Writing fiction, whether it’s a short story or a novel, is very much like painting a picture. Once I have an idea of what I want (usually after doing several sketches), I stand/sit before my easel/word processor and begin painting/writing quickly while the idea is fresh in my mind. A line is drawn and a sentence is created. A color is placed and a paragraph is written. A series of tonal marks are made and paragraphs become pages, and pages become chapters. Quickly, the skeleton of that earlier idea is on canvas in a preliminary, underpainting stage I call “scribble art” and in a first draft on paper I call “the naked man begging to be clothed.”
Both art and fiction strive for one thing: Realism. Realism clothes both with maturity. The lack of it results in whether our paintings or books look or feel true to life. To get there, the artist and writer must never hide their emotions from their audience. If they never shed a tear or burst out laughing while painting or writing a mood, neither will their audience.
Various design principles weave through the fabric of art and stories. Utilizing these principles is stage two and the battle of every artist and writer because this is where he or she must decide whether to follow or disregard any of them. When I do disregard the principles, there is usually some compensating merit achieved by the violation. In other words, I don’t break the rules until I know the rules. Beginners are best off to abide by the principles.
I find that the design elements of art and writing are related. In both, we have to know how important roles are before we can conclude the project we’re working on. This is where I ask, “Where does each element in my picture/story stand in relation to each other?” In art and in writing, I do the work by always thinking of Shape, Texture, Space and Form. My subjects need to look a certain way and exist a certain way in relation to others. As I create them and the world they live in, I keep in mind how important Unity, Harmony, and Balance are, as well as Hierarchy and Dominance, and Similarities and Contrasts within the environment. All this construction leads the viewer’s eyes when looking at art, and leads the reader’s curiosity through the story. Therefore, I always ask, “Where do I want this scene to go?”
Earlier, I mentioned realism as the major function of art and fiction. Fiction is all about tension, conflict and resolution for the main character. The forces of man, nature, religion, politics, and society push and pull at him or her, and they struggle with these forces to find their place in the story. The same is true in art. The important elements of art show themselves like the important character conflicts in a story, with each major element weaved into a unified tapestry. Plus, if you can convey the symbolism and metaphor in your art and fiction, it can further help with unifying the design elements across your canvas and book.
I mentioned also that I don’t break the rules of design until I know them. This is when I become creative and inventive with my work. As with my paintings, I try to show in my stories the early and middle stages of their creation. I leave some of the “naked man” and “stage two” writing visible. (You can see this in the apple orchard painting below.) Showing these different levels of finish or completion prevents a slick, mechanical looking product and enriches the work (both art and story) with multiple levels of interpretation. Isn’t it wonderful to look at a painting again or reread a book and find something new?
If you’re an artist and/or writer who struggles with your work, remember to learn all you can about the rules of design. But know that following all the principles of design can result in that slick and mechanical looking work I mentioned. If your art and/or stories end up like that, the contemporary American painter Helen Van Wyk (1930 – 1994) said to “make it, break it, and make it again.” In other words, if it looks or feels wrong to you, do it over. Just don’t overdo it. Let the painting with all its blemishes (not carelessness) speak for itself. Let the story with all its scars (not poor grammar and spelling) speak for itself. If you were honest and true to yourself, your art, and your audience during the entire process, someone will see your honesty and truthfulness and find them beautiful. Anything else will be a lie.