Wordsmith Wednesday–Artistry and Writing


I spent a good part of the morning at the museum, preparing for a tour on Friday for 4th graders. The feature exhibit is Chester Arnold, a contemporary California environmental artist. In the center of the gallery is a display of the tools Arnold uses to create his work: palettes, oils, brushes–all the implements of painters. I like to ask the children what kind of tools artists use. When they’ve replied as expected, I take it a step further and discuss the elements and principles of art such as color, line, shape, texture… As I was thinking about my tour strategy, the thought came to mind that, as writers, we employ some of these same tools to give depth, perspective, unity and beauty to our art. Here are a few (only a few) to consider:

  • Balance–how do you achieve balance in writing? In fiction, it’s important to consider variations of moods, pacing, narrative and dialogue. For example, if you are writing a thriller, give the reader a chance to catch his breath now and again. This can be done by using pacing techniques. Ramp up the intensity by using short sentences, fast-paced action then ease up and throw in a little scene of description or reflection. Balance dialogue with narrative. Too much of either overwhelms (or underwhelms.)
  • Color–yes, color. Bring color into descriptions but also into character. When I wrote the first draft of my first novel all the characters resembled one another and they were boring (probably because they were all like me!) Give those people inhabiting your pages flaws, tics, obsessions, cultural variations–whatever it takes to distinguish them one from another. I find it helpful to think of people I know and to use the Myers-Briggs when developing personalities. (You may want to refer to my previous post on Myers-Briggs).
  • Perspective. Add depth to your characters and story by subtly including background reference. This can be done by careful inclusion of flashbacks or in the course of conversations. Be careful not to take the reader out of the story, though. Another way to add perspective is by judicious use of point of view. Many writers advise staying in a single viewpoint. If that suits you, be sure to choose the character and the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) that best suits your story. I like to shift points of view, usually keeping it to two or three maximum, with the protagonist maintaining center stage. If you do choose multiple points of view, be careful to differentiate by chapter or scene changes. Don’t confuse the reader.

I could go on and on, using the tools of art as a metaphor for writing, and perhaps I will in another post. I hope these considerations are helpful to you. I invite you to think about how they can be applied to poetry as well as fiction.

Myers-Briggs Post: https://liv2write2day.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/character-development/

6 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Artistry and Writing

  1. Jamie Dedes says:

    Bravo! Well done … added value, I like the picture in my mind of the children at the museum. Lovely …

    With regard to “color–yes, color. Bring color into descriptions but also into character. When I wrote the first draft of my first novel all the characters resembled one another and they were boring (probably because they were all like me!)

    Well, I’m sure not boring at all or you wouldn’t be able to write anything engaging, and we know you can and do. But I had an interesting experience in an art class (my one and only – 6 weeks, 1 day a week) with a local SF Bay area artists: Alice Arthur Wolfe. This was many years ago, and she’d just returned from teaching art to children in China. One exercise she had our small group of six (that number again!) do was to take turns drawing each other. Turned out that for each of us, each of our five drawings looked rather like us. … It was quite amazing. She said that we always draw ourselves! Perhaps we always write ouselves as well.

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  2. souldipper says:

    Many thanks for your willingness to remind, refresh and review.

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  3. I was doing my daily search of articles and stumbled upon this one. I must thank you for the helpful tips in relating writing to artistry. I’m nearly finished writing my first novel, but find my characters dull and boring. Your tips will help me to create a more “colorful” picture of my characters during my editing/revision process. A very helpful post, indeed!

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    • Congratulations on completing an enormous step (almost). The book, “Please Understand Me” about the Myers-Briggs personality types helped me a lot. The Enneagram could be good, too. Good luck with the rewrite. ..it’s lots of work, though. Are you part of a critique group? Thanks for stopping by, Stacy.

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