Do you write what you see?

The bulk of this post is a repeat from last year. I was reminded of it while reading Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog post this morning. Since the topic is still worthy of discussion—and I’m frantic with preparations to leave Friday morning for my New York City trip—I decided to repost.

blindfoldedIt seems to me, the difference between the people who love to read and the people who are literate, but don’t read for pleasure, is the ability to visualize what you read. If the written word transports you to another world, it’s because you “see” that world. Some people find it hard to visualize the story. But sometimes even people with that mental eye have a hard time with a book, and that’s the author’s fault. We’ve all heard the admonition to “write what you know” and that’s good advice—then again, you can learn most of what you don’t already know. But can you write what you don’t see?

Now, I confess, I don’t know everything about writing, and I don’t write the way the how-to books tell me I should. I don’t start with an outline or proposal. I start with a scene. More specifically, I start with a conversation between the characters in that scene. And more often than not, the scene came from a dream. Maybe that’s why I do most of my writing with my eyes closed … I see the setting, watch the action, listen to the dialogue, and then I open my eyes and type. Even when I’m in a situation where I can’t close my physical eyes—when I’m driving, for instance—my mental eye is in that shuttered place where the story plays out. I can’t write what I can’t see.

Of course, the problem is that sometimes I fail to translate enough details of the “movie” to the page, and I thank my critique partners for pointing out those instances to me. But first, I have to see my story world because if I haven’t, how can I expect to transport my reader there?

After all, isn’t an author’s ability to draw us in and make us lose ourselves in their world, the reason we read fiction?

9 thoughts on “Do you write what you see?

  1. Well worth repeating!

    I think it’s interesting that you said you listen to the dialog. I think I “hear” my stories as much as, possibly more than, I see them.

    Have a great trip.

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    1. Yes, when the “magic” happens, the story really plays out like a movie and I just watch, listen, and record.

      Thank you for your well wishes. I hear it’s been quite rainy in NY, so that will be a change for me.

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  2. I both see and hear the story.
    But sometimes you’re so close to the story that you forget to tell the reader some small thing.
    Something YOU as the writer already know and it would never occur to you that the reader wouldn’t know it too.
    That’s where first readers are very helpful once you’ve got a working draft.
    My daughter asked me five pages into my wip on first reading if the main characters lived together.
    I went *huh* cause of course they don’t….but then all I had to do was insert a simple line of dialog that included “…I’ll stop by your house after dinner…” and all was clear to the READER as well.

    great post.
    Have a safe trip and bring us back some stories.
    Karen :0)

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    1. One thing I don’t do much is give a detailed physical description of my characters. I prefer to give hints of type and let the reader conjur up their own image. Though one of my critique partners did point out that I hadn’t given her any clue for my character Renee in my wip. And my Jalal is described in more detail because Meredith fantasizes about him.

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      1. Linda,
        I don’t do much physical description other than the basic things you notice about someone unless there’s a physical idiosyncracy that makes the person stand out.
        Like giant ears on a little kid. I think that’s so cute….
        oh and by the way I reread the “of course they don’t” and realized that some folks might think that I was making a social commentary…
        [smiling] I have a committed male gay couple in my book that have been together 12 years…the two characters that my daughter was asking about are BFF and in my mind I KNEW that they each had a separate residence, I just didn’t make it clear, especially since in one of the first scenes they are cooking a meal together. So she was correct in pointing out that I hadn’t made their living arrangements clear enough in the first few pages of the book.

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  3. I think we need all of our senses, some more than others, in our writing. I just wrote a post today about the soundtrack of your book. If you are writing about a time other than the present then music from that time can take you back, right there in the moment.

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  4. I hadn’t thought about this until I read your post but the answer is yes, I do write what I see. At least, I am at the moment and it works really well. I’m not sure I’ve always ‘seen’ my stories and maybe they are the ones that haven’t worked so well…an interesting question!

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