Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

Camera, Action, Prompt!

By Gail Kavanagh
©2004, Gail Kavanagh

I love the beach, and, fortunately for me, I live not far from some of the best beaches in the world. While the rest of the family organizes the picnic and barbeque and the ballgame, I take my digital camera and wander along the shore, taking snaps of pelicans, boats, jetties and anything that catches my fancy.

No, Iím not a photo-journalist, and rarely do I consider these pictures good enough to accompany a submission. But they quite often are responsible for one.

For example, I took one photo of a private jetty on which someone had placed a large garden seat, no doubt for comfort while waiting for the boat. Already a story is forming around that garden seat, which looks so incongruous perched over the water.

A picture of a stranded house boat, left high and dry by the tide, also offers intriguing possibilities, and my pictures of the large, friendly pelicans, so unperturbed by me as they wait patiently for the incoming fishermen to share a tasty snack from the dayís catch, beg a story about an obsessive woman who canít stop taking pictures of pelicans.

But itís not just the beach that offers these opportunities. I take my camera with me everywhere -- a tall tree standing alone against an intense blue sky, a lonely farmhouse, an odd looking house with turrets and balconies sticking out everywhere -- all of these can fill a void when creating a story.

Itís not just the pictures you deliberately take for photo prompts that can be useful. Look through your family snaps -- do candid shots of birthday parties, outings, and picnics suggest ideas for articles? What about that picture of the special birthday cake you made to look like a train, or a teddy bear? There are readers who want to know how you did it.

What about your familyís heritage photos? An old sepia photo of a pioneer woman bravely facing the summerís intense heat in her starched blouse and long skirt gave me the idea for my short story "Heat," which was published by Fables in 2003. I tried to imagine how she must have felt inside all that stiff, heavy clothing, and the character of Mary Mulgar was born.

Pictures of models and movie stars dressed in period costume are not as emotionally engaging as photos of real live folks living in their own time; nor do pictures torn from magazines have the same quality as your own pictures. Something you have seen with your own eyes, something that you felt and experienced as you took the picture, will always be more vivid and immediate to you, and lead to better writing and better descriptions.

Besides, itís fun. I have one picture in my collection that shows a slanting seascape, as if it were taken on an angle. Actually, it was.

It was taken by a woman so determined to get a shot of a garden seat on a lonely jetty that she wandered into a mudhole in pursuit of the best angle.

As she listed to starboard and sank inevitably up to the knees, she tried to save the camera, and didnít realize she was pressing the button as she held it out of harmís way.

But thatís another story. 

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