Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Painting Pictures With Words In An Instagram World

Readers and writers agree. Getting inside the head of your character is paramount to creating a strong, believable story.

In the past I’ve shared how I create biographies and excel spreadsheets for each character. I write down birthdates, hair color, college attended, and anything else I can to describe the person. When I add information in the book as I craft it, I include that information in the spreadsheet.  I’ve even developed family trees to identify members of my character’s family.

Many authors go a step further, pulling images from the internet to represent a character. Some authors use those images in digital posters reflecting a character or characters.  And a few well-known writers “cast” a movie star to play the part of the character they are creating. The bonus there is that the author can not only “see” the character, but can “hear” him or her talk and envision the character’s physical expressions, and mannerisms.

We use words and images to capture our characters. We use these tools to get to know the characters in our books and to be consistent in over the course of the manuscript. (How confusing it would be to discover our main character, a brunette in chapter one, was described in chapter twelve as a fiery redhead.)

We are writers. We love words. We love word pictures. It’s what we do.

While we all love words – to hear them, write them, read them - we live in a visual world.  We know the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Consider the most popular social mediums of our day.  We gravitated toward 140 characters (Twitter) and quickly moved on to no characters. 

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are popular for a reason. Instagram gained popularity as an image-only format.  I know of several people who prefer Instagram because it immediately zooms in on the key content of the person posting.  In a quick glance at someone’s feed you can easily identify their passions and pains, how they choose to spend their time, what motivates them, and what they value in life.   Every person’s feed, when taken in whole, paints a picture of who they are and creates a “vibe” about their place in the world. 

With social media in mind, I reached a place where I wondered what my characters would post on Instagram. This is a different perspective. This is not an image for me to hold before me as I write, these are the images that inform me of my character’s sense of self.

For example, in my current work in progress (WIP) I am convinced my male protagonist, Sam, would post images of his car, his boat, and his friends at concerts and ball games on Instagram. A closer look would reveal him as a visual name dropper, posting pictures of him rubbing elbows with important people. Analysis of images would reveal he is not merely at a ball game but is enjoying his company’s box seats.

He is the producer of those images. Allowing him to do so helps me to think about what is important to him.

But I happen to know that all can change. I’m the author. I know that those who follow him will notice when his Instagram feed changes –when color and substance portray a man whose life experience is deeper than the metallic finish on his Mustang.

Images of family and friends will bubble to the surface. A picnic by the lake will prevail over a formal business dinner. Romance will creep into his life. His followers will know it before he does as they begin to see images of Kate, her warm smile appearing with ever growing regularity. Sam’s followers will soon see a more honest image of Sam emerging. Not the man he wanted to portray but rather the man he is…or rather the man he is becoming.

But enough of Sam’s Instagram feed. Think about one of your own characters. What story does his or her Instagram feed tell? What images does he or she hold dear?  What is it that she or she wants to portray? How will those images change as your story unfolds? It’s an interesting exercise. I hope you’ll share some of your thoughts.

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