Well, that was more of an undertaking than I expected, but worth it. I’ve never approached any project in this manner, and I was nicely surprised by what I discovered.
FIRST A WORD ABOUT PHOTOS:
I’ve been a photographer for a lot of years—weddings, actors headshots, model portfolios, and eventually stock photography. We work hard for our money and spend a fortune on our equipment staying competitive. Just a decent camera body alone costs a couple thousand dollars, then the cost of lenses, photo editing software (it’s staggering), and a whole bunch of years learning to shoot to stock standards (not necessarily more artistic, but still very stringent). We take thousands of photos, edit hundreds, and usually have half of what we shoot rejected by the agencies. The free photos you find offered on the web are filled with our hard work that hasn’t sold, so we offer the shots for free in hopes it will bring attention to our portfolios.
All we ask from these free photos is that we’re given proper credit.
After spending an evening hunting down the right free photos, then keeping a good record of the links and credits, I’m buying photos from this point on. It’s easier. There’s a wider selection. And photographers deserve the pocket change we pay for their work.
That said, all of these photos, excluding the one I put together to represent my memoir WIP, came from:
OK, enough of that.
I had quite a surprise waiting for me as I searched out “close enough” photos of the characters knocking around my head. Wow, I had no idea how putting a face on these amorphous characters-in-waiting suddenly brought them to life when I had a face I could look at, or an attitude to build on. I will never approach another writing project without a bunch of photos under my belt first.
Once I had the character photos in front of me, the one whose story I want to tell stood on its hind legs and batted me around like a kitten begging to play. I know whose story to tell, but I’ll line up the options here while I do some word noodling on story to make sure about my commitment. And I still intend spending some time with these characters and asking them to sell me their story. Hey, if I can get them on the job doing the hard work of making a crisp, interesting story, I’m going for it.
The first option was Bailey. She’s a 40ish woman whose mother died unexpectedly and left her the family business, forcing her to settle down. She’s not a happy camper. She’s lived a well-funded life of jumping from what interests her today to whatever interests her tomorrow, making a decent enough living to pay her own way, but never enough for buying what she calls The Chains Of Normal. Now she’s stuck and looking for a way of dealing with her frustration, the people she has to manage, the dark side of the business world, and coping with her own trapped wanderlust. She lands herself in the middle of a murder, and lives happily ever after sleuthing. This photo is pretty close to how I couldn’t imagine her.
The next is Robyn. She also comes from money (an heiress to a fortune, actually) and in search of finding some way to be useful when she comes across a ghost. Oooohhh, spooky. That’s all I really want to say about her because I’m a great believer in not “talking out” the story. I like to keep everything fresh and surprising to myself, and I don’t want to take the adventure out of the writing by cementing it in place with a pithy synopsis. I like leaving that buzz kill for after the first draft is done. I’ve never envisioned Robyn as Asian or as an artist, but the general feel of this girl in this photo tap-tap-tapped on my imagination, saying, “Hellloooo. It’s me, Robyn. Don’t you recognize me? Some writer you are.” Who knows (I sure don’t), but when Robyn is written to life, she might end up being Asian (adds a nice touch to the story as I’ve now got it), but she won’t be an artist, just the slightly-off-center perception most of us have of artists, and she’s got the look of whimsey I wanted for Robyn. Here she is.
And now we come to the newest character and story I’ve had floating around. She was a complete surprise to me, and ripped out of my imagination when I took a class on Savy Writer about “Painfree Synopsis Writing” (if that was pain free, I’d hate enduring something painful!). It forced me to take a story about a woman whose husband had died young and make her more than “just” a wife and whipped out a wild backstory about my protagonist so she’d be anything but “just” a wife. What I got was a whole bunch of fun, the good kind of fun as in interesting situations and a character I’d actually like to meet. Unfortunately, I don’t have a name for her yet, so I’m just calling her Ozark Protag because most of the story takes place in the Ozark National Forrest (the oldest mountain range on the planet). This is my Ozark Protag.
And the last contender for a spot on my plate is a house. The one I grew up in. My family moved through this house, as both our family and the house evolved, creating more surreal stories than my imagination could ever dream up. It’s the life of a house, which is usually the center piece of Brit Lit (American stories tend to be about the road, like Mona Simpson’s Anywhere But Here, a novel that has haunted me since it was published and long before I was aware she was Steve Jobs’ biological sister). My grandmother dominated our family, so that’s her “ghost” imposed over the house as it is now. We lived at the beach, so there’s a little of that in one corner, and then there’s me, the treehugger, holding on to memories of my past with a smile. The house looks horrid now, but it was the only photo I could dig up. When our family lived there it was a Craftsmanship house and stunning. I cried when I went back home and saw what the new owners had done to it, and that’s part of the story, too.
There’s no question that I’ll write this house’s story, I just don’t know when. Right now I’m not sure I’m strong enough to go back there. It was pretty rough, but there was always laughter and a chance to build the muscles of getting up after being knocked down, physically and emotionally. It’s where two tough old broads taught me to be pretty tough myself, as well as the sweet heart of our family. A building I called My Pretty House when I was a kid. Here she is, the house with a story to tell.
So that’s that. I took a little adventure along the load leading to commitment and gathered a lot of surprises. This is a whole new way of approaching a project, and I like it.
But these people still have to fight for my attention, just as I’ll have one heck of a struggle writing something good enough to earn those precious hours that can never be regained from readers.