Sight—A Writer's Default

The importance of images in writing.

Posted Mar 25, 2020

 Laura Deutsch
Source: Laura Deutsch

Images tell the story. Images set the scene. A rubber plantation in India, white sap dripping down smooth tree trunks, rows of silent sentries in the shadowed woods.

A childhood bedroom with quilted red corduroy bedspreads, wallpaper patterned with pink and red carnations. A father’s white Ford Fairlane with rocket-like tail fins, seats covered in red Naugahyde.

Sight—visual description—is the sense to which most writers default. Asked to describe my surroundings, I write what I see: “I am sitting in a wooden chair with five rounded ribs on the back. Simple and elegant, it could have been crafted by Shakers.” The very act of writing this grounds me. I move into the story: “I bought this chair from a man with bright white hair and brown, weathered skin, who sat cross-legged on the asphalt at the San Jose Flea Market—acres of parking lot, row upon row of secondhand and hand-me-downs, gently and roughly used. Furniture, appliances, clothing, and tools.”

Sometimes an image grabs my attention, insisting that I describe what I see and write what it reminds me of. For example, I was sitting on a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala, India. On the prow, the captain suddenly opened a bright green umbrella to shade himself from the sun. The surreal quality of the image made me flashback to a Magritte exhibition, with its paintings of men in bowler hats and floating green apples.

Then I remembered how I hadn’t originally wanted to spend a night on a houseboat alone with three men—the captain, engineer, and cook. It felt a bit creepy. In fact, it turned out to be one of the highlights of my journey through India, a peaceful day of rest with my non-English-speaking crew, as we drifted across Lake Vembanad.

Prompt: Where are you now?

Copyright © 2010 by Laura Deutsch