Sometimes it is staring into that broad expanse of white that conceptualizes the writing problem. Whether it is real, tactile white bond or the flicker of the computer screen, there is something about blank paper and the vast horizon of possibility that sends the Muse packing. The solution (of course) is to get something – anything – down on that empty stretch of blinding white. But then the internal arguments start.
Maybe you prefer to write in order: beginning, middle, end. Maybe you prefer to outline. Maybe you prefer to write character profile cue cards. But what if something occurs to you out of sequence? The affect is a lot like asking an athlete “Do you inhale or exhale before you do that somersault?” As soon as the question occurs, you cannot ignore the intricacies of it and the ensuing mental analysis is guaranteed to mess you up. This is one way procrastination happens in writing. First you discover you never really thought about how writing happens. Then you did – and it derailed the whole trip to Museworld. Is there a fix?
For me it took realizing that Word can generate as many pages as I want. Or need. First, I allow for breakdowns if I want them. If the middle is happening before anything else, I start my document “Chapter 12,” or “Part 2”… Or I make a Brainstorm File, or an Excerpt File in which I store literary nuggets to browse for later import when the character or event decides to come out of newly constructed but preceding prose. The glory of the Infinite Page is wondrous. It lets the Muse sneak out of her hiding place, tag the blank page and bolt back to safety, quick as a bunny – no threats, no hassle. It’s ok to write ahead of yourself; it helps to know something of where you are going. That is where images come in handy; they come complete with distinct mood that has an emotional connection inviting your dissection and discovery. When you really examine an artistic image, you take away only a portion of what the artist intended; the rest is rooted firmly in your imagination and your mental litter of memories and experiences. This makes art a very convenient springboard into story.
Art does marvelous things to the brain. Just the right image at just the right time can cause exclamations of limited syllables to drop from the lips…the “oh’s” and “ah’s” that have a decidedly visual source. When you see art that does something for your fiction, you know it. That’s how illustrations in books and images in blogging got to be common and desirable. If there is an image, you see something of what the writer saw in his or her mind – what they are relating to and writing about; it adds color to what they are trying to convey. It should never be a prop, but a piece of the creativity – part of the collage. When installed first on an expanse of white, this can be a handy tool to empower the timid writing of those first tentative words because the words are not alone on the page. Art can BE the writing prompt. This is great news for the Horror writer.
Google images is my friend. It’s my ace-in-the-hole. When a story begins to form in my imagination, I grab the Muse by the hand and we go image-shopping. I type all manner of keywords floating in the amniotic fluid of my unborn story into the search box, and look for images that “speak” to the cause… When I find what I am looking for, I copy and paste them to my First Page, create my title, and use both to keep me centered and on-track. With those images, I am reminded of what I want to say, of the mood and timbre I want coloring the prose. I can let the image stand as a placeholder for a scene or an event that I need to lay the groundwork for, becoming a kind of storyboard sequence. Sometimes the image itself may spur imaginative twists that I had not considered, or even whole storylines that I had buried from years of nonwriting.
It was just such a search that led me to some really interesting art and artists. For Horror writers, creating images from writing in which the reader is drawn too far into the story to not commit completely and surrender to our writerly wiles becomes part of our prose climax…our coup de grâce. Being able to envision every detail of story is also an important part of establishing atmosphere in Horror. Horror is a visual smorgasbord from which the writer chooses very specific images to load into carefully selected lines of prose. If we fail to create resonant images in the reader’s head, we will fail to deliver the requisite payload of promised Horror. Mood and tone will disintegrate. Tension falls flat. We must connect emotionally with the reader or the game is over. So fixing the image in the imagination – transferring it from one mind and medium to another – becomes crucial. Describing it becomes the exercise in writing and teasing out the plot that transforms everything it touches.
There are several ways to do this: one could eat pepperoni and tabasco pizza before bed, watch re-runs of the original Twilight Zone, rent The Exorcist, or one can really look at interesting art. For those who don’t have a great art museum handy, many museums keep a rotation of their collection viewable online. I discovered the value in this when a class I took required just such a visit to the Museo Nacional del Prado in Italy (http://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/online-gallery/). This is a great way to find art that stirs the imagination and reaches deep when it comes to establishing mood and emotion in your writing. Portraits for character development, landscapes for setting, abstracts for tone… And if you still have doubts about the ability of art to impact life, writing, and the writer’s life, I would refer you to the book Leap by Terry Tempest Williams (New York, Vintage Books, c2000, $15.00), in which Williams, an (environmental essayist) spent seven years visiting Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights and contemplating its meaning and the discontent in her personal life. This is not as depressing as it might sound; every lover of the memoir, essay writing and fine art should read Williams’ truly fascinating account. As for the art… every Horror writer should know Bosch; I am personally convinced Clive Barker fell out of one of his paintings – most likely the third panel below.
Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights )
For those who prefer their artists more toward the contemporary end of things, we can thank the internet for some pretty incredible access. So far I have not found many comprehensive community sites, but many artists – like writers – are establishing electronic platforms and galleries for viewing. Just as with writers, some are still amateurs and others are polished professionals. They also tend to blog (such as with Open Salon’s own STATHISTATHI, or exhibit in online artist enclaves such as http://horrorgenre.com/Artists/). Others establish personal websites from which to exhibit their work and biographical profiles (such as Abril Andrade http://www.abrilandrade.com). Sometimes more than one forum is utilized and well worth the visit. Most artists are thrilled to “loan” their work to active blogs as long they are linked, but if you plan to use images for anything other than inspiration, you should query the artist for permission and/or conditions. The same holds true for Google images. If you find a work you like on Google images, click on it and then click on Go To Website for This Image to find contact and permissions information. This simple act can lead to some amazing and accidental discoveries of artists you never knew were out there.
Untitled by StathiShathi (http://www.redbubble.com/people/stathistathi/portfolio?page=5)
For example, it was just this sort of image hunt that led me to Deadcat Press, the art site for Canadian photographer and university professor of visual arts David Morrish. His website explains his work as reflecting his “main technical interest in photogravure and the creation of works on paper involving intaglio and letterpress… having worked with other alternative photographic processes including gum bichromate and pinhole…” This – it turns out – is really interesting stuff, and great for sparking the Horror imagination. So I decided to provide some examples here of his work as food for thought. Take a moment. Imagine you are standing in a major museum in the quiet of the off hours, pondering that blank piece of paper. Stare into the images. Extract the mood and see if using art as a writing prompt works for the writer in you… (although I don’t recommend staring for seven years unless you’ve really got the chops and maybe a good therapist or a book contract.)
Tampa by David Morrish
Untitiled by David Morrish
Odocoileus by David Morrish
(David Morrish is the co-author of Copper Plate Photogravure: Demystifying the Process, by David Morrish and Marlene MacCallum, published by Focal Press in March, 2003. You can find information on this book as well as the process of photogravure on www.photogravure.net. Contact the artist at his site: http://www.davidmorrish.com Deadcat Press, and more at http://darkdissolution.blogspot.com/