When someone writes well people often say it’s like they painted a picture. And of course, there’s that old phrase a picture is worth a thousand words. But painting with words really isn’t what a writer does.
A painting can be many things. It can be pretty or thought-provoking or disturbing or haunting or anything the painter wants. It can be just about anything. They can even tell somewhat of a story. But paintings are static. They don’t move. They capture a moment in time.
I’ve definitely read novels that read like paintings. They paint a portrait of a family or an individual or a new world and they might even do it in impeccable, transporting detail. It almost feels like we’re staring at a beautifully detailed painting. While that can be interesting and impressive, it’s not why we read novels.
Writers who want to really capture a reader can’t be content only with making the reader feel like they really know their characters or their world or admire that the writer is describing everything perfectly.
Novels have to move. They need a plot. Those perfectly rendered characters and details need to be challenged and mussed up and thrown into disorder.
The real metaphor for writing is magic: Writing is a performance, it brings things to life, it surprises and awes the audience.
The elements in a novel don’t remain in place for us to admire, they change and evolve and start in one place and end in another.
So don’t be content if you’ve painted a good picture in your novel. Now you have to animate it and set things in motion.
Art: “Stage Set for Mozart’s Magic Flute” by Karl Friedrich Schinkel