Monday, August 8, 2011

Lessons for a Writer from Scrapbooking

I'm going to lay it out right here--I'm not a scrapbooker. I don't own any die cuts or fun punches or a Cricut or a cute bag with tons of adorable stickers and embellishments crowding its pockets. I don't have friends who scrapbook and I don't go to meet-ups to play with fun papers and layout with other ladies. I really have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to cropping and arranging and adding sweet details and captions. Nope, not a scrapbooker.

What am I? Someone with a jumble of newly printed digital photographs with such lack of continuity that they only way to make any sense of them was to put them in a pretty album with other stuff filling in the blanks. Someone, also, who likes pretty papers and wandered into the scrapbooking section of the craft store last week.

I became an accidental scrapbooker.

This weekend I started laying out some pages--simple stuff, just a pretty background paper (I bought a pad of colored and patterned papers the same size as the album, to make things easy) with some photos arranged (hopefully artfully) on top.

Ever notice how much we read into photographs based on what's around them? This summer my uncle and cousin and I sorted through a box of loose photographs--the results of a lack of organization were hilarious. "What the heck is THIS from?" was a common refrain. Similarly, adding context--even just a pretty bit of patterned paper or some photo corners--said something about how I wanted people to "read" the photographs.

For instance--I made a page of the Mister and I at a 1920s party--I used photo corners and a simple layout on a paper that could have been your Grandma's parlor wallpaper. What was I saying? Perhaps that this is meant to be read as vintage, as historical. Had I popped it onto a background of alligators and added a sparkly frog sticker here and there, you'd read the page differently. How, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps that we'd been at a reptile park for the party. Perhaps that I was playing a little visual trick by matching the papers to the color of the dress I wore. Regardless. You'd read it differently.

The papers and stickers and mats are just decoration--the story is in the pictures. Writing is the same way--the story is the story, but what you use to embellish it or frame it tells the reader how to read the story. You're writing a funeral scene, and the language is stark, minimal, pointed, raw emotion. You've told the reader to infer something completely different than if the writing was lush, broad, removed emotionally but very reflective and pensive. I assume things about the narrator, about the characters involved, about how the death affected those involved. Just from the way the scene is written.

Or think about a beautiful spring day--how would you describe it if your romantically-entwined characters were taking a walk and discussing their future? Compare that to how you would describe it if your assassin protagonist was taking that same walking route after whacking her first assignment. I'm guessing the characters would notice and react to different things, which will inform your writing, but how you package it with language, word choice, sentence length--all those stylistic elements--will give the reader a more authentic experience. And here's the cool part--unless the reader is either very perceptive or is slowing down to analyze your writing as s/he reads, you've done it without the reader even noticing.

You've gotten into their heads. Fun.

Of course, these elements are just the window dressings, not the windows themselves. The story is still what is seen through the panes. But you can tell the reader how to approach the window by choosing a panel or a valance, a heavy brocade or a filmy linen, rigid wooden blinds or billowing silk. Ok, enough curtain metaphors.

What are ways you use the curtains to influence how your reader will look through the window? What about draperies and valances in other creative pursuits? Anyone else want to make new curtains now?

No comments: