… then why bother writing?
The world is a kaleidoscope for instant photo-gratification. Take a picture with your phone and – abracadabra – enhance it with a swipe of a digital magic wand.
Words? Well, perhaps just a few. To give it context.
It’s one of those ‘rules’ of social media – if you want to be noticed, add a picture. Or go the whole hog and make the picture your subject.
But I’ve been wondering. What if – heaven forfend – I wrote a post without a single image?
Could I write about words, sans pictures and yet cause you to see images?
I don’t mean by writing a thousand words – I make a point of never crossing that three-nought line. In fact, I thought I’d start with one word.
Read that one word – rose – then, close your eyes for a moment and think of ‘rose’.
What did you see?
A just-unfurling, still-part-bud, dusty, crimson, velvety blossom of a rose? Did it have a bright green, juicy stem? Were its thorns, blood-red where they began? Were its leaves glossed by nature and slightly tattered by the wind?
Or was it a white rose? A blowsy lass, her mess of careless petals thrown open to all the world. A potent, fertile bloom.
No? Perhaps you saw a wild, pink rose? Sparse petals in a single layer, a delicate party frock around a yellow-stamened heart, smelling so divine that you knew her life would be short?
Ah – the rebellious one. You saw a girl. She was dancing, arms waving, freckles dotting her cute snub nose. Everyone laughing with Rose, the pretty, giggly, happy one.
Yes, my prose is a bit purple (we had a purple rose once, a bit gaudy, but gorgeous). But my point is, a rose can be so many things. One word – rose – and permutations galore.
Your imagination, my imagination, can take that word and create endless pictures. Inside our heads.
But what about big, complicated pictures, you might ask? What about those? Don’t they paint a trillion words?
I have a Picasso souvenir on my desk, given by a friend. I can move it around so I see bits of several of Picasso’s paintings – and one of them is Guernica.
Without knowing a thing about the subject, it’s obvious there is distress, horror, misery. Arms flung up in pain or despair, animals screaming in the melee, limbs underfoot – there’s really no need for words – unless you want to understand the context.
A novel the length of War and Peace could be read into the images.
But what if I try a single word again? Like war.
Think about it for a moment. Conjure up an image.
I hardly know where to begin.
Drab uniforms, barbed wire. Boots wrapped in rags, sinking into the stinking mud of World War One trenches.
Sun glinting on Roman helmets as the legions march towards victory.
A monstrous cloud mushrooming over Hiroshima, leaving ghostly shadows of vanished bodies and crushed buildings far below, on what were once, a moment ago, the city’s streets.
The frostbitten hands and toes of freezing French soldiers dragging their weary bodies through the snow, away from Moscow and Napoleon’s defeat.
Blood, smoke, swords, bombs, battering rams.
Galleons, longboats, frigates.
Biplanes, jets and submarines.
It’s almost endless, the imagery we can conjure up from that one word, war.
One of the things I discovered, writing fiction, was the power of just a few, everyday words to make me feel or want something.
Tea, for example.
In the early chill of a Zambian winter morning, a tired tourist scans the riverbank, hoping for giraffe. Her cold hands cradle a mug of strong, hot Malawi tea. Steam dampens the end of her nose as she takes a deep, nutty-tasting mouthful of the dark, orange brew.
Then, I want a mug of tea. I see it, smell it, need it. (It doesn’t work with wine, or beer, which is probably a good thing – but then, perhaps I don’t describe them well.)
A yawn is the same. As soon as I start to … I’m yawning now as I type, just thinking about it.
And sadness, depression. I’ve just finished a draft of a novel written in the first person, present tense – I was never so glad to finish a piece of writing in my life. Tess of the d’Urbervilles eat your heart out, I’m afraid you’re not gloomy enough. (I’m exaggerating, but not by much.)
Novelist Anthony Powell wrote a book entitled Books Do Furnish a Room. (It’s one of ten books in his Dance to the Music of Time series which every serious reader should probably have read. I confess, I haven’t, but I do know the first books are set in the Second World … War.)
But back to words and furnishing. Pictures can certainly furnish – or at least decorate – a blog post. They entice the eye. And as a shorthand, speedy way of conveying a message they are very, very useful.
Paintings, like Guernica can transport us on a vivid mental journey in a moment.
Together – are words and pictures always good companions? Or does each detract from the other?
Perhaps the answer lies in the quality of both – and of the design. Graphic novels are an obvious example of successful juxtaposition or integration. But for bloggers, the technology does limit our ability to design.
In the end, though, I think I believe (I’m not sure) that words can take me places pictures can’t.
Over to you. What do you think?
I’ve finished. And I need a cup of tea.
[926 words, by the way]