From the Sacred Script: Writing from Chaos
by Julie Carpenter
I’m taking a figure drawing class with my husband for fun. He’s quite good and I am – it’s safe to say – the worst sketch artist in the class. But it’s freeing. My expectations are low enough to allow me to meet or even exceed them with very little effort. Anyway, I think it’s good to try new ways of thinking and seeing as you get older, regardless of the results.
In an effort to retrain my brain to see things in patterns of light and line, I’ve been watching videos about sketching.
Below is one of the videos I found most fascinating.
I love this concept. Not only that, but it got me thinking about writing.
When I was a kid, like all kids, I liked to draw. I wasn’t a particularly serious artist. (I used to sell drawings of aliens for a quarter apiece, but let’s put that down to the narrative nature of the drawings -not the art.) One of the things I liked to do was scribble a cloud of ink or number 2 pencil and then see if I could find anything in it. Like a monster or a ghost. Sort of the way the artist in the video worked, except with much poorer results. I did the picture of the “giraffe” for this post that way. I scribbled a cloud of charcoal while the model in our figure drawing class was taking a break and once I saw the giraffe head, I started bringing it out – added the neck.
I’m obviously not sharing this because of the art – believe it or not, this ramble in the weeds is a writing tip. So, what does this have to do with our writing cult? I realized as I was scribbling this out that I write in the same way that I draw. I reach into the chaos and try to find something that’s already there - characters in the mist.
If you find that your brain is a chaotic place then reach right into the chaos and pull something out!
So here are a couple of exercises. Make a cloud of ink, or pencil, or charcoal. Whatever art supplies you happen to have handy. You don’t have to be a good artist – as evidenced above – you just have to peer through the mists to see if there’s a story in there. There almost always is. If you see nothing – that’s a story in itself. Instead of ending up with a painting or a sketch, you want to see images or even narratives in the chaos. (Who knows? You might also end up with a nice sketch?)
Perhaps the ink looks like a thick fog in a city. Maybe there’s a woman in a cloak that you can barely see. Where did she come from? Where is she going? To get medicine for her baby? To the market? To meet a lover? To assassinate the mayor?
Or the scribbled lines resolve into branches. You’re in the park. Through the scrub, you see a man holding a knife - at distance so it’s hard to be sure. The next day the police show up and ask you to describe him. You only saw his shadow, a silhouette. Now you’re terrified. What if the man saw you, knows you’re talking to the police? He might know your face, but you don’t know his…
See how this works? I wrote a story that has giraffes in it. It didn’t come from this giraffe drawing. But it could have. It certainly came from the chaos of my mind. You can use this technique with clouds or leaves on the ground or anything else you can peer into to draw out images you already have hidden in your brain.
If you don’t want to scribble on paper, or you can't for some reason, you can create a cloud of words. One of the best times to do this is after you wake up. If you have vivid dreams, write down or record any words associated with the images in your dream.
You can use a picture like this one to create a word cloud.
After studying my word cloud, I am starting to see a story coalesce. An old lady driving a Subaru. There’s a black cat on the passenger seat. She’s been assigned to drive people into the underworld - her and the cat. It’s a punishment of some sort for both of them. They drive person after person into the afterlife through storms of melting color and other weirdness. (This will actually fit nicely into a longer piece that I’m writing.)
Notice that you don’t have to use every word. When you pull something out of the chaos, there’s always plenty of chaos left over.
You don’t need a picture, you can turn also turn feelings into a word cloud. If you are feeling happy think about it in colors – yellow, blue, orange, red? Whatever color happiness you’re feeling. Now associate images. Sun. Banana. Orange blossoms (not orange but doesn’t matter. Let the cloud fill in however it comes to you.) From there you might have a garden.
If you have writer’s block think about that. Think about blocks, concrete, gray, stone, traps, etc.
You might not immediately see a story with any of these techniques. That’s okay. You can return to them later. Just glance at the image from time to time. The thing about getting a story from the void of chaos is that you don’t have to manage it. It’s chaos. You are not in control. The void is always ultimately in control – but you can sail into it and learn its ways and steal some of its bounty. See what it can provide you.
Happy writing! And here’s a link to a story about the void.
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website and the author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop. She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and will be included The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel.