There’s no writing without images

I just read a great post on writing and images on Joshua Palmatier’s blog over at livejournal and it made me think of different writing approaches.

I hate synopses. I’m not that kind of writer. I’m sorry. I like to let the novel shape itself as I write. But we’ve had this discussion before, so I’ll leave it and get back to the point.

As I begin to contemplate writing these plot synopses, I realized exactly what it is I know about the book ahead of time . . . which is jack shit. Or rather, it’s exactly two or three IMAGES from the book, which people tend to call scenes, but in fact they aren’t. I work on images, and the scenes and the rest of the book grow from those images. That’s how I operate, which is why writing the synopses is so hard. The growing into scenes and then into a book happens WHILE I WRITE. It doesn’t happen ahead of time.

I’m quoting this section, because this sums up pretty much how I’m doing my own writing. I’d call myself a character-based writer, but then again there’s no character without plot. Plot surrounds characters, shows their background, motivation, antagonists. To say it bluntly, your character doesn’t exist by their looks alone. It’s not just some middle-aged, average-sized, blond and blue-eyed person, but that person coming from a certain background, having undergone certain influences, motivated to achieve a certain goal.

Now regarding Joshua’s post: How would you be able to write about all that without actually seeing your character, without actually seeing the scenes that signify your main plot events? It just wouldn’t work. All that would come out would be some hollow scenes without any depth.

I often find myself musing over a certain image that is so vivid that it connects with other images and plotlines and so makes for a great scene. Then I’m not only seeing the setting and the characters, I’m seeing their movements and body language, emotions reflected in their facial expressions, I hear background noises etc.

That with the characters’ stories, motivations and personalities makes the plot. Sometimes scenes like that don’t fit in with the main storyline, then I either alter them or they are vivid and meaningful enough to be converted into subplots. I recently made that experience with an image that popped into my head about Damian: I see him in the bathroom. His clothes are stained with blood, he looks tired and his hands are clenching as he scrubs the blood off his fingers. It’s not a very unusual image considering Damian’s line of work, but this time it’s different. I see him staring at his hands. There’s dried blood under his fingernails and he curses under his breath about the fact that no matter what you do, you never get rid of bloodstains.

Now the questions that arise are of course: What happened? But there are many more, somewhat closer related to what kind of character Damian is. Those questions and their resolutions make the scene – more than that actually, because a scene like that may have consequences for the main plot and other characters.

My personal conclusion is that if plot and character are inseparable, so are the two of them and images. After all, how would you be able to write a good scene if you can’t imagine it?

Which leads me to the question: What is first in your writing? Character? Plot? Images?

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