board This Week

Writers gather around the big classroom conference table.  It's the first evening of my weeklong writing retreat.  I ask each writer to grab a stack of magazines and begin tearing out photos.  The room gets quiet as everyone moves into their image brains. 


After about half an hour, a small pile of images sits next to each person.  When they have enough, they move to their individual writing desks.  They find their posterboard, gluestick, and scissors and begin to make an image board.  The image board is a visual map of their book-in-progress--but crafted in a very non-linear way.

I'm a great believer in image boards.  I like to make them in my writing notebook, one for each new book I start, several for characters, even an image board for the setting I'm writing about. 

At the last weeklong retreat I taught, I brought my current struggle to the activity.  I'd been working hard to write the two main characters in my novel and make them more unique.  Words hadn't helped--so far.  When I opened my writing notebook to a spread of two blank pages and began two image boards (one for each character), a million lightbulbs began going off in my writing brain.  After the image board session, I ran back to my room and started writing new scenes.

I'd gotten a new level of understanding about my two characters.  My image boards had shown me what words hadn't.

Image boards vary by writer.  Some are very literal:  a collection of realistic images that depict different parts of the story.  Other writers go for metaphor--choosing images that hint at meaning, like a dream collage.  I use both.  If I need physical details about a character, I might comb for red hair, long limbs, a crooked smile.  Pasting in the realistic images, I suddenly "see" my character on the page.  But maybe I'm using the image board to go deeper into theme.  Then my image choices are more metaphoric.    

Many published writers use image boards to refresh the writing brain and inspire their books.  I read about a well-known writer who starts seven bulletin boards in her kitchen at the beginning of a new book.  She tacks up photos she's saved or strips of color or shape torn from magazines.  Over the course of writing the book, she narrows the seven boards to one. 

Sue Monk Kidd, author of the novel, The Secret Life of Bees, describes in her memoir, Traveling with Pomegranates, how she discovered the key to her novel via a photo of a black Madonna.  She placed it in the center of an image board and literally built the rest of the book via images collected as she wrote.

Images take you places words can't.  They work as lubrication for the imagination.  Sometimes, as in my example above, you "see" things in your image board that surprise you--and send you in new and exciting directions for your book.

Your weekly writing exercise this week is to grab some old magazines and tear out 20-25 images that speak to you.  Do it while you watch a movie or as a break after work.  When you have a small pile, begin to glue them onto a large sheet of paper or into your writer's notebook.  Don't worry about being an artist.  Just arrange the images in a way that pleases you.  Your non-linear brain will take over and often create amazing juxtapositions that tell you a next step about your book. 

If you have ten minutes, freewrite about what you see in the image board.  Let it surprise you!

This fall, I'll be teaching four workshops and retreats that include this image board activity.  There's still room in all of them.  Click on the link below to find out more (you'll be taken to the sponsoring school's website).  Maybe see you there!  Be sure to bring a couple of magazines. . .

Twelve-week online storyboarding class, starts September 21, www.loft.org
Week-long storyboarding retreat, September 19-23, Madeline Island, Wisconsin
Storyboarding workshop, October 15, Grub Street in Boston
Storyboarding workshop, October 21, The Loft in Minneapolis