Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why Being Addicted to Old Photos Is a Good Thing

Write about what you know!
But even when you try to do that, you still find yourself, as a writer, needing to check your facts and get the details and dare I say it--do research.
I hate doing research.
At least the usual kind that entails looking things up in dusty books, and, oh, okay, “googling things.” 
But then I realized that I was writing and finding things out and becoming inspired in my writing and the source of that inspiration tended to be the visual things I was bumping into along the way--the old photos, for one.
I wrote about that phenomena last month, and I have to admit I’m not the only writer who uses this technique.  
Junot Diaz, the famed short story writer--whose latest short story collection, “This is How you Lose Her,” has just been released after five years to much critical acclaim--describes how his discovery of a small black and white photo of his father wearing a fascist uniform first unnerved him and then inspired him to write “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”  

He couldn’t imagine how his father at the age of nineteen could have been in a position of torturing people, and that imagining set him on a journey of discovery which led to his story.
Perhaps, it’s the personal intermixed with the knowledge that all the young men at that time wore those uniforms and bought into that mentality.  Perhaps, it was his need to make sense of it all.  
When Junot was interviewed as to what inspires him to write, he brought with him a file filled with old photos and clippings that he uses for inspiration.  
I love that.  Most writers have idea files, but to include old photos in that file is the mark of genius.  
My favorite, though, is Ken Burns, whose documentary film on the Civil War has been shown on PBS for years.  He also described his creative process and what inspired him.  

He also said he was particularly inspired by old photos and used to line them up and stare at them.  But he said he would try to do more than just look at them.  He would listen to them, try to imagine the world of the photo, and then try to create that world from that place.  
In one example, he described looking at a photo of a bridge from ten different angles.  He imagined the water lapping up and the workers hammering on the bridge.  He didn’t want to break the spell, but for the moment, he wanted to live in that world.  In essence, he wanted to wake the dead.  
And using the photos of the past, he created a documentary that made the past come to life.    
So, as a writer, I’ve begun to add old photos to my idea file.  Faces and scenes.  And websites with links.  You, too,  can be inspired to create a setting, a character, or even a plot from an old photo. 
      My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in ebook and mass market paperback from and  And, yeah, I'll admit more than one old photo inspired me!


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