Subject vs. Composition vs. Balance vs. Structure

The subject of a photograph isn’t as important as the exposure and composition. Last week I posted an unsuccessful photo that blurred because the shutter speed couldn’t cope with the vehicle’s speed, and yet three people commented that they found the shot “interesting,” “engaging” and “fun.” Accidental shots can have fascinating results.

When I’m framing a photo I try for an interesting, balanced composition but sometimes, even with the ideal subject, there’s too much background clutter or competing colours. It’s not until the photo is developed that we discovered the old telephone-pole-growing-from-a-person’s-head problem. Thank goodness for PhotoShop!

Hidden Rainbow

The principles of good photography can also be applied to novel writing. Having an interesting plot isn’t enough. Getting the composition right, knowing when there’s too much useless clutter, deciding what to leave in and what to “crop” during revisions – it’s all part of our education as writers.

Some folks may have a natural “eye”, but I’ve been told that the difference between a good photographer and a mediocre one is in the number of photos they discard that you never get to see.

It strikes me that might equate to our novel writing, too. How many attempts have you discarded in your effort to produce a piece that’s gallery material? (Don’t ask me, though. I’ll never tell!) What do you feel is the most important aspect of effective storytelling?

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13 thoughts on “Subject vs. Composition vs. Balance vs. Structure

  1. patti says:

    Great comparison!
    I LOVE the use of visual art to discuss writing!

    Patti

  2. Laura Best says:

    Love the rainbow, Carol.

    “The principles of good photography can also be applied to novel writing. Having an interesting plot isn’t enough. Getting the composition right, knowing when there’s too much useless clutter, deciding what to leave in and what to “crop” during revisions – it’s all part of our education as writers.”

    Oh how I have recently learned that having an interesting plot isn’t enough. It is amazing how we can tell the same story in so many different ways.

    As for photography, I’m not much of a photographer but it doesn’t stop me from snapping away.

    • I hear all the time that it’s not the story that’s of primary importance so much as how it’s told. I used to argue about that, thinking if there isn’t a good premise what’s the point of writing a story at all, but since then I’ve discovered some beautiful stories that aren’t much more than character sketches but transport me from beginning to end with wonderful writing.

      And I’m not much of a photographer, either, but take hundreds of pictures anyway. By sheer volume I luck out and get occasional treasures. 🙂

  3. joylene says:

    I’m currently on draft 5 for my sequel to “Broken But Not Dead”. I suffered from writer’s block most of the summer and when it ended, it ended with a bang. My fingers aren’t flying across the keyboard, but my mind is. My fingers can’t keep up. And more importantly, yesterday while I was writing a completely new scene for the end of chapter sixteen, I actually cried because I was so deeply moved by the protagonist. Just prior to that I was in the kitchen preparing a snack when I suddenly heard the two main characters talking to each other. Luckily my computer is across the room in front of the dining room window. I was able to write down the scene before it was gone forever. What a thrilling moment. Blurry? A little at first. But when the fog lifted, a moving scene appeared.

    • So glad to hear that you’re back to writing with enthusiasm! Isn’t it exciting when inspiration hits like that and you can’t wait to capture all the thoughts. The other night, just before I dozed off, I had a ‘eureka’ thought. It was so obvious I was sure I couldn’t possibly forget it, so didn’t make the effort to write it down, and by morning it was gone. Drat!! I know better but…. 😦

  4. I truly get the “picture” by looking at and comparing the two photos. What a difference! This is what happens during revision, rewrite, fleshing out, and discarding of clutter. The last of that list is important to make effective all the other effort. You said it well and I thank you for bringing it to our attention via such an obvious demonstration.

    • Thanks, Carol Ann. The second shot is my son’s. He had the foresight to go right down to the shore and get rid of all the foreground distractions, something I didn’t do until later when the rainbow was almost gone.

  5. dave ebright says:

    It’s a shame you had to chop those trees down to get a better shot of the rainbow.

  6. “What do you feel is the most important aspect of effective storytelling?”

    For me, it’s the characters. If I can relate to them and care about what they are going through, I can overlook a lot of things that might otherwise bother me. Unfortunately, characterization is one of the areas where I struggle when I’m writing. 😦

    • I like a sense of place, too, but characters are my first love, so I agree with you there. I’ll bet your characters are constantly getting stronger, simply because if you think it’s a weak area then you probably work extra hard on them.

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