“Show don’t tell” is an important rule in writing, but it can sometimes be hard to wrap your brain around. I think this is why writers should study visual media. Reading is, of course, vital to the craft. It trains writers how to put images into words. But visual media stimulate the imagination to come up with those images that are dripping with meaning. This is one of the reasons I disagree strongly with people who say all television is a waste of time for a writer. I challenge anyone to come up with a better tutorial on narrative tension and imagery than episodes of the classic Twilight Zone.
Painting and sculpture are even better at training the writer’s mind to distill an image. Look at those shoes. They are compelling exactly because they communicate a message without saying it straight out. The only cheat a sculptor has is the title; a good title complements the piece instead of explaining it. But even when the sculptor cheats, the visual still enters our mind first, and we already have a working theory of what it means by the time we read the little placard posted next to it.
So, which is better? “The standards of beauty tortured her,” or, “she chose the gold sandal heels with the brass tack insole?”
I find this sculpture by Yoshitoshi Kanemaki very evocative. There are any number of stories that could grow out of this image, from the symbolic shedding of one’s former life to the more literal notion of a human/reptile hybrid shedding his skin, a human butterfly breaking free of its chrysalis. Click the image for more. Hat tip Beautiful/Decay.
I’ve always loved fiction that reaches beyond the page, or the screen, or the speakers, to create a deeper, multidimensional experience. The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy is an epistolary work composed of removable letters and postcards. Paul McComas’s novel Unplugged has a companion CD of songs purportedly written by the main character Dayna Clay. The above image is a sculpture collection with a corresponding bit of historical fiction. I highly recommend checking it out here!
Artist Maskull Lasserre takes pre-existing generic wooden sculptures and “recarves” them to display the anatomy beneath the surface. I find these works very profound. Beneath the surface of everything we see is a complex reality. The best writing is able to crack the world open and let us see the innards in all its messy glory.