Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

Week of February 20—Gathering Ideas
Thursday, February 24—A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

In his book A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You, Ralph Fletcher talks about mind pictures. He writes:

Pay attention to your world. Wherever you are, at all hours of the day, try to drink in the world through your five senses, all of which are incredibly important tools for writers.

Step one: Pay attention. Be ready. Keep your senses peeled.
Step two: Write down what you notice before you forget.
Step three: Later, go back and reread your entry. See if you might want to write more about it.

From: A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You by Ralph Fletcher, p. 45

I am always telling stories. Things I've heard on the news, funny things I’ve observed, things that happened at school. But I seldom write those things down. I’m risking loosing those ideas/stories. And I realized today without writing those stories down, I can't find the connections between the stories that might link them into something bigger.

I used to write down things more than I do now. For many years I had booths in antique malls and would sell odds and ends. When I first started, I wrote a brief story to go with each item. My thought was that if I could keep people in the booth reading they might be more likely to buy. I think the owner and other dealers were more interested in my stories than the customers, but it still was a fun endeavor and it was a way to record some of my stories.

This is the Sanders family, circa 1964. That’s me on the front row, second from the right. I remember posing for the photo. As I look at it today, I get ideas for stories.
·   That’s my cousin Linda to my left. (The one waving.) We called ourselves twin cousins since we were born two months apart. Twin cousins—interesting story idea.
·   I think that must be my cousin Dean in the plaid shirt. I see a character in that boy.
·   My brother Butch and Uncle Jackie (both now deceased) are on the far right of the photo. They grew up only a couple of years apart. My mom always said she raised them both. That’s a story.
·   Grandpa Sanders (with the dark glasses) was a nearly-blind sharecropper/ shoe cobbler with six children. A War World I veteran, Grandpa was a proud and gentle man. Grandpa Sanders is a story waiting to be written.
·   My mom stands in front of Grandpa. She’s wearing a coat with a dark faux fur collar. Dad stands behind Grandpa and is dressed stylishly in a tab-collared shirt. I just noticed that he is the tallest man in the group. I have no memory of my parents looking like this. Maybe there’s a story in the reality and perception of our parents.
·   Almost hidden behind Grandpa is my Uncle Bud (aka Dr. Robert Richert). Uncle Bud and Aunt Betty (my dad’s only sister) were the only college-educated adults in this photo. Maybe there’s inspiration in that fact.

I’ll stop boring you. You get the idea. There are story ideas hidden in our photos. But we can also look for those ideas in the photos of strangers. Almost every thrift store, estate sale, or antique mall has boxes and bins of photos for sale. I have a friend who buys great vintage photos and calls the people in the photos his instamatic family. We can mine these photos for story ideas, too.

I found about twenty snapshots of this woman with her dog (and more of the dog's antics). I bought them. I don’t know why, but there’s a story there somewhere.

This photo is labled: Effie and her daughter, Evelyn. When I look at this photo, I wonder:
·   Who are these people?
·   Who is taking the photo?
·   Who or what is Effie pointing at?
·   Where has the car in the background taken them or where is it going to take them?
·   Why have they paused to take this photo?
·   What are they thinking? Feeling? Wondering?
·   What happened just before this photo?
·   What happened after this photo was taken?
·   What is Evelyn holding in her hand? She appears to be eating, but what?

This is why I can’t go into antique malls and flea markets very often. I can linger over the photos forever. Another thing I like to search out are vintage postcards. Not the destination kind, but the graphic kind. I’ll show you two of my postcards. See what questions they generate in your mind, what story titles pop up, and what plot lines they inspire.

If you’re searching for a story idea, look no further than the mental pictures you take each day, the photos on your walls, and your scrapbooks. But don’t stop there. Search for stories in the photos of others and maybe even the graphics of days gone by.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Go on a walk today. Take mental pictures and write down what you saw.
2. Look through some of your photos. What stories come to mind?
3. Use one of the photos or postcards above. Write down everything that comes to mind as you look at that image—questions, wonderings, thoughts, feelings, and so on.

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