If you don’t know what you’re doing, photos with a $1200 dSLR camera and a $1700 Luxury lens will be almost indiscernible from those taken with a $150 point-and-shoot.
The same is true with writing. It doesn’t matter whether you write with a $200 fountain pen or a pencil worth less than a penny if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Here are a few keys to great photography – and what those keys can teach us as writers.
1. Keep the good stuff. Throw out or hide the rest.
Ever have a friend show you vacation photos? It’s boring. You see shot after shot of scenery, landmarks, and people you may not even know.
Yet you might be the kind of person who enjoys going to the art gallery to see great photos of scenery, landmarks, or people you probably don't know.
What’s the difference?
At the gallery, you only see the best stuff.
Even great photographers take bad shots. Lots of them, in most cases. What makes the photographer great is that he doesn’t share the bad pictures. He spends time going through each and every shot and throws out (or at least keeps private) the ones that aren’t fantastic.
You’ll write bad sentences. Lots of them, probably. In fact, I’d argue that sometimes we need to write bad prose in early drafts. Sometimes we’re not going to be satisfied until we’ve gotten those clichéd phrases, purple prose, and ridiculous dialogues out on paper. But that doesn’t mean you have to subject your readers to that stuff.
What will make you a great writer is learning to tell good writing from bad and only showing the good writing to other people. Granted, we often need crit partners to help us recognize problems, but nothing should go out to your crit partners until you’ve done the very best you could with the material.
Some people disagree with me and believe they should be able to send the roughest of the rough to their crit partners. But the rougher it is, the more time your crit partners are going to spend on things you could have fixed – typos, grammar, run-on sentences. That may mean they never give you the kind of criticism that’s hard to hear, but it also means you’ll never grow as a writer. So only show them your best work…and then listen to them to make it even better until you’re ready to send out only your best stuff to agents and publishers.
2. Capture the most important moments. Don’t bother sharing the ones that don’t matter.
I often spend hours at the zoo photographing the same animal. While I’m there, dozens of other people come through and take photos of the animal sleeping, facing the wrong direction, or half-hidden behind the objects around it. The average person doesn’t care – he got a picture of the animal and can say he was at the zoo, and that’s all that matters. But the photographer knows that nobody is going to pay for that kind of picture. Instead, she needs to capture and share the moments that show the animal’s personality and true nature.
Do the same thing in your writing. Don’t bother showing us your character getting out of bed, eating breakfast, or choosing her outfit for the day unless it shows us something important about her personality and nature.
3. Get in close and find out what’s behind the eyes.
The average person doesn’t get nearly as close to his or her subject as he should, while good photographer gets in close enough to not only see the subject’s eyes, but also the feelings behind them.
Don’t just show us what’s going on in the scene when you write. Show us how it affects your characters. What’s behind their eyes? How can you be sure the reader notices it?