My Mind’s Eye

This week we are asked if we use ‘visuals’ when doing our writing. That is to say, do we seek out pictures that match our expectations of our characters and settings?

Many writers go so far as to have bulletin boards in the homes or offices or use Pintrest and the like. They search in books, magazines, online or they go out and actually shoot photos of people or places that help them to keep a person or place in mind.

A dear, late friend of mine, Linda, the one who got me back to writing in earnest and led me to my first piece being published, (which led to so much more, including being here), used to send picture after picture to me with attributes she pictured in her characters and settings that she had in mind.

I have not felt the need for this.

But let me quickly add that I have not written as much fiction as many others and certainly not as many characters. Much of my writing has been based on events in my life or of those around me, and only some of it has been fictionalized, so there has been no need for outside visuals; I’ve a great deal of what I write about and that part of my memory is still good.

However,that may change. And it isn’t that I have not been inspired by visuals, quite the contrary!

A bit of scenery in a movie many years ago let to a long, involved series of fictional correspondence between two people, which I reworked into one, long letter from the one I pictured at the scene.( I will have to find that work. I may be able to use some of it now!)

And I know I have mentioned this here, but a photo posted by our Founding Fox, Jillian Chantel, on her “Wordless Wednesday” blog, instantaneously inspired the bulk of the one romance novel that I keep working on, (slowly. I will, however, get it put all together).

So , until I take more time and write more that I pull purely out of my hat, (or what is under it), no visuals…but that is not to say I never will. I just don’t see finding someone who would take the place of someone that I picture in my mind.

In fact, the convenience of audiobooks is great, but if I listen to one from a series I have read, I just can’t do it. I already have that person’s “voice” in my head. And that is probably why I would rather see a movie based on a book first, before I read it. I am less apt to be disappointed.

However, to any movie producers out there: Enough green will overcome any casting discrepancies you and I may have. Yes, it could.

Posted in Books, characters, inspiration, Tonette Joyce, Visuals, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Visualize This

By Jeff Salter

It’s a two-parter this week:

  1. Do I use visuals when writing?
  2. When in the writing process do I settle the visual issues of character and setting?

My jumbled up answers will (hopefully) respond to both.

Do I use external visuals?

Basically, no. At least not the type I’ve seen described by many other authors. I know of several writers who use Pinterest (or other sites) to assemble collections of visuals related to their W.I.P. Not me. I know of many who assemble physical scrapbooks or folders of related material. Not me. I know of at least one very successful author who purchases a new journal book (for each W.I.P.) and begins taking detailed notes on nearly every aspect of their upcoming story. Not me. I know of many other authors who craft detailed charts and boards and other things. Not me. William Faulkner supposedly scrawled the complicated lineage of his fictitious families on the walls of his home in MS. Not me.


In the 11 novels and four novellas I’ve completed so far – and in the several others which are half-finished or more – I believe it’s accurate to say that (starting out) I rarely have a mental picture of my characters — beyond perhaps imagining certain movie stars for a few of my heroines.

In my first three novels (all set in or near the real city of Somerset KY), I was scrupulous to describe the real geography, terrain, and other features of this actual place. But I realized that was hemming me in too tightly. So for all the rest of my stories – and, likely, for all those in my future writing – I’ve used fictional settings.

The Town I Created

Most of my stories are set in the fictional town of Verdeville TN in fictional Greene County — just east of Nashville. On an actual map, it would be approximately where Lebanon TN sits. But I have purposefully avoided looking too closely at real Lebanon because I want my Verdeville to be as flexible as I need it to be. I’ve used the real Cumberland River, I-40, and several of their actual highways, but I’ve adjusted the meanderings of each and given the interstate more exits.

What I Do

All of my stories cover a specific timeframe. When I first began writing novels, these calendars might span months. Later, I got into a groove of stories which covered about 2-3 weeks. The novella I recently released (One Simple Favor) actually spans only about 12 hours. And a novella I’m just about to finish drafting will have cover a time period of approximately ONE HOUR. But, whatever the length of time in that story, I need to know what day it is and how much time has elapsed… so every title has its own calendar.

For every novel and most novellas, I at least have a list of the characters. Usually none have names when I begin writing, but I indicate their relationship to each other, their approximate age and status, and where they work (if that’s important to the story). If it’s significant I also note what type of vehicle they drive. For the two primary characters, I often sketch out some back-story as well.

To keep my characters straight as I’m drafting (before I name everybody), I use codes:

FA = the heroine
FB = usually FA’s best friend
FC = often a relative (of FA or M1), sometimes a co-worker (of FA or M1)
FD = often a principal character needed for the plot but NOT otherwise affiliated with either FA or M1
Etc. (often I’ll have all the way through FI or FJ)
M1 = the hero
M2 = usually M1’s best friend (if he has one)
M3 = often a co-worker or relative, but sometimes the villain! (depends partly on how early M3 appears in the story)
M4 = might be the spouse of boyfriend of FB
M5 = often a principal character needed for the plot but NOT otherwise affiliated with either FA or M1
Etc. (often I’ll have all the way through M-12 or M-13)

Some of these characters do not actually appear in the story, but I need their identification (and their relationship to another character) for one or more points of reference.

Typically, the shorter the story, the fewer characters. Makes sense — right?

Amanda Moore or Less

I believe my most complex chart with character names and relationships is for this series which (so far) includes my screwball comedies, “Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold” and “Scratching the Seven-Month Itch.” Jason and Amanda each had their own friends (and relatives) and yet there were some characters both of them knew. And some of those characters knew each other (or worked together). So I had to chart all that out. That particular chart also indicates what type of vehicles are involved with each character (if they use their own vehicle in the story). This particular chart has 46 names!

Heart of Magnolia

Some stories I’ve written in the fictional town of Magnolia AL, a place created by a group of authors at Clean Reads (formerly Astraea Press). The series is called “The Heart of Magnolia” and so far the only released title is my own “The Ghostess and MISTER Muir.” But others are in the pipeline, I think, and still others being written. I, myself, have started at least three other stories in Magnolia (and hope one day to complete them and submit them for consideration).

What we created for this fictional town are detailed maps, with street names, with many/most downtown buildings identified, and a host of characters named and/or described. As I was writing G&MM, it was fun to send them to a particular restaurant – created and described by a colleague – and have them enter that other author’s “reality”. One example: My main characters teach at Magnolia H.S. and one of our colleagues mapped out the locations of various departments and classrooms.


I guess I’m a bit lazy. If I’m inclined to work on Story ABC, I want to dive in and write the scene, the dialog, the exchange (or whatever). I don’t want to put that creative energy on hold while I write note cards, make spreadsheets, or draw diagrams. When I realize I need them – and only then – I’ll stop what I’m doing and create those props. But until I stop the word production to create those VISUALS, I usually just leave a detailed note at the pertinent spot in my ms. Something like “check whether FA can see the river from her couch”. Or questions like, “how old was M1 when he joined the military?”.

After I’ve finished my first draft, I can go back and wrestle with such details. Unless it’s something I have to know RIGHT THEN. In which case, I will stop everything and draw the map!

What I have done (for some titles) is:

* create back-story timelines (especially if a lot hinges on when – and how far apart – things occurred)

* draw maps (whether it’s an apartment complex, a ranch/farm, or a neighborhood). [A few of my novels have so many characters, that I lost track of them until I numbered them and plotted their movements on my map.]

* draw floor plans (whether it’s a hotel layout, a specific set of rooms, or even a single space). [In some of my scenes, it’s important for me to know exactly what a character can see – or cannot see – from a particular vantage point.]


How much do YOU rely on visuals in your writing?

Or, if you’re more of a reader than a writer, how important are the story’s descriptive details to you? Do you prefer the author to layout the general sense of a character / place? Or do you want a nearly photographic representation?

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The Visual

This week’s topic is visuals while writing. When I first started writing Love Overcomes I did not use visuals. I knew what my characters and where they were at looked like. As I talked to some of my friends who are authors I was told a lot about Pinterest. I had never really used the site before that. I didn’t create my board on Pinterest until after the rough draft was finished. While it was going through edits I did go and pin a lot of things. I found some things that were similar to what I had described and pinned them. I had to go back and add some details and change a few things. Creating the board helped me to get some details I needed about house style and dress style.

I did an extensive amount of research on the Disney parks so I could write one chapter. That was fun. I read through several sites and looked through so many pictures, I watched videos. I remember my daughter had to get stitches. The day that it was time to get them out she was crying and not wanting to hold still. Having her close her eyes I “walked” her through Disney World while they removed the stitches. Before we left the nurse had wondered if we’d ever been there. I told her no I was simply a writer who had done a lot of research about it.

I think visuals can really help, especially if you are trying to write about a real place. I can go back and look to see where this is positioned and make sure that I get it all down properly.

Dream casts is something I tend to do now. When writing I will describe my characters then when I am done writing for that day I head over to Pinterest to find an actor or model who is similar in appearance to the character I have introduced. This helps me to remember who had what color of eyes or if they have a lopsided smile as I may notes in the pin. I do edit a lot of my notes before I make the boards public though. ;)

When writing Jade I used Pinterest a lot. A LOT. It was my best friend during the writing of that story. Jade is set in the future after governments collapsed and electricity failed. I searched for abandoned towns, factories, amusement parks. Pioneer and earlier dress, homes, and shops were even looked up so I could mimic some styles in this world that needed to rebuild because it had lost all conveniences. I had Pinterest pulled up every time I sat down to write all the way until I finished the last bit of edits.

While I can write without the visuals I do find that it helps especially if I am not working on a contemporary. As a reader do you like when an author shares inspirations for things in their stories?

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0? Off Topic?

off topic

I seem to have been off on what topic I should be writing on, but I’m going to go with the subject I have for this week as it seems to be the same as Patricia has written her Monday blog on.

writing muse

The question is: “Do you use visuals when writing?” The only visual I could truthfully say I use is whatever’s on my mind when my head’s in the story I’m writing. The same goes for what my characters look like. I’m a “pantster” and I just stand in front of my computer and write what my muse tells me; no Pinterest or anything “similar.” :) I’m sorry I didn’t have a more unique creative process to share with you today.


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A Picture is Worth … Less Writing Time!

This week one of our foxes asked a question about our writing process – specifically, whether or not we use visuals when writing.

LondonI think this is a very logical thing to do – but then, no one has ever accused me of being logical! It makes sense to have a clear picture of your characters and setting BEFORE writing. Most of the time the setting is not a problem, because I tend to place my stories in real places that I’ve visited and I have (or can find) photos to remind myself of what they look like. I do a lot of scrapbooking so I can open up an album. Online mapping sites help me determine how far apart different locations are so I can figure out how long it would take a character to get from one place to another.

writer choosingCharacters are another matter. Often, I’ll base a character on someone I know. Or I’ll have someone in mind. But after working out the personality and temperament, and spending a lot of time working out the goals, motivation, and conflict (GMC) that drive the person, I start writing. Soon I find myself having to make decisions about hair color, eye color, height, and so on. Often I’ll decide and forget to write the information where I can easily find it. And then I’m embarrassed when the hero’s eyes turn from blue to brown to green or a buxom blonde heroine suddenly become a red-haired waif.

Stitching Post CharactersWhen I first started work on a series of books about the ladies in a quilt guild, I asked a friend to co-write them with me. Fortunately, Stephanie Michels is much more organized than I am, and she set up a spreadsheet of characters specifying all their physical traits as well as family statistics (spouse’s names, number of children and their ages), occupations, and all sorts of other details. Just for fun, I started looking online for pictures of people I thought fit my mental image of some of the main characters and adding those to the database. Two things happened when I did this. One, it became easier to incorporate more description in my narrative, and two, promoting the book became easier because I had a portfolio of my book’s key elements once the book was released. Of course, for promotions I had to make sure that the pictures I used were in the public domain or stock photos I had purchased.

Stack of books and stationery isolated on white

About five or ten years ago several fellow members of my writing group shared scrapbooks they put together of their books. They’d found all sorts of photographs copied from the internet or clipped from magazines, quotes that they felt represented characters or the theme of the book, even fabric swatches for clothes they might wear. At the time, I thought that was a lot of extra work. But after seeing some of the initial edits on my books I think their book bibles are probably a good idea – except I’d probably do a digital edition to save time and space.

I have a Pinterest account and have boards for almost all of my books. But they were all set up AFTER writing the books. I’ve used the account mostly for promotion, to show potential readers what I had in mind while writing. And from time to time I invite readers to share pictures with me to put on the boards. But this would be an ideal place to collect pictures and websites that I use for research. And since Pinterest links you to the original content I don’t have to worry about finding royalty-free pictures.

I guess this would make a good writing resolution: for my next new project, I need to spend time gathering more visual materials BEFORE writing. Hopefully this will cut down on wasted time both in writing and editing. Time management gurus often tell us the more we prepare, the less time we waste. I try to prepare for my day by setting out the things I need the night before. Perhaps I need to do that with my writing, too.

Posted in Patricia Kiyono, Preparing for writing, Visuals | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Don’t want to change

I completely missed this week. I’ve been away from my place all week. Burning the midnight oil to get things done for a book so it can be out on time in the fall. Here is my post for this past week.

It seems that every author wants to be a best selling author. To be able to quit their job and concentrate on writing the stories that only they can tell. Imagine making enough money from your books that you could stop the daily grind for someone else? Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Oh but wait….That time clock may not be needing punched any more but there is stil someone that needs to be answered to. The changes that would come from becoming a best selling author with losts of money from royalties could put a lot of stress in my life. I imagine there would be much more pressure to put out the next book. When will it be done? The publisher wants to know, the fans want to know. This can be great motivation but I enjoy sitting down and strolling with my stories. I like to take my time and get to know my people and where they are from. At the moment it feels like I am writing for my own enjoyment and I hope it never stops feeling that way.

The travel. Book signings in major cities, conventions where I would have to speak in front of crowds, and movie premiers (because the books will be turned into movies ;) ) would probably become regular events around release time. I don’t do well in crowds. That is something I would have to learn to overcome since I would not be able to avoid that. I’d hire my older sister to be my assistant so she could travel with me and my children. After I was finished at whichever event we would go out and enjoy some family time.

I’d finally buy a bit of land and build my dream house. I know the type of house I want. It is nothing fancy but it is perfect for my family. It would be large but not a mansion. I do have four siblings and would love to host family gatherings. Of course there would be a large library and that is where I would work. A little corner of it would hold my desk and computer.

I think when I was not expected to make an appearance somewhere my daily routine would be much the same. My children would still be more important than anything else. I’d still spend time with them and run around doing goofy things with them. My daughter could finally go to the boarding school she wants to go to ( it has a day option so she could come home at the end of the day, the place is beautiful).

I suppose it would change my life in a great many ways but in the areas of my life that are important I hope it would not change much. I would still be me, would still take my children to church, would spend as much time with my children as possible, and would keep writing.

What is the first thing you would purchase should you suddenly become rich?

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“There’ll Be Some Changes Made”

“If I were suddenly a bestselling author with lots of fame & royalties… how might my life and/or my typical days be different?” That is the question of the week.

Well, I think I covered what I would do altruistically when we were asked sometime back about suddenly getting our mitts on a million bucks,(“If I Were a Rich [Wo]Man” Sept. 5, 2014), but day-to-day?

I would certainly streamline a few things around here. I would have said I’d enlarge my house to make things easier, but since I am near a prominent corner and there is interest is in acquiring my place to be built upon, I think moving would be in order.
When I met a New York Times best-selling author, I asked her about time to write. I added, “Oh, but you must have [hired] help.” She said, almost apologetically, “I do. I have so many people working for me right now it is embarrassing.” I said, “Oh, don’t apologize for giving people jobs! I would LOVE to be in the position to give people jobs.” And you bet I would.

I’d free myself up for writing and cultural/social events that I am hard-pressed to find the time or the means to attend. I’d be at signings, (other people’s), conferences, book fests, you name it. I’d have help for the housework, large and small. I’d have people around to help hold down the fort here for the pets and grandkids. I could subsidize relatives so they wouldn’t have to work elsewhere, which brings me to the big one: my husband could take an early retirement.

It would be wonderful to have him around more. And since times fell on us and he has taken a job with honest work, it’s only been ‘work’, and not intellectually fulfilling. Plus, he puts in overtime and works evening so it’s been difficult socially for some years now to have guests or go out for an evening. We’d also have the time and dollars to do a little traveling. He’d probably go back to college for a post-graduate degree. I’ve thought of going back to school, but I doubt that I would. I know my time is limited.

With the grandkids here, I don’t feel like I can escape leave Kentucky. After more than twenty years of being here I know that fame and fortune won’t change anything about my comfort level or my \ status although I know that some here would seek me out who don’t now. I am afraid that since I am deemed unworthy of their social circles now, any new f&f of mine might make a difference to them , but they will still be unworthy of my attention. I can choose my own company based on those who finds me interesting NOW, thank you very much.

If you don’t know the song from which I borrowed the title, here is Peggy Lee’s version. OK, I would certainly not change everything about me, just be able bring out what I haven’t been able to shine before.[Ignore the part about no one wanting you when you’re old and gray, btw!]

However, I can dream of things being different. Have you ever seen the movie “Bedazzeled”? It’s one of my favorites. Brendan Frasier plays a hapless cubical worker who tries too hard to ingratiate himself with his fellow workers, and he has a mad, unrequited crush on a woman who works for another part of their company. The devil, in the beautiful form of Elizabeth Hurley, offers to give him everything he wants including the woman of his dreams. In terribly funny scenarios, all of which include his fellow workers, his wishes fall apart one by one. It is a morality play and all ends well. However badly all of Brendan’s wishes pan out, if you see the movie, watch for when HE is a rich and famous author. Do you see his co-worker-turned-society hostess?

I would be her. Or, rather, I’d have her location, her penthouse, her money, her position, her party… and her dress!

Ah, well, that will never happen, but the rest could.


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