From Picture To Page: How Mental Images Produce Stories
When explaining his fiction writing process, prolific author C.S. Lewis wrote that his books began with seeing pictures in his head. “At first,” he elaborated, “they were not a story, just pictures . . . a picture of a faun carrying parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my head since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself, 'Let's try to make a story about it.'"
As I went about writing my first story, my process unfolded in much the same way, although when it first began, I did not know that this was already a proven method for bringing a story into being. While I was muddling about after college, working at a restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi, I had a very vivid dream one night. It seemed that I was watching a movie, something like Meet Me in Saint Louis, and the images that came across the reel flashed glimpses of a girl and her mother spying on her grandmother from underneath bleachers, a flooded parlor, a screaming mad woman, and a dapper brother named Grover. When I woke up, something made me write down everything that I remembered from that dream in a journal. It did not occur to me then to start writing a story. I simply went about my business for the next few years, while the journal lay quietly on a table, and the pictures occasionally represented themselves to my head.
During my second year of law school in Miami, Florida, I took a course called The Art of Legal Storytelling. Law School consists of a lot of reading and a lot of writing, and through that educational format, I learned the fundamentals of good writing. Professor Ledwon structured her storytelling class upon the importance of counsel being able to communicate with juries via the powerful art of presenting facts through compelling narration. I first learned the basics of how to compose a story while enrolled in this delightful course. It did not have a traditional final exam; instead, students were to submit a 32 page, academic style paper. A lot of students take this course in order to satisfy the graduation requirement that they write such a paper. At the time, I had already satisfied this aspect of my legal education, so I asked Professor Ledwon if, instead of an academic paper, could I write a short novel? She loved my idea, and so, I sat down to write The Voiceless Scream. I knew that I wanted to write about involuntary confinement in the early 1900’s. I knew that I wanted to include a quintessential courtroom scene – it was a law school assignment after all. I also went back to that journal that I miraculously still had with me. I went back over those pictures from my head that I had first seen years before, and I knew that some of them would be just the thing I needed to propel my narrative forward.
When you read The Voiceless Scream, you will encounter a vastly more polished, edited and cohesive narration than the fledgling story Professor Ledwon graded so generously these many years removed. However, you will still be able to see a few of those original pictures that made their way from my head to their place in my book. The Voiceless Scream is available at Amazon.com http://amzn.to/1JZHETM
I welcome hearing your thoughts about how these pictures in my head took on life in my final narrative, so please send me a Tweet @C_Easter_Earl or leave a comment on my Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/1QMeTTA. You can also listen to my interview with the star character in the book, Eleanor Hanna, on my Charlotte & The Stars page here.
As for what images are in my head at present? There is a young woman of the modern type holding a hideous green and mustard colour velvet hat. A small, cluttered flat in 1920’s Manhattan, and a dog teaching a skunk how to meditate.