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Monday, December 19, 2011

This Is Not A Pipe: What Surrealist Art Taught Me About Writing

"La trahison des images" by Rene Magritte
Surrealist art changed my view of the world. The first time I viewed a piece of surrealist art, I was sitting in 10th grade Beginning Art Class, bored out of my mind and wondering why I'd chosen it as an elective over one of my overriding passions--music. None of the projects had thrilled me. I barely wanted to sketch. Collages were boring. I'd been violently ill with the flu for the pottery section of the class. With the sort of angst only teenagers can dredge up, I determined that I'd do whatever I wanted and if it wasn't quite what the teacher ordered, then so be it.


Then in a photo montage, the teacher began to show us the paintings of René Magritte. I was suddenly thrilled that art could be something other than beatific countryside paintings, or photo-quality charcoal sketches of beautiful women. This was real--but it turned the real upside down. It made reality...unreal. It turned my preconceptions inside out. It was more than fantasy, or a nightmare, because it looked so real. It messed with what I expected to see, and what I actually saw.

I've tried to do the same thing in my writing.

1. Plot twists: And the murderer is...that nice old granny in the corner of the room in that one scene (hint, hint). Just like the stairs look like they're going both up and down, plot twists aren't out of nowhere, but they feel a little like going both ways at once. There are hints that things aren't quite as they seem, but on the other hand, if you're careful and observant you can pick them out. Writing a good plot twist is a lot like surrealist art--the clues are there but you have to look.

 2. You're not in Kansas anymore: While writing fantasy and science-fiction, it makes it a little easier to point out that you've gone from the mundane to another world. Still, there must be elements of the normal, something with which the reader can identify tucked neatly inside the strange. Whether it's the human observer on an alien world, or a scullery maid thrust into the politics of a pseudo-Medieval world, readers will seek out elements to which they identify. Sure that man in a bowler hat is just a man in a bowler hat, but that makes it easier to wonder about the apple hovering in front of his face.

3. Miasma of weird: World building is one of my more difficult writing tasks, and also strangely the most rewarding. Surreal art not only takes the world of the mundane and makes it extraordinary, it changes the whole world it has created. It molds your perception of a finite world, a created world, one that is often disturbing or off-kilter. Stephen King is good at the miasma of weird. The creepy, fog-enshrouded little town in the middle of Nowhere, Maine is one of many. Horror writers are excellent sources of strange and disturbing worlds, but this sense of foreboding isn't only for horror. In creating the world, you can create a sense of unease in the reader, leaving them wondering what will happen next in this strange place. Yes, in your world clocks can melt.

Is there something visual-based that has taught you about writing? What kind of art do you like? Let me know!

1 Comments:

At December 21, 2011 at 2:26 PM , Blogger Carmen said...

Okay, I'm not sophisticated enough to answer those questions. I wish I was an interpreter of art or literature, but I'm not.

I have, however, looked at a book or film, taken small aspects of the story or setting to mold and manipulate into something completely different and unrecognizable from the original. If you were to read my finished work, you might not understand how it had anything to do with the book or film I began with.

Kind of how I just did with the art questions at the end of this blog post, and my responding comment.

 

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