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3 Writing Techniques Adapted from the Visual Arts

3 Writing Techniques Adapted from the Visual Arts

Add colour to the canvas of your manuscript with these 3 writing methods tailored from practices generally utilized by painters and different visible artists.


By Tess Callahan

You possibly can’t study to color by taking a look at a Picasso any greater than you’ll be able to study the cello by listening to Yo-Yo Ma, but writers are anticipated to know their craft by advantage of getting learn books. Studying is in fact essential—simply as wanting is for the painter and listening for the cellist—however what artists, musicians and even athletes find out about coaching for his or her subject is usually misplaced on writers.

Though I’ve discovered a lot from the Grasp of High-quality Arts program, workshops and conferences I’ve attended, I’ve additionally observed they typically focus extra on the don’ts of writing than the dos. The one that unwittingly taught me the most about crafting my first novel was my portray instructor, the artist Roy Kinzer. With a nod to his affect, listed here are three methods from conventional visible arts coaching that may provide help to discover a deeper, more true and extra vivid writing voice.

1. Emulation

Painters typically study their craft by copying grasp works. Attempt creating a reproduction of a Cézanne or a Matisse and also you’ll see how humbling it’s. This technique teaches the apprentice artist issues about composition and brushstroke that she might by no means have internalized in any other case. As soon as the painter does this with 20 or 30 artists, she begins to get some critical instruments in her toolbox.

So it may be with writing. I encourage my college students to learn deeply a broad vary of writers, and after every one, attempt writing a number of sentences in that wordsmith’s fashion. For instance, take a signature line from William Faulkner or Elizabeth Bishop and, whereas preserving the sentence construction intact, pluck out all of the nouns and verbs and substitute them with your personal. Do that with the grasp writers you most envy, in addition to these to which you might have the biggest aversion. You may study much more from the types you assume you hate.

Don’t place these emulated strains instantly into your personal writing. That may be like taking a Frida Kahlo self-portrait, altering the shade of her hair, and calling it your personal. As an alternative, the concept is to apply emulating strains in order that the many various types can work their means into your mind, spin round in the blender of your unconscious, and serve to tell your personal distinctive voice.

No artwork type exists in a vacuum. The impressionists have been buddies and rivals who hung round in the similar cafés, shared, traded and borrowed, and pushed each other ahead. Dancers study from dancers. New musical genres develop as a result of artists hold responding to at least one one other.

The superb guide Studying Like a Author by Francine Prose helps readers pull apart the curtain to note what the author-magician is doing, to isolate how every one manages gesture, dialogue and character improvement, and to study from others’ strengths and weaknesses.

As readers, the most essential factor to note is usually what we don’t discover—that’s, how the author retains us immersed in what John Gardner in The Artwork of Fiction famously referred to as “the uninterrupted fictional dream.” Once we fall into that blissful dream as readers, it seems seamless on the a part of the writer. It’s not, in fact. Emulation will help reveal the expertise that maintain the film projector operating.

2. Frequent Small Sketches

Determine drawing courses typically begin with timed gesture drawings of preliminary poses lasting as brief as 5 seconds earlier than the mannequin strikes. Steadily the time will increase to 10, 15 and 30 seconds. By the time you get to a minute, it feels as in case you have all day to seize the pose in your sketch pad. The thought is to maintain you free, dexterous and extra targeted on course of than product. Such brief bursts additionally hold you from taking your self too critically—in any other case, you’d shortly turn into annoyed.

I begin my artistic writing courses with my very own variation of this system. We cross round small objects: a thimble, a pair of eyeglasses, a pinecone. You contact the object and have a number of seconds to put in writing about it—sensory particulars, associations or reminiscences—earlier than you will need to move it to the subsequent individual and obtain a brand new object. College students groan and snigger at the daunting train, however it has the impact of cultivating soil in a backyard.

You don’t need to be in a category to take up this follow with a sketchbook. At odd moments all through the day, in a diner or in transit, jot down gestures, expressions or snatches of overheard dialogue. The transitory nature of those observations will create their very own time constraints. Whether or not or not these little moments make it into no matter story you’re writing, they may deepen your consciousness of the vary of human expressions, inflections and gaits.

In her inspiring ebook Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg refers to writers’ journals as “compost piles” the place concepts can sink down into the unconscious, warmth up and combust over time. Most visible artists don’t begin on an enormous canvas with out doing numerous thumbnail sketches that assist sharpen their expertise and drive their imaginative and prescient. Writers can profit from the similar.

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3. Underpaintings

Conventional panorama and portrait artists typically start with a monotone underpainting utilizing sepia or cool tones. Primarily a base layer, this has two advantages: First, it permits the artist to play with the composition quickly in broad strokes earlier than committing to a specific format. It additionally forces him to place apart the situation of shade and see the picture when it comes to darkish and lightweight planes. The artist frames out the home earlier than placing up partitions. As soon as he begins making use of colour, he does so with a strong understanding of the picture’s layers and dimensions.

What I’m suggesting right here just isn’t outlining, which comes from the rational mind and works for some writers, however relatively fast, unfastened first drafts that spring from the unconscious like goals and proceed picture by picture. The novel I’m at present engaged on started with a 20-page broad stroke of the full story, and grew to 500 pages not in linear style, however mushroomlike, from the inside out. To put in writing this manner means you have to be working the entire canvas directly, relating one picture to a different throughout distances. To get caught in a single nook of the canvas dangers dropping the thread that connects it to the entire dwelling organism of the story.

Simply as painters should maintain the brush shifting, relating one colour to a different, writers should work threads forwards and backwards in order that their patterns of images relate and work collectively throughout the scope of many pages. Hold taking a look at your recurring pictures and see how they modify every time they floor in order that they’re by no means doing the similar work twice, all the time shifting the story ahead.

For instance, discover the grandmother’s hat in Flannery O’Connor’s basic brief story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” The hat is incidental to the plot however central to the characterization. Every time it seems, it factors to a shift. A author can’t obtain that kind of resonance on a minor observe with out continually working the entire piece directly. I don’t know if O’Connor began with what she would name an underpainting, however I might be prepared to guess she started with a single picture that exploded in all instructions.

To write down this manner, swift and spry, means giving ourselves permission to create what Anne Lamott in Hen by Fowl calls “shitty first drafts.” Equally, Stephen King in On Writing describes how he pens his first drafts with the door closed, nobody over his shoulder, his personal self-editing hat in a drawer. Not till the second draft does he open the door to permit in scrutiny. Fluid first drafts, like underpaintings, maintain open an area for the actual story to emerge.

In Your Studio

I just lately discovered wordless inspiration for the writing craft in a brief documentary about Picasso referred to as The Thriller of Picasso. The movie is just footage of Picasso portray—however what comes throughout is his extraordinary ruthlessness with regard to his photographs. He may begin out with a vase, for instance. Seeing it, you may assume to your self, That’s superb! It’s a Picasso vase! However immediately he goes again in and reworks the vase, reworking it right into a hen. Wow. Even higher. Certainly he’s not going to mess with it extra. He does, in fact. He obliterates the hen and makes it right into a demon with horns.

What’s beautiful to see is his full detachment from the endgame. It’s all course of. He has no loss aversion, no preconceived concepts that bind him. Though he started with a sort of underpainting—the vase—he follows every new brushstroke like a hunter who has no concept what he’s chasing however is decided to catch it. The movie presents a glimpse of pure inventive curiosity.

Nevertheless you possibly can, check out any nice artist in the midst of her course of and soak in that nimble, dynamic power. Take it house to your personal studio. Your writing will thanks.


Tess Callahan (tesscallahan.com) is writer of the novel April & Oliver, curator of muse-feed.com and a TEDx speaker. Her work seems in AGNI, Narrative and The New York Occasions Journal. Discover her on Fb, Goodreads and Twitter @TessCallahan.


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