The Unforgettable Image, Part Five

Here’s the conclusion to Lee Stoops’ great series on The Unforgettable Image. Hope you’ve enjoyed it and Lee, thank you so much! It was a real pleasure having you.

Identification of Meaning’s Roots, Planting Your Ownfor LS pt 5

Think of an unforgettable image. You don’t need to go re-read the scene right now – I’m banking on you being able to recall it. Try to remember as much of it as you can. What was happening immediately before and after? Where does it show up in the story? Why there?

Remember the first time you read it? What was your specific emotional response?

Why?

Why was there that specific emotional response? We don’t usually consider this. Go deeper than what is on the page. We usually stop at the page, even if we think we don’t. We imagine something, and it affects us, and we remember it (even if we don’t want to) and we move on.

But if you take the time to consider why these things work for you, map your process through memory and experience, you’ll be able to take this skill, this consideration, into your own writing.

The-Shining-the-shining-30876898-1280-1024So, think about the image again and start digging. What in your memory informed that response?

Was it a sound? A texture? A childhood memory? A loss? I’ll bet you can trace it to something very specific. It probably won’t take long.

Now, go find that printed story and that specific scene/image. Look at the language, the construction, the details printed in and around it.

Think about what the author is doing here. You know he/she considered it.

It is important to think about what we’re writing in this way: it’s not enough to just hope for affect – we need to consider why something can be affective.

Now, think about some of your other unforgettable images. I imagine you’ll begin to recognize a trend. I can’t shake imagery that involves parents witnessing/living through the death of a child. I lost my first daughter.

So, how do you direct this toward something in your writing? Rather, a more important question is: Do you want to?

While the theme of my own unforgettable imagery is often present in my work, it’s not that specific visualization I’m after. Instead, I believe a deeper understanding of the power of why can inform the work. Because it affects me, darkness (what Carl Jung labeled “the shadow”) plays a controlling role in both what I read and write.

I work for unforgettable images that speak to something I fear or lack in my life. What do you write or read toward? Every piece of work you produce should have something you value as unforgettable attached to it. It’s time to go after the why and make it work for you.

The Unforgettable Image, Part Four

Here’s the next installment from Lee Stoops. Been a crazy week, so apologies for the delay in posting!

Building the Case for Changing the Way We Think 

balanco-clouds-girl-perception-swing-Favim.com-55374We need to make sense of our perceptions.

Imagination is the core of our human experience. It’s how we build memories and process. I’m not talking about imagination as we often hear about it (cliché). Rather, I mean imagination in how we’re constantly creating everything we think as we think it.

We label these skills as innate, and therefore, forget how impossible it is our brains can do what they can do. We can invent complete realms within the unseen space of our minds just using the things we derive from our perceptions of a shared world. And that’s just the beginning.

If we’ve forgotten anything we learned immediately as children, it’s that we should be giving our imaginations carte blanche. Instead, we listen to critics and doubts and just about every voice we can hear, those in our heads and otherwise, and we lock up our brains up as they age.

We claim we don’t, but we do. We say things like “the more I know the less I know” and think we’re being clever and profound and mature. But what are we really saying?

That we recognize we have trouble using the first tool we ever learned how to use. Simple is sophisticated, here, but we’re so focused on sophisticated, that we forget how beautiful and natural it is and should be to let our minds just go.

As we age, we use our creative capabilities more for easy rationalization or occ

asional problem solving. Somewhere along the line, most of us have started thinking about imagination and memory as a perk of existence rather than the means. They certainly are the benefits – why we love books, movies, art, music.

As we hear all the time – this experience is magic. It’s what we’re constantly after, both in our reading and in our writing. We’re looking for the things we don’t have/know/understand, and we’re trying to make sense of the things we do.

But, think about this – outside our little world of narrative lies a world of problems being solved by imagination.olivier_hamlet3 For example – being able to imagine ourselves in other people’s places is how we gain social relationships and understanding. But it takes knowledge and memory to do this.

Knowledge. Things we know. Things we remember. Things that start to inform our imagination. We hold onto everything, not just for the sake of storing information, but because it enables us to make sense of future experiences, and it gives us the ability to predict outcomes, or, in the case of the impossible, imagine outcomes. We all daydream. Why don’t we give ourselves more credit for what we can cook up?

In the next post, we’ll look at methods of identifying unforgettable imagery in what you read for developing unforgettable images in what you write.

 

 

The Unforgettable Image, Part Three

Lee Stoops is back for week 3 of guest blogging:

 Understanding the Science of Imagination and Memory 

mobius stripMemory and imagination are interchangeable in a way because of the way they inform one another. This is especially true in storytelling. And it’s kind of like a closed loop, a Mobius strip, with no clear chicken or egg. Memory is created by witness, which is immediately followed by processing, followed by recall, which is only possible because of imagination. It goes on like this.

It’s been shown with MRI technology that in both cases of memory and imagination, blood flows to the same parts of the brain at the same rate, regardless of which is being used. (To read more on this, check out Priscilla Long’s My Brain on my Mind)

What we might label “long term” memories are stored deep in the brain and are easier to recall because we recall them all the time. The “unforgettable images” we read and write go into the same place – we can’t get rid of them and we can’t

help ourselves but think about them. That long term space is quick setting concrete and it’s out of our reach of control.

In case you’re curious (if you’ve gotten to here, you are – and thank you), it’s the Neocortex and Thalamus that are responsible for controlling the brain’s imagination. These are, unsurprisingly, the same pieces that control both consciousness and abstract thought.

So, imagination involves a bunch of different brain functions: emotions, memory, sensory recall. Understanding how memory and imagination are linked within the brain (not the physiological so much as the way they interact with our interior selves) means we can start to understand and link significant experiences with imagination for the sake of our work.

story time

As children, we all went through basic training for imaginations by listening to others tell stories. In narrative, it all comes down to the exactness of chosen words to evoke imagination and a sensory experience.

We focus on the senses – smell, taste, sound, texture, sight – because it’s what we’ve been trained to do. By others and by our brains. And while we remember much of what we read and write, because we can’t help ourselves, it’s the very specific images that make all the difference – this is our biology at work.

This is important to reconcile because our visual sense becomes our primary sense when we read and write. What we see in our mind, and the emotional response it evokes, relies on what we can “see.”

In the next post, we’ll build a case for changing the way we think about our imaginations and memories.

The Unforgettable Image Part Two: The Link Between Imagination and Memory

by guest blogger Lee Stoops:

Image
but I’m such a cute cliché…

 In our generation of images and scenes, we tend to recreate the things that have strongly affected us. I need to note something about cliché here. Something is labeled cliché when it affects (or has affected) a lot of people. The problem with cliché, and why it doesn’t work for unforgettable imagery, is that it doesn’t have power. Because it’s common, overused. Clichés don’t surprise or evoke…anymore.

So, getting back to what we know and how we imagine: There are those few experiences that infect us, the things we can’t forget, especially the things we often times want to. These experiences are deeply informed by both imagination and memory.  So let’s break it down a bit.

Imagination: It has a fundamental and paradoxical dichotomy. It’s sensory, yet exists separate from the physical. Imagination makes hearing possible when there is no sound, remembers smell when there is no scent, makes images available when the eyes are hidden behind the flesh of lids.

But, the purpose of imagination is to provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. It is the fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world. It plays a key role in our human learning process.

Imagination, informed by memory, makes it possible for us to create, deepen, and understand the idea of the “other” – something I’m suspect we, as humans, are alone in our ability.

Memory: It is nothing if not imagination. The generation of feelings, both emotional and sensate, past and present, is the work of imagination.

While imagination is the tool with which we tell stories, paint pictures, sculpt statues, and compose music, process our world, make sense (or try to) of everything that happens, and then draw connections, what we’re really doing is forming memories to inform future experiences.

When we write, we use both imagination and memory to develop our scenes, our images.

When you write a scene, whether something you’ve a sense of for a story or something you remember for a personal essay – what happens?

As soon as it’s in words, it sharpens. And becomes permanent the way you imagine/remember it.

We’ve all heard that our memory is our truth. But what’s more? When we take the time to write these things, fiction or nonfiction, they also become our memory – they round memory out, possibly even replace memory.  

In the next post, we’ll dig into the science and how we can use it as storytellers.


Do You Read As A Writer Or A Reader?

Two disparate events this week – we put up Lee Stoopsannotation of Volt, Alan Heathcock‘s short story collection, on Annotation Nation. Then, Wild, the memoir by my friend and mentor Cheryl Strayed was chose by Oprah to relaunch her book club into Oprah 2.0. Wow. I feel remarkably luck to have had Cheryl as a mentor at Antioch. She had me flip the last two chapters of Growing Chocolate and *boom* the ending worked.

Anyway, how are these two events connected? Lee examines Volt as a writer; Oprah has a section on her site with her favorite lines from Wild. Lee is a writer looking at the craft of another writer, things such as pace, tempo, language, and structure. It is the same process of learning in any craft – closely examining what another did and discerning how they did it.

Lee writes:

After character and circumstance, the element a short story requires to sustain its life and meaning is pace. Heathcock’s stories model methodic, measured tempo – the way a musician might craft the rise and falls of moving instrumentation. The effect is similar in that the reader can settle into the prose and let the story unfold at the speed at which it’s been set. Heathcock engineers the changes in pace with ultimate regard to the characters and their circumstances, without forgetting the reader and the needs he or she will have.

Oprah is doing something similar. She picks out her favorite passages and explains why, but as a reader she’s looking primarily at the emotional effect the section had on her or what she learned from it. This is not less than an annotation, just different, a reading anno, if you will. She does it well and it clearly helps other readers in their process and that’s a great thing.

Here’s an example from Oprah’s Favorite Lines:

Part One: The Ten Thousand Things

I set my toothbrush down, then leaned into the mirror and stared into my own eyes. I could feel myself disintegrating inside myself like a past-bloom flower in the wind. Every time I moved a muscle, another petal of me blew away. Please, I thought. Please.

Oprah’s note:
First of all, I love the notion of a person as a flower with the petals disintegrating. I don’t ever recall having that feeling, but that image—so specific, so gorgeous—caused me to have great empathy for people who see themselves that way.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of intentional reading. This is the difference between reading as a writer and reading as a reader. One is not better than the other, but if you are a serious writer, there is a difference in intentional reading for your craft versus reading for pleasure or other purposes.

As my Annotation Nation co-founder and Fiction co-editor, Kate Maruyama said in our guidelines:

If you loved it, (and “it” can be anything from POV, character development, narrative, dialog, setting, sentence structure to use of metaphor and so on) how do you think the writer did that? How can you learn from his or her technique? If you hated it, what has reading this work taught you to avoid? How did the experience of reading the book inform your own writing?

It’s an important skill and one worth developing.

Also, Annotation Nation now has a page on Facebook. Come like us!