Creative Writing

Visual Storytelling Techniques: Writing as though we are painting with words!

  1. Think like a screenwriter: some novelists today use scriptwriting techniques in their novels.  Although the majority of the text looks like what you expect, periodically the writer shifts into a different layout to show how a character, usually the protagonist, sees the scene. This does work only if it fits the character and the story.

State Street Grill

Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania – late at night

That server is having trouble

Drunk guy won’t leave

Somebody needs to help her

2. See like poet: allow yourself license to wax lyrical for a moment, again if it fits the character and the scene.

I watch her rise and slide into her black coat, the satin lining shining and wrapping around her protectively I think, and I feel and hear the tapping of her high-heeled boots echoing through the now-empty and dark restaurant as she walks away from me, taking with her more than my breath. 

3. We have talked a lot about being painters with words, but it won’t happen without practice and without an intention to enable both our characters and our readers to taste, touch, hear, and smell without our resorting to telling.

The scream of the fire engines swallowed up her words, but the expression of her face, her wide eyes, the red-stained of her cheeks flashed anger, and I knew she didn’t understand.

I could smell the bacon still in the air and followed it through to the kitchen where orange juice puddled under the table, the shards of shattered glass cautioning my steps.

4. Create a cinematic tone.  Think how to write what you see in the scene in a movie. Consider all the elements the screenwriter used. Start with how the scene is lighted and think about how much light and shadow tell in a scene even before a word of dialogue is heard.

The street light cast a golden light against the dark interior of the house. He patted the wall along the now open front door in search of a light switch that wasn’t there, and if it was, would not have worked.

5. Cluster images together. Allow those images to contribute to the emotion you want to create. Think a buffet covered with lace, with silver candlesticks,  silver Revere bowls of graduated sizes filled with fruit or candy or English biscuits. 

Or a wall covered with framed photos of one person in exotic locations.

Or untidy piles of books beside the chair, on the table next to it, open books with weights holding them open on the desk in the corner.

6. Visualize a unique point of view. Imagine a character in a wheelchair who sees everyone from that perspective. Think about how she has to strain to look up into the faces of those who come into the room. Think about how that affects not only what she sees but how she feels about the people around her.

Think through how a character who is unwell, who has a headache, who is grieving. How does that affect their point of view, even physically.

7. Filter the story through one character’s emotions, even if those emotions arise from not understanding the true story. Let your character make mistakes and act. Don’t tell your reader about the mistake behind the behavior. Yet.

Prompts: The first thing she saw when she walked into the room was the pictures; the wall was covered with black and white photos all in silver frames.

He tried the door, pushing it open.

I didn’t recognize the handwriting though it was certainly distinctive, but it was addressed to me.

You do not have to use one of these prompts, but they may prove helpful when you are not sure what to do next.

For more on this checkout:

Memoir Class

Remember when you are writing nonfiction

  1. To write is to talk to strangers. You have to inspire confidence and appear to be trustworthy, so don’t neglect research, even if only to authenticate what you already know. It is amazing what google knows. Check with family members or neighbors to confirm what you think you know.
  2. Even when you are writing memoir or biography, you must have your character moving, making things happen or experiencing things happening around or to him or her. People live life and both good and bad things happen. Be realistic.
  3. You will be most successful if you keep your mind on the story as it unfolds rather than on the consequences of the story. Maybe things will not end well for a character, but don’t go there until it unfolds on its own.
  4. Even in a memoir, there must be something at stake. Just as it is in fiction, people must want something and they always do, even if it is as simple as a better quality of life.
  5. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Does it sound stilted? Does it sound worked on? Rewrite it injecting your own personality.
  6.  Never open a book with weather unless the weather is going to be a character in the story.
  7. Avoid detailed descriptions of the characters, allow the setting or action to do that. I felt bad for her as she pulled on her skirt, trying to cover her legs. For instance: I watched my brother watch her and I wished she had worn jeans, not that skirt. And definitely not that blouse.

Prompts: I didn’t recognize those old-fashioned looking people in the antique picture frames, but…

She wandered down the wide hall trying not to smell it….

A hundred years old, that bugle all tarnished and dented…

He had the biggest heart and was the most patient teacher…

You do not have to use one of these prompts, but they may prove helpful when you are not sure what to do next.

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