Throughout the month of February, t.s. wright and I have been enjoying the Southeast Review’s Daily Writer’s Regimen. On Day Twenty-Two, Anne Valente’s Craft Talk, “Constellated Images” was featured. I will now share this with you.
In his recent Writers’ Chronicle article, “The Indelible Image,” author Benjamin Percy writes that film lends itself to pivotal scenes. He cites the shark popping out of the water in Jaws, the rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He says creative writing has similar key moments: “Widowed images. Startling images. Haunting images. Iconic images. Whatever you want to call what ends up clogged in our imaginative filter. We don’t always know why they’re important, but for whatever reason, our mind won’t release them.” For his own writing practice, he mentions keeping a corkboard of these images above his desk while writing, images accompanied by bits of trivia, overheard dialogue, observations and even childhood memories.
Long before I hung a similar corkboard above my own desk, and long before I ever thought to be a writer, I cut my teeth in film. As an undergraduate in the shuttered light of a dark college auditorium, I watched a vampire stalk up the stairs in Nosferatu, a rocket explode into the moon’s face in Voyage to the Moon, a killer hide between clotheslines in Halloween. It wasn’t just the shot composition and lighting in these key scenes that impressed themselves upon me, but the mood these choices created. I wanted to recreate these haunting images in my own artistry, these pivotal moments that would resonate with an audience whether onscreen or within the pages of a book.
I began keeping a notebook when I started writing, small enough to carry everywhere I went. I scribbled observations as they came. How breath fogs against glass. How the moon falls on central Illinois cornfields in winter. That an octopus has three hearts. Bits of trivia and images and sounds, and my own indelible images: what had been stuck in my brain for years without my knowing why. The way the streetlamps outside my childhood bedroom glittered light on the pavement. My sister witnessing an accident involving a horse trailer, the bodies of appaloosas strewn across the highway. The slow rotation of white wind turbines against a flat Midwestern sky. I wrote them all down, small jottings of language on the notebook’s page. And when I finally sat down to write, to build the elements of fiction that would become my first stories, I looked at the pages of my notebook, so many disconnected phrases and images and brief lines. I drew direct lines between them. I constellated them into fiction.
Three questions: 1) Do you have a similar technique as Percy or Valente, a corkboard above your desk with pinned images, or a notebook holding scraps of writing to leaf through? 2) If so, what tools do you employ other than the corkboard and the notebook? (I’m learning to incorporate the fun features of the SNote5 into my daily routine.) 3) Whether from film or real life, what images have gotten clogged in your “imaginative filter” that you simply cannot forget?