Improve your writing through seeing

There is a book called “Ways of Seeing” that though it is about how to look at painting, primarily, and print advertisements, secondarily, has much to say to writers. It was published in 1972 by Penguins Books and the British Broadcasting system and is still available today. Though the writing is credited to John Berger, four others contributed essays on the art of seeing, how to look at art and how to interpret.

Seeing comes before words and how you see affects how you write. Many years ago I was reading John Fowles “Daniel Martin” and was struck by a long passage where Martin is describing a field in a surrounding countryside. Fowles wrote with such clarity, it was if he was describing what he was seeing as he stood looking at the field, painting a picture with words, not writing about it. His description was so specific I saw the field as if I was standing next to Fowles seeing what he saw.

All of us have read descriptions in which we understand what the character is seeing, we visualize it. But Fowles went beyond description evoking feeling through the seeing.

That is what writers should strive for, to see a scene with specific clarity, describing the scene the way the character would see it. I mentioned previously about an exercise that the writer John Gardner told a group of English majors during Humanities weekend. The exercise was to describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just died in a war. Do it without mentioning the son, the war, or death.

If you can do that as a writer you are evoking feeling of a character through words; you are painting the picture with words in a way that the reader will not see a barn, but experience what the character is feeling.

The book mentioned earlier helps a writer see what is in a picture, how to interpret what he sees. So when you are writing and you see the picture of the scene in your head, you may find better words to use, words descriptive not of the thing, but of the emotion of seeing the object.  The book may help you see and feel differently and any writer or artist needs to look at many things to improve one’s writing, not just traditional writing books. It is the difference between technique and art.

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1 Comment

Filed under dalies, e-book publishing, Uncategorized, writing

One response to “Improve your writing through seeing

  1. This is an aspect of writing that I do desire for, similar to Steinbeck’s, in my writing. At this point in my writing, I’m laying down all the foundation of my story.


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