First Word, First Picture

Posted On December 28, 2009

   With the completion of my fourth manuscript in October, it put off my final edit of manuscript #3, which pushed back the date that I’d decided I wanted it sent to the printer. That meant, if I wanted Of Stars and Secrets, my third novel, available for the Holiday Season, then I had to pay extra for a rush on the formatting, as well as asking my graphics person to work overtime. Well, all that fell into place and 999 novels showed up on a pallet on December 11. Yesterday, I completed the third edit of #4, Of Prophesies and Promises, the sequel to #3. Before I even finished the slight rewriting of all 590 pages, I was anxious to begin manuscript #5.

   In my first blog, I related how I “come up” with my stories. The giant movie screen in my head, and all that. In a November post, I asked my blog readers to visit my web site and vote on which story they would like me to work on next. Not a single person responded. About two weeks after I wrote that post, the yoga poem project pushed itself to the forefront. I completed the project (and submitted two posts on the outcome). One of the mentor teachers asked if I was interested in putting together a workshop with her, building off of one she’d offered a couple of years ago, regarding yoga and creativity. Of course I jumped at the chance of not only to work with her, but to combine yoga with writing. She then posed the question, “How do you go about your process? What did you think about, how did you come up with your ideas to write your poems about your transformation?” And that stopped me in my tracks.

   I have attended a handful of creative writing workshops. I’ve read a couple of books. Actually, I have more on my shelf that I’ve never cracked, that are full of writing ideas and ways to get yourself “unstuck”, exercises to develop character and plot, and so on. Because of the way that the words come to me, I haven’t needed to delve into those volumes. How does a painter explain how they “got” their talent? Did they have the money to attend art school in Paris, where they lived as a starving artist for ten years? How does a photographer who has numerous showings in galleries explain their view of objects, people, and landscape? Can a composer or musician completely relate the emotion that forced them to put notes to the circumstance?

   And so I began to think about it. One thing I’ve noticed, is that if too much time passes between when I start a project to when I finish it, there is a different voice, a tone that doesn’t match the beginning. Perhaps that is my push to complete something once I’ve begun . . . In the weeks that I compiled the scribblings that became the 25 poems in the yoga poem project, I wrote mostly in the studio before a class. I remember closing my eyes (I do this often at the beginning of a writing session, even if the session is for ten minutes) and recall the emotion or topic or experience, then open my eyes and write. Sometimes it took a minute or two to get out of my own way (meaning, sending the critic in my head out to lunch) so the words found themselves on the page instead of locked up inside. As I’ve stated in a previous post, most of those poems didn’t rhyme, and for only one was I adamant about counting the syllables. The rest are ideas, thoughts, my interpretations about the practice. The whole project is a reflection of my transformation, what I needed to do to understand where I had been, and where I was presently. Truthfully, I’m still stuck on what to share with the yoga mentor teacher regarding “my process”.

  Which leads me to this weeks post. “First Word, First Picture,” is where I”m at with manuscript #5. Here is what I’ve done to decide what to write: 1) I placed the twenty or so stories I’ve started in front of me and read them, 2) one by one I began setting them aside when they didn’t “speak” to me; when there was no picture/sound/movement on the screen, no “sensation” in my gut, 3) the one that remained is about a murder and a game preserve, and so 4) I suggest to myself that I need names for the main characters, a place for the story to occur (which already came to me when I wrote the ‘pictures’ for this story awhile ago), and a message. The last came unbidden, as it usually does, and I never know what it will be until the piece is complete. I don’t start off with the idea to write something that challenges readers to question their beliefs regarding spirituality, drugs, border issues, the existence of extraterrestrials, or child abuse . . .  it just unfolds in the story.

   This morning, while I was enjoying a leisurely ride with my horses, the questions began to pop into my head. Who do I know that knows a bunch about photography? About Africa? South America? Wyoming? Does Wyoming have bears? Which animals are on the endangered species list? What is an aperture? Which organizations utilize at least 80% of the money they raise towards preserving land and enforcing laws against poachers? Then came the names of my characters, and their physical descriptions. You see, I’m paying very close attention to how all the details arise in my mind and make their way onto the paper and into the story, so I can share them with others who might attend the workshop on yoga and creativity.

   My first picture is of a woman with a large-lense camera on the savanna in Kenya shooting pictures of zebra as they wander from the shade of a Jacaranda tree to the disappearing water hole for a midday drink. She leaves the country for her next assignment before she is scheduled to, and misses a telegraph alerting her that she needs to return home to Wyoming. In South America, in the heart of the jungle, she documents the relationship between predator and prey. It is here that a message finds her, informing her that her father has been murdered. There is a very light string attaching her to another character in another story, which came in second, concerning wild horses in Colorado. Could the two women be sisters? We’ll see how the story unfolds . . .

   The first word is “Prologue”. After that: “‘Tanner’s Game Preserve’ was printed on the mailbox at the end of the graded, gravel drive that wound two miles through prime Wyoming forest, before ending in a cleared lot in front of the lodge that could accommodate a dozen outdoorsmen intent on harvesting one of the many species that Bear Tanner stocked for their hunting pleasure.” Do you see what I see? The sprawling wooden lodge, the potted flowers at the edge of the steps leading up to the wide veranda that wraps around all four sides of the structure. Towering trees, ferns and other smaller bushes at their base, birds calling in the branches, wood smoke can be smelled in the air as a fire eliminates the chill from the great room inside the lodge.

   And so manuscript #5 begins . . . to view other words and pictures I’ve described, visit my web site What will your ‘first word, first picture’ be on your next blank piece of paper?

Written by Michele Venne

Writer of immersive and intriguing stories.

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  1. faupiednearia

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    • michelevenne

      Glad to offer assistance. I welcome your comments!

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    • michelevenne

      Hi! Thanks for the comment. I always wonder if my words hang out in cyperspace or if people actually read them. You made my day 🙂


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