To Draw or Not to Draw

A week ago, I sat down with the first draft of my novel and started an official re-write. I didn’t just talk about it or think about it. I actually moved things around and added content where content was due. Since then, I turned to other pieces of writing with more critical deadlines and managed to get a hefty cold. So, the rewrite sits. And, waits.

In that week’s time, however, I received my November issue of The Writer, in which several authors focus on the art of developing a sense of place in a story. Phillip Martin (in “Power Your Story with a Sense of Place”) emphasizes that “[p]lace influences stories far more than many writers realize.” It can make or break a story. Linda Lappin (in her article, “See with Fresh Eyes”) suggests creating a “deep map” of a neighborhood to draw material for a story.

Jennifer Neri recently posted about people in landscape, where several writers commented on the art of describing a place. But, Phillip Martin and Linda Lappin seem to imply more than just good, vivid descriptions of a setting for a scene. I’ve heard of authors who map out a whole city where a story takes place. Some draw or paint pictures of a character’s dwelling. For my story, so far, I have a vision of the apartment where my main character lives, but I’ve yet to put the image down on paper. And, I don’t have a city map that mirrors how the story unfolds.

What’s your tactic? Does every story need an intricate and detailed layout of floor plans and elevations and street maps? Do you sketch your images in a notebook separate from the one with character development and story time lines?

I love to draw -my friends say I’ve developed quite a style in the stick figure arena. I’m curious, though, as to how much time an author should spend on creating a visual sense of place versus time spent on developing the story itself?


10 responses to “To Draw or Not to Draw

  1. Christi,
    I am writing a memoir (creative non-fiction) so more than just imagining a location I am having to use my five senses to recall a location, event, time and try and bring the reader into what I saw, heard, smelled, felt, etc. It is really hard for me. I learned bunches reading Sue William Silverman’s book about writing memoir, “Fearless Confessions” where she talks a lot about showing not telling. But in the end I think you have to just ask yourself the question, how much description truly adds to the reader’s understanding of the story, and how much becomes just filler and might actually bore the reader? IMHO.


    • Julie,
      For memoir, I can see how old photos, and even a return to the scene where the story takes place, would strengthen a story. Check out a copy of the November issue of The Writer. The articles I mentioned also include exercises to help the author develop that sense of place. I’ll also have to take a look at Sue William Silverman’s book, thanks!

  2. Great question, Christi.

    I haven’t thought of it that clearly. With my memoir, like Julie, I have to use my senses but I do have my memory. There is one section where I don’t really remember (have blocked out, I believe one would say *grin*) and I’m thinking of driving it to remember (except is was 30 years ago – ooops).

    So – to draw or not? Hmmm. I don’t think I’d want to spend a lot of time on it. But I could see where, in my nanonovel, it would be helpful for me to get a better sense of the place. Some of it is based within a couple hours of home, so – though I haven’t thought about it until now – I think it would be good for me to go there with my digital camera and record some things. And there are places in my novel where I need to know where things are located because directionality does play a part. I’m thinking more like a stage set drawing (overhead aerial) … but I think I’d want to keep it simple and not get lost in the drawing.

    And I’m going to look for that issue of The Writer – my favorite writing mag, but I don’t subscribe and Powell’s doesn’t carry it any more. (Bad Powells!)

    • Dot,
      I like the idea of an aerial drawing and would add a quick sketch of my character’s living space, to help keep me straight. I’m also reminded how sometimes I write a story based on my own known facts, and I forget that the reader isn’t privy to details that play out clearly in my mind. I guess that’s another reason why drawing an image ahead of time might ensure I paint a clear picture with my words.

      And, let me know if you can’t track down a copy of the magazine.

  3. My current novel focuses on two fictional towns, though one is loosely based on a real town. I see these only in my head, but I see them clearly.

    I always visualize the houses where my characters live and I do it in great detail. I don’t put all this in the book, of course, but I can “walk” through the rooms and see everything, down to the color of the towels, and what’s on the refrigerator shelves. I’m a visual artist, so I think that’s why I do this, and do it easily. It’s not really a conscious decision; I just “see” these things as the story forms. I don’t need to draw it, but I could.

    I always have a clear idea of all my character’s type, but don’t always focus in for the details for minor ones. But I do for my main characters. As you know, I even painted a portrait of my character Jalal.

    To be honest, I can’t imagine how you could write without having these images in mind.

    • Linda,
      Your comment encourages me to think through my process a little more. I do have images in my head, but sometimes they come to me like dreams, dim and in pieces. I like that you see the room all the way down to what’s in the refrigerator. I probably need to widen my vision and include more color. If I did that, maybe I’d find my novel re-write process a little smoother and less daunting.

  4. I don’t think every story needs an intricate layout of floor plans, but I’ve found I do need to see floor plans and the area clearly in my mind’s eye or I start to feel ungrounded.

    It probably comes down to how visual you are – like you, I have a dreamlike view of my characters’ homes (one woman’s refrigerator, not all!), but I don’t feel I need to sketch it out. I’ve taken pictures of houses similar to my characters, and then re-imagined from there.

    • Those are both good points: not every story requires detailed images, depending on the intricacy of the story and on my ability to visualize a place or setting.

      Based on all your comments, and the articles in The Writer, I have a boxful of exercises I can try in regards to my novel rewrite. Thanks!

  5. Christi – I am getting into the discussion a bit late- but was pleased to see that you had mentioned my article in the writer. I ‘m working on a book of exercises on capturing the soul of place, and I was wondering if you would invite me to guest blog on the topic — and include a brief exercise for your readers to try and comment on. many thanks

    • Linda,

      I would be honored to have you guest post. And, I’m always up for writing exercises. That sounds like a lovely idea!

      You can contact me via email @ writeunderpressure (at) gmail (dot) com, and we can set up a date.

      Thanks so much!

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