I was photographing this mini-sunflower a few days ago, getting as close to it as I could and still keep the camera focused. It was early in the morning and I was trying to take advantage of the fact that the sun was still low on the horizon. Things look different when the light hits them sideways instead of shining down from above; that’s why many professional photographers refer to the first and last hours of the day as the “magic hours.”
But try as I might, I could not for the life of me get a picture that rose above the average. It was just one close-up after another of a bright yellow flower and a tiny bumble bee. Photography will never be more than a casual hobby for me, but I still like to try to capture the best image I can–and it wasn’t happening.
What am I doing wrong here, I kept asking myself. Why don’t any of these shots have any life? Any pizazz?
That’s when I got low. I laid flat on my back, so I was looking up at the flower. And I got this shot, which was exactly the kind of picture I was hoping for. It was the kind of picture I knew the raw material was there for, but I just hadn’t found the angle yet. It’s the blue sky contrasting against the sunflower that makes this pop.
Writing is much the same way. I’ve heard and read enough from many of the regular MW readers to know that the raw material is there. The interesting scenarios are there. The characters are there. But if you’re looking at all of your own great raw material and saying “It doesn’t pop” then I want you to ask yourself if there’s another angle you could look at your characters and situations from. Is there an angle that will bring your main character into sharp contrast with something or someone? Is there a perspective you can view your story from that will put unexpected color into the situation?
An experiment I tried once a few years ago that netted results I was really pleased with was that I purposely stopped writing every time I got to a point where my main character was going to make a decision, and whatever my first instinct was, whatever that thing on the tip of my tongue was that I was about to have my character do, I had the character do the exact opposite. It often took a few moments to figure out a way to make that “opposite” thing make sense, but I not only found a good, logical reason every time, I found myself thinking this was a far more interesting choice for the character and the story than what I had first thought of. I made myself look at every situation from a different perspective, and was always glad I did.
One other thing I want to make sure doesn’t escape your notice is that photography, like writing, frequently takes many drafts to get the results you’re after. I probably took 12 to 15 photographs before I got the one posted here. Similarly, you can’t be afraid to write draft after draft of your story. It frequently takes all those bad drafts to help you identify what you don’t want. Once you’ve identified what you don’t want, it becomes that much easier to identify what you do want, and then you’re off to the races.