Have you ever looked at the Mona Lisa, or at any other painted portrait of someone you know nothing about, and wondered what the person was like at the time the image was created? We all see images differently. When we look at a photograph or a painting, we see something literal. The ways in which we interpret a photo or painting depends on a wide range of variables as we engage our individual experiences, perceptions, differences, ages, and cultural backgrounds and bring them into the interpretive mix. This week’s prompt will begin with a picture (painting or photo) that you will choose to write about.
1. Look through a newspaper, look at photos online, or select a painting (contemporary or time honored, there are many from which to choose online) of a person—someone unfamiliar to you. It’s important that the picture or portrait not be of a well-known person—in other words, choose a picture of someone you know nothing about. There should be only one person in the photo (like the photo above).
2. Either free write about the picture or make a list of words that describe the person in the picture.
3. Next, make a list of things that the picture suggests to you. When you look at the picture, what do you see? What does the person’s expression imply (the eyes, smile, frown, etc.)? What emotions do the picture bring to mind? Physical features will get you started, but then begin think about what the person’s story might be.
4. Does the person in the picture make you think of a particular emotion, an issue, a social injustice, a tragedy, or perhaps a happy ending?
5. Write a word “portrait” about the person in the painting or picture. You may even try writing in the first person, as if the person in the picture is speaking. (You might want to try a humorous approach.)
1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).
2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).
3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)
4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).
5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.