Painting with words is a description I have used over the years to describe what it is that I do when I write. When people ask me what that means, sometimes it can be hard to really describe other than to say I try and put a picture into my reader’s mind with the words I use. I have been thinking a lot about the “painting” I do when I am describing a scene, a character, or setting a scene in which plot moves. Using the idea of “painting” with my words gives a concrete picture to someone, or enough details for them to form the words into an idea of what something or someone looks like. Picture in your Mind’s Eye a beautiful painting of a sunset across a lake with mountains in the distance, and then imagine that you have read the description of that painting, and are able to see the same thing in your mind.
Have I lost you yet? Rather obsfucated, I realize, but is an attempt to provide a glimpse into a technique of writing that gives me a chance to work my writing muscle in many different ways.
This concept was driven home as I drove to a doctor’s appointment last week, when I was listening to the CBC, and Eleanor Wachtel was interviewing Agnès Varda. Agnès Varda is a french filmmaker with incredible talent, spurred the French new wave film genre, and her films are often artistic works with very deep, introspective, and quirky stories. She is a fount of interesting ideas, and at 80, has added wisdom to her answers as Eleanor delved into her creative mind.
One section of the interview has stuck with me, so much so that I can point out the exact spot on the River Parkway (where I was driving) that it came across the airways into my ears. they were discussing her new film The Beaches of Agnès, and Agnès asked a very simple question. What is your landscape?
That made me almost pull the car over, the question heavy in my brain. They continued to talk, and I half-listened to her descriptions of her own landscape (a beach), my mind now clicking along, trying to answer the question as quickly as I could, the excitement of the idea taking hold like wildfire. Exactly! Everyone has a landscape, a scene in their head that would describe their personality and character, their desires and dreams, all the things that make them them. the concept could be applied to anyone really. For instance, a person who loves to climb mountains would have a landscape with mountains in them… Maybe. It would also depend on the inner thoughts and conciousness of that person. Maybe his inner landscape is a city! The possibilities are endless, and distinct for each person, and I hypothesise, surprising in many cases.
I haven’t fully defined my landscape yet. I have an idea of it, but its still this nebulous thing that I can’t pin down exactly. I haven’t tried to write it yet, so perhaps that has aborted my thought process, since I tend to work much more fluidly with keyboard or pen in hand.
I’m also not sure it can be done until one is older, and replete with life experience to say definitively that this is them. Or perhaps it just requires strength and confidence in self-understanding. Could I describe what I think another person’s landscape is? Possibly, but it would be based on my conjecture on their personality, character, and their insights into themselves. And perhaps the landscape I describe today would not be the landscape of tomorrow. This would be a great litmus test on how well you know a person, and a innovative way to develop characters in a story. I’m going to try that next.
So I ask you, what is your landscape? How would you describe it? What would be in it, and how would it feel, taste, or smell? Would it change over time, or are you able to concretely say “this is me” by describing yourself using a backdrop of our world, in some fashion? Couldy ou describe your landscape to someone else if you were asked to? Would you be able to write it down?
And therein is the essential question I am asking msyelf, as Agnès asked us out in Radioland. Could I paint with words, like I do to describe scene in my stories, well enough to show someone my landscape?
I may just have to try that.