Saturday, 19 February 2011

Writing with words and pictures

Yesterday evening I climbed up to the loft to continue work on the new book I’m writing. I ended up spending three hours drawing maps and floor plans.

The scene I was drafting takes place in a house. I could see the location vividly, the colour of the walls and the carpet, the picture hanging above the TV. I knew what it smelt like inside and could hear the noises coming from the kitchen – it felt as real as the house I’m sitting in now. But when I started moving my characters around, I realised I wasn’t as familiar with the layout as I thought. I needed to understand sightlines – what could be seen though the half open bedroom door; where the stairs were in relation to the kitchen; how long it would take to get from one room to another. I realised the picture in my head was just a jumble of jigsaw fragments I hadn’t put together. So I reached for a pencil and started to draw.

Sometimes a quick sketch can unlock a scene

The best thing was, that once I started sketching a floorplan, story events began to materialize. Halfway through marking out the upper floor I abandoned my pencil and started typing. The process of drawing the plan not only unlocked the scene, but provided new and better options for what took place.

Of course, I don’t always need this level of detail, sometimes a mind’s eye impression is enough, but maps and sketches can be a great way to generate ideas. I find it forces me to be specific. If there are four people in the room, where are they all sitting? If character A is beside the door when character B comes in, he'll be behind him, out of sight. I can imagine this in my head, but drawing a quick sketch often throws up further questions: Where is the window? Would they have seen him go past? Where does the other door lead? Suddenly the possibilities are endless, and possibilities are good. The stuff stories are made of.


  1. Useful stuff - but oh so easy to get side-tracked!( I write as a champion procrastinator and finder of displacement activities.)
    Thanks for the post.

  2. Ha! Yes, that's the danger. However, on this occasion, drawing the plans actually got me writing again.