Write-it Wednesday #9 –Atmosphere

28 Jul

We as writers today share a strange problem that might have seemed foreign even a hundred years ago — we live in a visual world. Of course there have always been plays and dramatic performances, illustrations etc translating between the visual world and the world on the page, but today this is more prevalent than ever. Literature is the only non-visual medium in today’s pantheon. Movies, TV, comics, video games, and theater all rely on visuals for tone, setting, and description. They inherently contain a single visual landscape shared among their entire audience.

Books have this too, but looser. Until the setting is crystalized into a single unit by a movie or other visual adaptation, there are as many variations on your world as you have readers. (This, by the way, is why I’m somewhat puzzled by book character cosplay. Unless the book has or is an adaptation . . . how could anyone recognize anyone’s costume? Everyone pictures things differently.)

You have a hard job. Not only are you from a culture where visual media is king, so is your audience. You need to use words to get everyone on the same visual page. Its your job to help your readers render the visual world of your story in their minds as they experience it.

So, for this week’s exercise, let’s work our descriptive skills.

First, a translation. Choose an existing work in a visual medium. Pick one specific setting and describe it as if it were part of a book. What’s important? When it comes to settings and backgrounds, there will always be more information in a visual medium. (Not so with emotions, backstory, etc, but that’s another prompt). How can you simplify the visual landscape in a way that keeps the reader engaged while imparting the necessary tonal an geographical information.

For an added challenge try describing the same setting again and seeing how different you can make it while staying true to the original visual.

And keep in mind, the farther from a shared reference point the work you’re describing is, the more challenging it will be. Most sitcoms and crime dramas take place in a few real-world locations like apartments and police stations. The commonality of these places, along with their prevalence in visual media, makes them easy to picture since they have  strong shared cultural reference point. Oddly enough, I would argue that places like space ships or Old West frontier towns are also have shared cultural reference points. Most people in this culture can imagine a “standard” space ship. The more original or obscure the visual language of your chosen sample, the harder it will be to capture.

Have at it.


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