Post by Jenny
My older son, a freshman in high school, is currently enrolled in a photography class. He first took photo in middle school, where the students used iPads and lots of fun apps to get creative. But the high school class is real black-and-white film photography, the way it was when I was in school (some years after the Flintstones perfected the ‘bird-pecking-on-stone-tablet’ method).
I confess that for the past decade, I have very much appreciated the simplicity of digital photography, although I fully acknowledge that it has allowed me to wallow in excess. I don’t take one photo of one subject, I take six. I might send four of those to the tiny little trash can, or I might keep them all and add them to the veritable landslide of images stored on my computer.
So it has been very interesting for me to watch my son shooting photos the old school way. For each project, he is allowed one 36-exposure roll of film. He gives careful consideration to each subject, which requires picturing how it will look devoid of color. (I suppose he could cheat and take a preview snapshot with the black-and-white setting on my digital camera, but to his credit, he is staying true to the assignments.)
Learning to see the world in a different way, and the name of art, makes me think of writing. After all, if our characters see only through our eyes, why, they’ll all be just like us. And I don’t know about you, but a novel full of characters ‘just like me’ would be—move over, Ambien!—the definitive cure for insomnia. So, thank goodness for imagination. But imagination isn’t enough. We also need a framework to help everything take shape. As my son is learning the equipment and methods and lingo of the trade—lenses, f-stops, shutter speeds—I am reminded that writers should also have a solid working knowledge of the rules and tools.
Like pictures, our stories need time to develop and are only as good as what appears on the paper. A great black and white photograph includes just enough and not too much. The same can be said for a great essay, story, novel, memoir, poem. And in most cases that’s not a happy accident. It’s the result of the right balance of imagination and know-how.
What tool or technique helps you develop your writing?