Writing Out Loud

Painting Word Pictures

Show, don't tell.

Beauty. It’s in the eye of the beholder (or reader).

We’ve all heard the saying about a picture being worth a thousand words.

As writers, we deal with words, not pictures. But ultimately, the words are there to create imaginary pictures, so it’s worth thinking a little about what sort of mental pictures a thousand words might convey.

Who creates those pictures that come from words?

Is it the writer, or the reader? And if it’s the reader, to what extent should the writer try to influence the type of pictures the reader creates?

The Concept of Beauty

We all have different ideas about what is beautiful and what’s not. Sure, there are conventionally accepted standards, particularly in assessing whether or not people are beautiful but when it comes right down to the particular, there is always a certain something that’s hard to define, that determines whether or not we find someone or something attractive.

Just because I find something beautiful, that doesn’t mean you’ll think it’s beautiful too.

Descriptive Fiction Writing

It’s tempting to describe the people in the story, but often more effective for the reader if you leave the definition of beauty up to the other characters.

For instance, if I describe a young woman with long blonde hair, big blue eyes and a pouting mouth, and then tell readers she’s beautiful, they may not agree that what I’ve described is actually beautiful.

Maybe they, personally, find brunettes more attractive, or they like brown eyes or little mouths.

Readers will, however, readily accept that other characters find her beautiful.

Show, Don’t Tell

If I want my readers to accept that a character is beautiful because her/his beauty is central to the story, I’d try to avoid giving actual descriptions beyond the most vague. Whether or not the character is good looking is conveyed through the ways in which other characters behave.

When readers are allowed to paint their own pictures to accompany a story, they’re more immersed in the storytelling process and more willing to suspend disbelief.

They’re more immersed in the story and so are much more likely to keep turning the pages.

3 thoughts on “Painting Word Pictures

  1. The Great Gordino

    You’ve done a good job of illustrating the concept of ‘painting word pictures’ just by using those 3 words! I love it!

    I enjoy doing it too – I find that when I’m writing with a view to selling PLR to the work, I have to hold back a little, but when I’m writing for myself I can let rip. I love it when I write something and my brain comes up with words or structure that says the same thing better. Normally if the new version makes me smile, it stays!

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