Masters tales

Imagery and the art of realism

When I write I am totally focused on bringing my characters to life; to create something so real that you want to go up to the character and shake their hand. You want to meet them in a restaurant or dinner or cafe and talk to them, to ask about their life and their family.

I have just read ‘Dr Sleep’ by Stephen King and I wanted to do the same with Dan Torrance. I wanted to meet him and give him a hug and ask how he was and what he was up to now. That I think is the height of realism in writing. Stephen King has created a character so real that, despite the unreal elements of the book, you want to meet him.

That is what I want from my characters. I write about children, either in children’s books or in adult stories. For adult readers I want them to bend and hug my character, and the children that read them I want them to wish they could be my characters best friend. But as to whether I manage – time will tell.

I was an artist, actually I still am but I don’t commercially sell them. I was into realism and had been ever since I saw this:

violin on doorYou want to reach out and touch it. Of course you can’t but it looks like a real violin hanging on the back of a door and not a painting of one.

This is what I wanted to emulate with my art and I have found it is what I want to do with my writing. I am still the same artist I was but instead to wielding a paintbrush I write. My watercolours have given way to words and I think I do a better job at creating realism with my writing than I ever did with my painting.

In writing it is this realism that make or breaks a book. You have to love the character, or hate them, but it has to be a response. It has to make you want to turn that page. You have to paint that character and then create a place for them using only words and imagery. And I’m not taking about descriptive imagery. It is more to do with understanding the character and what they are thinking. I find that the character has to be real inside and outside of his head. Or her head. The realism has more to do with what the writer reveals about the situation than about what colour the grass is.

Does that make sense? Take your favourite book – be it literary or popular fiction, and find the description of the character. I’m betting that it is sketchy. That the writer has allowed you to create the look of the man or woman or animal. In writing it is as important to know when to stop as when to add. When I was an artist I knew the power of the nothing between strokes. A powerful image understands the beauty of white space and as writers we have to do the same. I find it a balancing act that is hard to get completely right. I just hope that with practice it will happen. That one day I will ask someone to read something and they will, and I won’t be able to make them put down the book until they are finished.

Until that day I will continue to practice. I do wonder though – how many times did that artist draw the violin until he got it perfect and someone tried to pick it up off the back of the door?

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