Pictures/Video are Worth 1000’s of Details

I sat down and started to answer your questions from this Q and A post.

Then I got a little sidetracked removing Silly Putty from a remote control, but that’s another story. 

So, since writers are known for wandering off on tangents, secondary characters, and subplots, I thought I’d first explore how difficult is was for me to make the transition from writing television commercials to writing my novels.

Television commercials have to convey a lot of information, all within a very short time frame–usually 30 seconds, sometimes 60. That is why everything is analyzed and double-checked to make sure what you want is portrayed. One incorrect detail can swing meaning a whole different way.

Look at this picture…

Without a single written word, this picture conveys so much.

Age of man

The man is old. Details that show this are the cane, the gnarled fingers, his caved-in mouth, grey hair, and sunken cheekbones.

Man’s Health

He suffers from a variety of ailments. Details that show this are his misshapen fingers and knuckles which may indicate advanced arthritis. His mouth is also slightly caved in, which could mean he’s got missing teeth or dentures. He also uses a cane, which could mean he has trouble with balance or the use of his legs.  Frail would be a good word to describe this man.

Lifestyle of the man

His hair and clothes are well-maintained (with the exception of his shoes, which could use a good shine), so I am guessing he appreciates neatness. Or, has a caretaker who does. And, if he has someone watching over him, that would indicate that either he’s got enough money to pay for a caretaker, or a family member has taken on the task.

Time of year

The season is a little bit harder to discern, but there are clues if you look hard. The grass is lush and green, and so are the leaves on the tree.  Upon close inspection of the grass I see little tiny flowers. I would say this picture was taken in the late spring.


You can surmise the day is mild because the man’s coat and hat are light, and he’s not wearing gloves. The sun is out (indicated by the small shadow on the bench and shiny spots on the bench arms), yet not so powerful as to make the man squint. There hasn’t been rain in the past few hours, evidenced by the dry bench, sidewalk, and road. Plus, the man isn’t carrying an umbrella.


The bench is well-made, but the finish on it is faded, a top screw on the backrest is missing, and the dedication plaque has fallen off. The grass needs mowing. The light post and fence are high-quality, chosen for longevity and little required maintenance. The building is full of arcitectural details, like pillars and paned windows. With the exception of one cigarette butt in the crack of the sidewalk, the area is litter free. I’m guessing a college or a city square.

Now you see just how much can be gleaned from one picture or a small video clip. Amazing huh?

So, when I first started writing novels, I didn’t include character details like hair color, age, and body type.

Show versus tell was also REALLY hard for me to grasp. In television writing, the showing comes from the pictures/video and the script’s purpose is to tell about the product/storyline you’re trying to sell. In my early drafts of my first novel I was really big on “telling”, since I was used to the pictures and video “showing” what I was trying to convey.

Scripts also have their own set of punctuation and grammar rules. As for spelling, it is actually considered good form to spell out difficult words phonetically to make pronunciation easier on the voice talent. Numbers and proper nouns also have their own set of rules.

Another difference is the rampant use of commas, periods, and ellipsis to show voice talent where to pause a little (use a comma), a bit longer (a period) and a lot longer (ellipsis).  

As you can image, because of all of the above, my early drafts were a complete disaster. But I had thick skin and could set my pride aside with ease, so I trolled the internet, devoured “how to” books,  joined a critique group, found a beta-reader, asked questions of other writers.

In general had no shame in admitting I had no idea what I was doing.

Because that’s how you learn to be a better writer.

How about you? Did you have trouble learning or adjusting to the “rules” of writing?


4 thoughts on “Pictures/Video are Worth 1000’s of Details

  1. This is such a great post. I can see how you were taught to have those powers of observation for sound bites that backfired in the novel.

    Me, I did it all 🙂

    Made the usual mistakes and invented a few of my own. Talked too much, and info dumped too much, can’t spell, had sloppy drafts and in general needed to “clean” up my act.

    Getting better, more disciplined and learning how to edit myself.
    Have a great day!

  2. Ramblings,
    I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggled with the rules!

    I remember when someone pointed out I’d neglected to include my lead’s hair and eye color. My eyebrows came together in confusion because I could see both of them clearly in my head. So embarassing!

    But, I look at every mistake as a learning experience. That one taught me a LOT!

    Happy Monday!


  3. This is great Christi! I, too, made many mistakes in my first draft but as I was told, it is something you learn to refine along the way and that it how one learns. The story was there, I just had to “show it” and not “tell it”.


  4. Karen,

    Thanks for stopping by! I think of my first draft (s) as my practice ones. Around 3 or 4 is where I really picked up steam and applied all I’d learned along the way.


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