Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Picture Tells the Story

What's the old saying? A picture tells a thousand words.

If that really is the case, I have one heck of a story going. Over the course of our long weekend getaway, I took 235 pictures! That comes to 235,000 words. Too bad I can't really count that toward my writing progress this week! :)

It's easy to get carried away. Especially in the age of digital cameras. I usually average between 100 and 200 pictures for long weekend vacations. On our cruise this past spring I was a little over 400. When we moved our one-room schoolhouse here in town I took over 100 in one day. Things really have changed from the time of roll film. I took a trip during college to England for three weeks. I of course brought my camera. And three rolls of film. Yep. That's it. I don't know if I was worried about having enough space. Or the cost of the film. Or if I really thought 84 pictures would be enough. And I captured some great moments. But looking back, I wish I'd captured more. Especially since I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to return. I wish I'd been a bit more discerning in the pictures I took. I have some wonderful pictures of all the places we visited: London, Nottingham, Stratford, Cambridge. But then I have pictures of the rooms of the house we stayed in. Of the swans on the river. Nice, but not much different than pictures I can take right here.

Pictures really do help tell our stories. Even though our weekend trip lasted only three days, the memories made will last a lifetime. And the pictures will help us remember those good times. Eventually, those pictures will go into a scrapbook. I love putting scrapbooks together. I used to think I needed to use every picture I took. But that's a lot of pictures to deal with, so I've gotten better at choosing just the right ones for each page and not cramming every single one on.

The pictures are of people and places. Sometimes it's a group shot, sometimes it's a couple, sometimes it's just the gals or just the guys, or sometimes it's even a single person. I take pictures of all the places we visit. From lots of different angles, some zoomed in, some farther away. Some of just the place. Some with people in front of it or next to it or behind it. And while it's nice to have all of those pictures of the places, it's easy to get carried away and let the background get in the way of the people who were there. The places are an important part of the trip, but the focus really should be on the people who are in those places, right?

Writing is a lot like this, too. When I create a world for my characters, I want to explore it and spend as much time there as possible. I want my reader to experience it along with me, which means lots of details and descriptions. But I have to be careful not to get too carried away. I can't let the setting detract from my characters and their story. Yes, the setting is important, but it's what the characters do and feel and experience in that setting that really makes the story. So like choosing the best picture to use in a scrapbook, it's important to choose just the right details in a story. I want my stories to feel real and have an accurate sense of time and place, but I also want my characters to stand out and not get bogged down and lost in endless pages of description. It's a fine line to balance. So it's okay to use the delete button during edits. I don't have to keep every single word I (painstakingly) wrote during drafting, just like I don't have to use every single picture I took on my scrapbook page. The story will still shine through, and perhaps even better when it's not bogged down with all of that background.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!



  1. Love the scrapbooking analogy, Debra! I have equal difficulties with both. In my writing, I usually swing between too much description or not enough, so my editing rounds often focus on balancing it out. Hope you enjoyed your trip!

  2. Great post, Debra! I also take masses of photos, and then decide which to put in my scrapbook. When I was in Croatia and got an idea for a story, I took a lot of photos of places I wanted to use in the story (I always regretted not doing this while I was in Egypt!).
    I agree about concentrating on the characters, which is what readers of romance novels want, not pages of description of places (I tend to skip lengthy descriptions when I'm reading anyway!)
    Sometimes a couple of well-chosen sentences is enough to give the flavour of a place. In my current WIP, I studied my photos of Connemara and then managed to describe it in 2 sentences!

  3. I am so glad you enjoyed your trip, Debra!
    And I agree. Settings need just the right number of words to describe. Familiar spaces need just a few. Foreign, alien worlds or times might need more.

  4. Jen, Our trip was soooooooooo much fun.

    Paula, I do have lots of pictures of real places I've based stories on. They are good for reference and for posting on blogs for promotion!

    Ana, that's so true about sci-fi type stores. Much more description is needed in those.