Envisioning A Story   14 comments

Technical aspects of being a storyteller aside, one of the greatest talents a writer can develop is their ability to visualize a story. Now I’m not talking about spending hours with your legs crossed, visualizing a publishing contract, or best seller, landing in your mailbox while chanting, “O Mani Padme Hum”, here. Although if it does work out that way for you, let me know. I’ll be more than happy to risk major leg cramps to achieve the same effect.

No, what I mean about visualizing the story is bringing the tale to life in your own head. Why? Because that ability can, and often will transfer to your readers. And it’s not only aspiring authors who use it to achieve their goals.

How many times have we heard a great actor talk about living the part, or listened to a singer totally enthrall the audience with the emotional power they are putting into a song? It’s pretty much the same thing with telling a story. The more ‘alive’ you can make the tale, the more ‘alive’ it becomes to the reader.

Stage magicians, although they will be the first to pooh-pooh the idea of visualization, do the same thing. The good ones make themselves believe that they are really pulling coins out of thin air, or making doves suddenly appear under their handkerchiefs. And the more they believe it themselves, the more the audience believes it with them.

Think not?

Richard Osterlind, in his seminal book ‘Making Magic Real’ gives this bit of advice to the novice conjurer:

“If you can truly believe what you are pretending to do is really happening, then your audience will believe it, too.”

The same holds true for good story telling. It doesn’t matter if you are writing Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Romance. It doesn’t matter how implausible your circumstances are, as long as you can make it real for yourself first. That’s where visualization comes in.

When you can see, hear, smell, and feel the story in your own mind, you can write with an added measure of conviction. This allows you to develop an empathy with your readers, because you ‘lived’ the story as you developed it. Consequently, the reader will live the story as they read it.

Your story begins with you, and it will only be able to carry the life that you breathe into it.

I know there are a few who will say, “But, I can’t visualize.” The truth is, you are lying to yourself. Anyone can, and does, daydream. A daydream is simply an uncontrolled visualization. The trick is to take control and direct the daydream, and the New Age shelves are filled with books that teach just that.

I’m not saying you have to believe the metaphysical side of these books, but the techniques and exercises that develop your ability to visualize what you want to are invaluable. Barring that, Tony Robbins makes heavy use of visualization techniques in his self-help books and gives many exercises that do the same thing. So, if you are uncomfortable with New Age, at least you have an alternative.

No mater way you choose, developing your ability to visualize your story will make you a much better writer. Your tale will have life in it and be far more to your reader than just words on a page with a few sneaky plot twists.

You will still need all the technical aspects of writing such as grammar, spelling, style, etc. But, at the least your story will have more heart and that is probably the most important part of being a good storyteller.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go sit cross-legged on the floor and start chanting, “O Mani Padme Hum”, now. (Gee, I hope this works!)



14 responses to “Envisioning A Story

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  1. Great post. It helps answer the age-old and annoying question posed to writers: How do you come up with ideas?

  2. Thank you, Joyce. πŸ™‚

    It also, I hope, answers the question about how some stories seem to come to life for the reader.

    At least I think it does. πŸ˜‰

  3. Hi, Pete, Devlin here. Great post, and insight to visualization. I was always told that daydreamers make the best storytellers, and for the one’s that don’t, are great readers! So having posted this blog, what, in your opinion, is an example of great visualization? Curious.

    Devlin De La Chapa
  4. Hi Dev!

    Glad you could make it, M’man.

    An example of a great visualization? I suppose that would depend on who you would ask, but to me a great visualization would be the one that comes so close to reality it makes you wonder if it isn’t.

    For example, there is a tale of a Chinese philosopher, Chuang Tzu. He was an early interpreter of Taoism. He had a dream of being a butterfly that was so intense he said, β€œI dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?”

    That would be a great visualization.

    Naturally, I don’t expect many of us would be capable of something so intense, (but I have heard of a few actors who had a really hard time shaking off their characters after the shoot was over), the closer we can get to that when writing our stories, the better. IMHO.

  5. I’ve found that one good way to practice this is to describe an actual, autobiographical moment. Being fully present in a moment and describing the particulars gives you clues about how to breathe life into a scene.

    Get in the POV characters head. What is he/she/it feeling? What does she smell, taste, touch, hear? Is it warm or cold? What is the light like?

    You won’t add ALL of those details to your scene. You’ll choose the ones that best evoke the mood/emotional tone. Your reader should feel like he or she is right there inside the story–that’s when the reader can’t put the book down, because what’s happening to the characters feels like it’s happening to the reader. Then the outcome MATTERS to the reader.

    I don’t know I’ve ever succeeded in pulling that off, by the way. But I sure know when another writer does.

  6. Hi, Michelle!

    At the moment I’m pondering doing a companion to this post, listing some of the techniques that have proven successful for me.

    At least I think they have. So far, the one thing I’ve been lucky enough to have is my beta readers commenting about how easy it is for them to ‘see’ the story. So, maybe?

    Technical matters are a whole ‘nother animal… But, I’m still working on those. πŸ˜‰

  7. Yeah, you have to get inside the character’s skin and walk around. Actually kind of BECOME them. By feeling what they are feeling and thinking what they would do.
    And don’t be afraid to alter history or think outside the box.

    Remember how we changed Alfred Noyes’s Highwayman to suit our purpose.

    *opening up my Crayola 64’s–not 48’s–to colour outside the lines*

  8. Hi Terri!

    That we did, but it would have been a bit hard to write an adventure/romance if we’d have killed off both MCs. LOL!

    I think we gave the forum a bit of a fright when we made it appear that we had done just that. πŸ˜‰

  9. It was a thing of beauty and I have the pleading emails to prove it!

    I remember I approached you on the idea of not killing off the characters but taking poetic license with Jack and Cecily.
    And it paid off. It is still getting read. πŸ™‚

    • LOL!

      It probably wouldn’t have had the same impact if we had killed them off. (Even if it did work for Romeo & Juliet.)

      So, we killed off the bad guy instead. πŸ˜‰

  10. What makes you think he is really dead? πŸ˜‰

  11. I have plans and schemes….just wait.

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