Janet here. This past September I had the privilege of meeting Emilie Hendryx at ACFW. Emilie wore two hats at the conference: writer and photographer. Not just a photographer but the conference's official photographer. If you were there, perhaps you had your picture taken by Emilie as you received an award or while hanging out at the hotel. I invited Emilie to share tips on writing like a photographer as the key to descriptive writing.
I started my photography business shortly after I photographed my first wedding near the end of 2012. As my business has grown, I've started to see the correlation between photography and writing. You are telling a story either way, it’s just the medium that is different.
I’d like to explore three specific areas to write details like a photographer sees them. For each area, I’ll explain my thought process as a photographer and then how that corresponds to writing.
1. Frame the Shot
As a photographer, my very first step to any session is to assess my location for these things:
I look for the right background.
For a writer this is the setting. Where are your characters? Is the setting conducive to the movement of your scene? What can your setting add to the scene you’re writing (think DPOV here)?
I take the lighting into account.
For a photographer, lighting is crucial. It can make or break the shot. In writing, feelings and emotions are the light. The right placement of internal dialogue about feelings can strengthen an emotional situation.
To frame my shot, I will move with my subjects. I give them direction, but I wait for them to naturally “sink” into the pose. As a writer, I need to know my characters. Readers will know if my hero responds in a way that isn't true to his character.
2. Capture movement
A photo is a moment stopped in time. Some of the most powerful images I capture are moments that show movement. Sometimes an almost-kiss is more powerful than an image of the real thing. The same can be said for writing. Show the movement of your characters—not in a way that detracts from the focus of the scene, but in a way that adds to the tension and draws your reader in.
3. Show real emotion
My favorite part of photography is capturing emotions. It’s also one of the most challenging parts. To capture the look of true love on two peoples faces is hard enough without all of the details that go into composing the shot.
A writer deals with a similar challenge. How do we convey genuine emotion by only using words? Often there is a void of genuine feeling in our writing because we are cliché in how we describe a feeling or we don’t accurately capture the emotion, only the idea.
Your reader want’s to be drawn in! Your main character may say that she loves the hero, but your readers will be asking why if you haven’t shown them that she does. When I’m trying to describe a scene I consider these things:
Who is thinking/saying this?
Make sure your descriptions are appropriate to your character and their gender. Taking this into account can strengthen your descriptions and your reader’s connection with your character.
As an example: The hero in one of my books is a carpenter and was describing my heroine’s hair. Instead of him saying it was a dark brown, he said it reminded him of the color of rosewood, his favorite wood.
What’s a common way to say this? How can I say it differently?
What’s another way to describe the setting sun? Maybe the focus isn't on the sun at all, but instead on the descending night sky like chocolate over a scoop of ice cream. Ok, not my best work, but you get the idea. Don’t be afraid to be different, but watch for flow. If you’re describing everything in analogies in every paragraph your reader will hit sensory overload. Time your descriptions appropriately in the context of the larger chapter.
What is the movement? Is it natural?
The movement of your characters in a scene can enhance and draw out emotion between them. Don’t direct every little movement, but guide your readers to show them the scene. Also, make this movement natural. I’ll admit right now that I often act out movements, facial expressions, and scenarios (one of the reasons I hesitate to write in public often, but I digress). If you can’t see what your characters are doing, you won’t be able to write it.
Finally, editing is also something writers and photographers have in common. In processing my images, I see them come to life just as my story gains shape and character when I revise it. Keep these three things in mind as you work on your next draft. Remember to frame your scene, describe movement, and show the emotion.
Janet again. Emilie is giving away a set of 25 flat cards (with envelopes) customized with the winner's favorite verse and the option of photographs that she's taken and will provide. These would be perfect note cards for friends or better yet, thank yous for judges or editors. For a chance to win, share a descriptive line from a book you're read or written that created strong emotion in you. Or if no time for that, pick your favorite of her photos in the post.
In honor of Emilie's visit today, I'm providing a buffet of delicious donuts, coffeecakes, and muffins, along with coffee, tea and juice.
Emilie Hendryx is a writer and photographer living in Washington, D.C. She’s a member of ACFW, shamelessly addicted to coffee and books, and can often be found wishing for rain. Find out more about her writing at www.eahendryx.blogspot.com and her photography at www.eacreativephotography.com.
Facebook Author Page: /emiliehendryx
Facebook Photography Page: /eacreativephotography