Monday, April 13, 2009

All About the Visual - From Photograph to Inspiration Board by Guest Blogger Chloe Neill

UPDATE: The winner of a signed copy of SOME GIRLS BITE is Caffey! Please send your physical address to contests @ (remove the spaces). The winner of the inspiration board will be announced on Chloe's blog. That contest closes April 15th at midnight.
Make sure to visit Chloe's blog TODAY to learn more about inspiration boards with guest blogger Anne Sage. One lucky commenter will win their own fabulous electronic inspiration board hand-fashioned by Anne! Also, leave a comment on this blog, and enter to win a signed copy of Chloe's debut novel SOME GIRLS BITE, Book 1 in the CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES series!! Lots of excellent contests today!!!
You've probably heard the classic adage: "Write what you know."
Problem is, writers aren't just writers. Writers who do any kind of world building are also architects, interior designers, fashion designers, psychologists, aestheticians, stylists, set designers, city planners, etc., etc. We have to know where the hero/heroine lives, works, plays. What they wear. What they drive. And most importantly, we have to figure out a way to translate all these things into words in order to create a seamless map of our world for readers. A map they can imagine. A map they can *see.*
One of the best ways for me to do that is to see the map on my own, to have my own visual understanding of the world I'm attempting to create. Thus, I'm thinking about an adjustment to the adage. Maybe something along the lines of "Write what you see."
For me, what I "see" comes in a couple of forms of visual inspiration: (1) images that serve as literal source material, or (2) images that serve as inspiration.
The first category includes those pictures that I know you've stuffed into a folder or binder (or saved on your computer desktop)--pictures of houses, cars, monsters, outfits, hairstyles and/or pretty boys with pretty blue eyes who would make an outstanding hero down the road. Maybe you took a photograph, maybe you printed them off the web, maybe you tore them out of magazines. Either way, these are the images a writer uses to facilitate description later on.
I consider myself to be a "visual" person, so I do a lot of visual sourcing. For example, when it came to creating the architecture of the CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES, I researched Chicago real estate, neighborhoods, architectural styles and historically important homes to figure out (1) where the vampires should live and (2) what kind of building they'd live in. There are some amazing resources out there. For the neighborhoods, you can't beat Wikipedia, which provides summaries and basic data about the the Windy City's 'hoods. In bigger cities, Google Maps offers "street view," which can give you a sense of, for example, what a character might see if they were standing on a particular corner.
For the architecture, the city of Chicago provides an entire catalog of architectural landmarks online, and places like the Wheeler Mansion and Cheney Mansion have web sites with photo galleries. The web site of Chicago magazine has an outstanding "Deal Estate" section where they review luxury home sales and postings in the metro area. It was in searches like these that I found the model for Cadogan House, Kimball Mansion, which currently houses the U.S. Soccer Federation.
But what about stuff in the second category, which is a little squishier to define? These aren't just images you've stuffed into a folder, but images that serve as triggers for your writing. Images that send you to a different place, a different time, a different mindset. I'd propose that these kinds of images are JUST as important as source images. The can help you in world-building, especially when it comes to esoteric concerns (the "feel" of your world, the philosophy of your characters, the emotion of a particular scene), and they can serve as inspiration when the words are only trickling out, especially if you're a "visual" person like me.
Here are some ways to think about (and look for) both kinds of inspiration.
> Where you live
Thus far, I've lived in six cities. Nothing that I've written so far is set in those six cities, but that's not to say that parts of the cities don't make their way into the books. Even if you live in Podunkville, but want to set your manuscript in Excitotropolis, there may be discrete parts of P that could serve as appropriate visual sourcing for E. Think about (and take pictures of!):
- Architecturally interesting buildings, bridges, towers. Architecture from the WPA era, which often has tons of interesting detailing, might serve you particularly well here. And don't just think about the pretty buildings--think about the decaying ones, the peeling ones, the well-used ones.
- City parks, arboretums or trails
- Museums, mansions, birthplaces and historical sites: If you can tour it, there's probably a good chance the architecture is at least interesting.
- Public utilities. How about an old train station? A railroad depot?
- The thing that put your Podunkville on the map. Was it trains? Agriculture? Car production? Somebody famous was born there? If your Podunkville ever had a "thing," there's a good chance that there's some remnant of that "thing" around town. Trainyards. Stockyards. Manufacturing plants. Houses. Restaurants that were reviewed on a Food Network show. Check them out ( and, if the management approves) with camera in hand.
> Where you travel
Sure, it would be great if I could spend every weekend in Chicago. But that's just not feasible (which, in January and February, is probably a good thing). That also doesn't mean that "travel" has to include a road trip or plane flight to be inspirational. Pull out a map: What's within a couple hours' worth of driving? Any of the items listed above? Even if you can't spend a week solid in your "source" city, is there a building a couple of hours away that might be interesting to look at, and which might serve as inspiration for a bit of world-building down the road? How about a country road that might make for an interesting drive, and a setting for a Regency romance or countryside chase scene?
> Where you write
I'll admit it--I'm currently pre-move, so my "office" is the couch, laptop in hand. But once I'm settled in, I'm hoping I can fashion a space that's organized, clutter-free, and contains some nice bits of visual inspiration to keep the word count moving.
Or, maybe, where everything is organized by color. 'Cause that's just kinda fabulous.
Think about it this way: if artists and designers can have lovely, well-organized studios, why can't writers?
If you're looking for a bit of inspiration, Ali Edwards is a favorite of mine in terms of office organization. As a scrapbooker, she has lots of little supplies and bits here and there. But she's managed to create a streamlined office dotted with beautiful bits of design. Her typography print and inspiration bulletin board are particularly nice.
> The Internet
Now that the Interwebs put millions of facts at your fingertips, it's easier than ever to research, to browse, to become familiar with new people, new places, new things, new trends. In terms of the visual, you can peruse stock photographs check out headshots for heroes and heroines and shop for handmade prints and other design elements.
I've got a lengthy list of style mavens and designers whose work--whether in calligraphy or photography--I find particularly inspiring. But in case you need a design fix--a little visual inspiration to get you hooked into the best of Interweb style scouts--here are some lovelies: The City Sage, Design*Sponge, Abbey Goes Design Scouting, Bloomalicious,The Sartorialist, The Style Files
> Putting it all together
- Inspiration Boards and the CONTEST!!!
Alright. So you've clipped, printed, downloaded or photographed a pile (or folder) of images. Now what?
Well, you have LOTS of options. Electronic source material can be organized in computer folders or by using photo software like iPhoto, and paper material can be arranged in gorgeous binders, accordion files, folios or presentation binders.
The problem is, if you're anything like me, you end up with LOTS of images stuffed in a folder that you completely forget about, however helpful they might be. If that's the way you work, I propose it's time to think about a different way of seeing. A different way of visualizing. And that's where we come to inspiration boards.
I was very fortunate to come across The City Sage one day during my Interweb travels. Anne blogs about gorgeous style and design, but she also creates electronic inspiration boards. Utilizing Adobe InDesign, Anne creates mosaic images intended to inspire--inspiration for color, style, emotion and theme. And how, you ask, does one go about creating one of those lovelies? Well, you're a very lucky reader: Today, Anne will be guest bloging on my site, where she'll offer details on how to put together an inspiration board of your own. She'll also have a mock-up inspiration board for you to peruse, which was created with SOME GIRLS BITE in mind.
And, it gets even better. On her guest blog, Anne will be hosting a fabulous contest--one lucky commenter will win their own electronic inspiration board prepared by Anne. Are you mulling over an new manuscript idea? A new world? A new manuscript? You could win an inspiration board of your very own to help you on your own creative way. Mosey on over to my blog to check it out.
Well, that's about it for me. Thank you so much for having me, TKA, thanks to Anne for her guest blog and contest, and thanks to everyone for reading!
Special Notice: Chloe and her agent Lucienne Diver will be guests in TKA's online chat room Thursday, April 30th @ 9pm ET to talk about Chloe's hot debut series and dish out publishing advice from the point of view of a first-time author. More details to come soon!

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Blogger MeganRebekah said...

Great advice and some original ideas that I will be incorporating into my own creative process.
Thanks for the insight!

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 9:05:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Sara M said...

Thanks for the advice. I will definitely be bookmarking this blog.

Sara M

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 10:33:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice. I really did need it lol.

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 10:51:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Brindle said...

Great post. I do alot of web browsing for my writing as well. I am, well, fashion challenged some might say. I don't like skipping the particulars when it comes a heroine or hero that isn't fashion challenged. So I do alot of skimming, picking outfits for the characters. It helps me to visualize not only what they are wearing, but the characters taste and preferences. I do this also for the cars they drive, the music they listen to. Etc... each being another peice of the puzzle who is character X. Each peice brings the character more and more to life. Anywho... great advice here, thank you!

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 12:25:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Danyelle L. said...

Wonderful ideas. I'd never thought about write what you see before, but that's an interesting technique I think I'm going to try. Thanks!

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 1:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Rylie said...

Good ideas -- thanks for the guest blog.

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 2:08:00 PM EDT  
Blogger donnas said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing. I lived in Chicago for a number of years and the architecture there is amazing. The boat tour they do is fascinating. Cant wait to read Some Girls Bite.

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 2:57:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Christen said...

Thanks for the great ideas. I will definitely keep this blog in mind if I ever get around to writing something.

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 3:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger tetewa said...

Very informative guest blog today thanks for all the insights!

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 4:08:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lisa N. said...

This is a great post full of lots of advice. I usually collect pictures and snippets I like, not necessary for story ideas, but other projects I may be working on. I've been looking forward to reading Some Girls Bite!

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 4:52:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deborah Blake said...

I generally have one token "something" that symbolizes each book and keeps me on track. For my 1st ms there is a crystal cut in the exact form that the "mystical object" in the book takes (found long after the book was underway). For the 2nd ms there is a picture of actress Morgan Fairchild, who plays a small but pivotal role in the book. Silly, I know, but there you have it.

Monday, April 13, 2009 at 8:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Caffey said...

Love hearing about this new series. Great meeting you Chloe!

I'm not a writer but love reading about the process and too it has me appreciating even more what is put into getting the book written. I know as reading them, I love being able to visualize the setting, the characters, the events and more. I get to escape within them! Thanks for sharing that all Chloe!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 12:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Lexie said...

I loved collecting quotes and magazine clippings when I was younger (well I still do now...). My portable hard drive has over a gig worth of images from around the web I just had to hold onto for one reason or another. The inspiration boards sound like a great idea!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 12:20:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Bug said...

Most of my writing groups circulate music, but I really like this idea. I can be descriptionally-challenged at times, but I'm also afraid to be so descriptive that I impose upon my readers' own creativity. (Does that make sense? lol) I enjoy the thought of a collage of visual cues from which I can draw as much or as little direct inspiration as seems appropriate.

I also like the thought of being able to view inspiration boards used by my favorite authors. What a cool way to pick their brains!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 12:41:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Lori T said...

Very interesting post...oh, if only I had any writing talent at all.

Some Girls Bite sounds really great and I am really looking forward to reading it.

I hope that you had a nice Easter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 2:40:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you so much. this was great read and very informative.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 2:51:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Evy E said...

Thanks for sharing the advice. I can't write for anything but it's inspirational to read about how others do it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 8:05:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 5:57:00 AM EDT  

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