Storytelling Visuals – When the Mind’s Eye Isn’t Enough

Posted: June 23, 2016 in fiction, science fiction, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

As a writer, I sometimes benefit by using my basic drawing skills. I often need to sketch to really understand a scene and come up with a plausible sequence of events from who moves where, sees what, or has access to what. Sketches help me choreograph complex action sequences—could this character kick her opponent if there is furniture or equipment between them? In my mind’s eye, I try to see the scene from all angles as if I was planning a movie shoot, but when it gets too complicated, I’ll draw the room, even mapping out character locations step-by-step like a football play diagram.

Seeing something on paper and being able to revise it over and over helps me visualize, then plan out what will happen in a scene whether the action is taking place across a star system, a planet, a ship, or in just one room. Examples of things I’ve sketched include: building and room layouts, spaceship interiors and exteriors, orbital structures, planetary maps (lately using the Planet Map Generator), and aliens.

Drawing a sketch can help a writer make decisions about scale: how big should an object be? A quick Google search of “size comparisons” yields images comparing sizes of various vehicles, buildings, and dinosaurs. I’ve also used Google Earth to compare the sizes of buildings, cities, and specific mountains to find just the right scale for a space ship or an orbital structure that I could still grasp intuitively because I’d matched it to something familiar.

Sometimes, it helps to scrutinize photos and diagrams. One critical plot point in my novel, The Farthest City, revolves around how quickly a spaceship hatch could be opened and how it could be jammed. To figure that out, I did a lot of visual research—watching YouTube videos, downloading photographs and diagrams—on the hatches used in the International Space Station.

My guess is a lot of writers use these techniques, but if you’re not one of them—give it a try, even if you haven’t drawn anything since your grade school days. No one has to see your sketches. And who knows, they might just unlock a creative side you didn’t know you had.

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