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Five Photography Hints to help your Writing

March 23, 2010

It’s rare indeed to come across a writer who doesn’t indulge in another creative pursuit. Many writers paint, draw, sing, knit or sew their way through occasional bouts of writer’s block. All creative pursuits stimulate the brain, firing us up to see connections we may not have seen before, or prompting us to take a look at something tired or familiar with fresh eyes. Having said that, instead of simply doing the hobby when the writing runs dry, it’s entirely possible to apply the principles of the hobby to stop the block in the first place.

I don’t just scribble the days away – I’m a keen amateur photographer as well. I’ve been writing for a lot longer, but I remember my mother giving me my first camera aged 10, and coaching me in the various photographic principles that go into creating interesting and unique photographs. Despite the fact that one pursuit is written and the other visual, I think there are a lot of parallels between the two – in fact, I think that there are five photographic rules which can help with your writing!

1. Framing/composition

Image used with permission of the author

What lifts a photograph from being a mere snapshot to a piece of art is its composition. Anyone with a camera can merrily snap away at the world around them, but only a photographer will pause, and take time to frame their shots, including only that which is necessary for the story of the shot. Writing is no different. We all tell each other about our lives all the time, but it’s only when we stop to compose the information that we end up with a narrative. Hitchcock said that fiction was life with the dull parts taken out – composition does just that. We don’t need to know every hour of a character’s back story to truly appreciate them – frame the story so we only hear what we need to hear.

2. Focal point

This ties in with point 1. We’ve all seen dull, flat photographs with no real focal points before. Flat, endless landscapes or street scenes with no identifiable points of interest are two of the main culprits. It’s not that they’re necessarily bad photographs, it’s simply that there is nothing to draw the attention of the viewer. Meandering prose can be just as unremarkable – don’t forget to add an anchor to your writing. A visual motif, snappy dialogue or a memorable character will help draw the attention to the story, making sure your reader doesn’t lose interest and go in search of something else.

3. Viewpoint

Image used with permission of the author

It seems unlikely, but it is possible to take thousands of photos of the same thing without ever taking the same photo, all due to simply shifting your point of view. Do the same with writing – you can write about the same things as everyone else, but if you always take a different viewpoint, then your work will seem fresh. Charlaine Harris’ work is a case in point – everyone was writing about vampires, but she added the slant about the human thirst for vampire blood, and thus a new perspective was born. If you can’t think of anything new to say, try and think of a new way to say something familiar.

4. Preparation

Image used with permission of the author

‘Always Be Prepared’ is a useful motto in most, if not all, walks of life, but it’s especially important in photography. You don’t want to find yourself out in the middle of nowhere when a rare bird suddenly lands and preens its glossy feathers in front of you – for a good ten minutes. It would make a glorious photo – if only your camera wasn’t at home. Equally, how often do you have an amazing idea for a scene, a character, or even a full story, when you have no means of writing it down? Always carry something to write both on and with, since inspiration has a nasty habit of striking when you’re least prepared. I’ve taken to utilising the ‘Notes’ function on my phone if I’m stood in a queue at the bank while my bag (and notebook) are in the office – get creative!

5. Look Behind You

It’s a well-worn photographic mantra that, when searching for new views, one should always turn around, as the best vista is often the one behind you. Much like point 3, don’t always go for the obvious. Everyone takes photos of the Taj Mahal, but what does it face? Would that make an equally interesting photo? Consider this when writing. Sometimes your characters will even rebel against what you think you want them to do, and downright fight any progress you try to make on your story. When this happens, turn around. A better story might be right there behind you.

Well, what are you waiting for? Get out those cameras and notebooks!

Icy Sedgwick is an office manager and writer, born in the North East of England and currently living in London. She prefers to write speculative fiction, and enjoys participating in the Friday Flash Fiction. She also writes blog entries about film, history, art and writing over on her blog. You can follow her on on Twitter at icypop.

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5 Comments
  1. March 23, 2010 4:24 am

    Great post. I’m a bit of a photographer too.

    For me, I think it’s helped me look at things in detail which I can then use for better descriptions in my prose.

  2. March 23, 2010 9:08 am

    I couldnt have said it better myself. The intricate detailing it takes to be a photographer it also take to be a writer. Two very rewarding endevors.

  3. March 23, 2010 10:31 am

    Thanks for this. It has provided me with quite a bit of food for thought.

  4. March 24, 2010 6:59 am

    Great job dear…….Really like your post……I get very useful knowledge and way of thinking differently in the profession of photography…..Also clear some new technology ???

  5. March 25, 2010 5:51 pm

    Wonderful connections between writing and photography, Icy. Well done. ;-)

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