Self portrait in Progress

Self Portrait in Progress

Today I was asked that as an artist/writer what comes first when I have a story idea? Do the images in my mind dictate the words, or do the words conjure up the images? My answer was: the story always come first, and that sets the images (characters/locations/scenes) in my head.

This question compelled me to dig into my files for an article I wrote several years ago on comparing art and writing.

Here’s the article. Cheers!

The Art of Writing


As an artist and a writer, I find the two crafts parallel each other in many ways, for example, “crowded scenes.” And I’m not talking about a painting that depicts a crowd, or a “crowd scene” written into a story.

In art, a “crowded scene” is a painting with too much going on: too many unrelated objects on the canvas competing for the viewer’s attention with no place to “rest” the eyes, and no pathway to lead the viewer into and around and out of the chaos. These paintings are too much “in your face,” and more often than not, they chase the prospective collector away and on to another canvas.

A “crowded scene” in a novel can happen when there are too many characters jabbering on the same page, ala nightly TV news panels, and the frustrated reader chucks the book in order to plug his ears to stifle the din.

Another equally annoying “crowded scene” rears it’s clamorous head when the author refers to his characters sometimes by their first name and other times by their last name. This occurred in a book I read recently, which happens to be a best seller written by a best-selling author. He regularly flip-flopped first names, surnames, and nicknames on the same page and often in the same paragraph. For example, in a scene with a conversation between two men, he pulled the first, last, and nickname switcheroo, as though there were six characters in the scene rather than two. If a character’s name is Bill Smith, don’t refer to him in one sentence as Bill, and the next as Mr. Smith, and the next as Smitty. We authors need our readers to experience a rapport with our characters. Playing the “name-game” can easily break the spell, and that suspension of disbelief becomes fragmented while the reader reminds himself that Smitty is Bill. I know, I know, in the context of a novel, Mrs. Smith will call her husband Bill, and Bill’s golf buddy may call him Smitty. But don’t “crowd” the same page and certainly not the same paragraph with all of Bill Smith’s monikers. My advice, whether you’re a renowned artist, a best selling author, a dabbler, a scribbler, or anyone in between: avoid crowds.


What do portrait painters and fiction writers have in common? Portrait painters not only have to get the features exact, but the reason some portrait painters excel and others falter is the ability to capture the essence of the subject. It sounds cliché, but the eyes do speak volumes to an artist with the ability to tune into the spirit behind the visage. A good portrait is not just a canvas and paint substitute for a photograph: it’s a glimpse at the inner-self.

In fiction, the author not only needs to describe the characters by their physical attributes: short/tall, fat/skinny, etc., but he also must allow the reader to “know” the nature of the character’s inner-self as well, and all while following the rules in Novel Writing 101 about “show, don’t tell.” For example, which of these men seems more menacing? “He was a mean looking man with big teeth.” Yawn! Mean looking man, big teeth, big deal. Or, “His face flushed crimson, his eyes narrowed to slits, and he sneered through a mouth crowded with irregular teeth large enough to devour a leg of lamb in three chomps.” Now that’s one nasty dude you don’t want to cross on a day he’s skipped lunch.


We all know the importance of color to a painting. Whether it’s an abstract, still life, landscape, etc., color sets the mood. Color can also set a mood in writing. When the protagonist awakens to a dawn ablaze in crimson, we anticipate an important, life changing event lurks just beyond that fiery horizon. When the protagonist awakens in a black mood to a weepy, grey sky, we can bet he/she would be better off spending the day in bed.

So, the next time “writers block” has you sitting ashen-faced in front of that blank white page think pink, or blue, or green, or orange. Let colors inspire you, and soon those greenbacks will be within reach.

About pamelaallegretto

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2 Responses to THE ART OF WRITING

  1. pamalleg says:

    Interesting article and very valuable. The crowded scene is definitely a lesson for all artists to remember and aspiring artists to adhere to. Your advice is welcome even to this long-time artist

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