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.


About Patricia Kiyono

During her first career, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary music, computer classes, elementary classrooms, and junior high social studies. She now teaches music education at the university level. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband, not far from her five children, nine grandchildren (so far), and great-granddaughters. Current interests, aside from writing, include sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking, and music. A love of travel and an interest in faraway people inspires her to create stories about different cultures. Check out her sweet historical contemporary romances at her Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Kiyono/e/B0067PSM5C/
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10 Responses to A Picture is Worth … Less Writing Time!

  1. Diane Burton says:

    Great post, Patty. I never thought I was a visual person until I joined Pinterest. Now I can find all sorts of pictures of places in my books. Writing science fiction romance means I can’t visit the settings (darn!) but pictures sure help.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Thanks, Diane! Pinterest is a great place to collect and share visual images and websites for reference. I need to get in the habit of “pinning” things so I don’t lose them! You’re right, Sci-fi romance would limit you as far as setting, as well as some of your characters!


  2. jeff7salter says:

    LOL — I’m also guilty of dis-remembering the eye color, hair color, and other physical attributes of even my main characters at times.
    I’m not nearly as organized as you seem to be and — from your collaboration with Stephanie M. — those character data sheets. I did make an effort, on one ms. (my third novel), to nail down their descriptions (physically and behaviorally)… but I got so bogged down that it frustrated my writing.
    I wonder what I’m gonna post on Hound Day…


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I’m sure your post will be awesome, Jeff. Stephanie created the spreadsheet because we planned to do several books in which the same characters would appear, and we wanted to be consistent. But I know people who create them for even one book. I don’t think I’ll ever be THAT organized!


      • jeff7salter says:

        well for my “Amanda Moore or Less” series — two novels so far and more planned — I did make a chart of the various characters … and (if significant) what they drive.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Cathy McClain says:

    Nice topic Patty – like you, I use pictures and images to trigger memories of places I’ve been and want to use for settings. But, my background in cartography also allows me to collect information from topographical maps for areas I want to use but haven’t been to before. I like to use all sorts of maps to collect info which feeds info I may need about a town or any area in the country. Google earth is another resource for “picturing” a new locale.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      What a great idea to use Google earth! I’ve been working on a story set in SanFrancisco, and while I’ve been there I don’t know enough about various neighborhoods. Thanks for the tip, Cathy!


  4. Interesting.It never occurred to me to do clippings. I’ll have to think about that.


  5. I love how you can use your scrapbooks to help you with your writing.

    I never would have thought to use one of the mapping systems to figure out how long it would take to drive somewhere.

    The changing eye color has happened to me as well. I think I changed the back pack that a character had once as well. It had one cartoon during one chapter and then switched to another one later on.


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