Today I learned a lot about writing. In an art class! Up here in our mountain valley above Taos, NM, we have several fine artists. One is Kevin McPherson (kevinmacpherson.com), who paints and teaches all over the world. He and his wife, Wanda, are very generous with our community, and we were invited to watch Kevin demonstrate painting outside. It is called En Plein Air, French for 'in the open air'. Kevin is a master at it, and today he took us through the thought processes he uses to create his paintings. As he did, I got more and more excited about what he was saying, because it was as true about writing as it is about painting.
He talked about squinting down to see the essence of color that may in fact be a mountain or a tree; it is made of light and dark. Of warm and cool. So he mixes a color and fills in the shape with this dominant, medium range color that is revealed to his eye. Detail will come later. And, as Kevin explained his technique, I thought about creating a character for a story or a book. I start with a general idea of who this person is. So I color him in. If he is more dark than light at this point in the story, I see him that way. I write him that way. But if that is all he was, he would not be interesting. Or real. He would be one dimensional. So then I begin to look for the little edges of light, however tiny. The ambivalent parts that are lighter shadows or darker highlights. I see how what is around him colors him. The sun shining on a green tree is a very different picture from that same tree on a rainy day. What is happening around my character, and how does that shape him?
An analogy? OK. A technique? For sure. It extends to plot, as well. I need to know the focus of my story. I need to see the completed picture before me as Kevin sees the lake and trees, sky and mountains he will interpret. Not the minute detail at first, but certainly the flow of color, the shape of light and dark. Maybe not the idiosyncrasies of every character (because we know how those characters like to take over our interpretation of them sometimes). Maybe not the subplots. Maybe those jump onto the page like the suprising yellow Kevin added to the white clouds when the sun hit them.
I am excited to get back to work on the sequel to Raina Rising (which is coming out soon), I can't wait to paint her ballet master, her fellow dancers, and the Soviet ballet school itself.