Thursday, June 5, 2014
A Picture Paints a Thousand Words
Someone asked on FB if I was inspired to write a novel based on my time in Africa, but I couldn't even begin to image a story that might have a happy ending for these people. Their culture, their history, is one of subsistence. Women's lives are confined to a few metres of rocky ground where they sit and grind maize and milk into a paste which becomes their staple diet. They carry wood for the fire on their backs, water in buckets on their heads and babies in their arms. They weave grass into roofs for their mud huts, and in their left over time they make trinkets out of stone, plants and bone. Young girls looks around them and sees the wizened women they will become. Their eyes reflect the lack of hope for more.
Young boys can hope to move away from their encampment at least as far as where a little grass might be found for the family's small flock of cows, and there they will sit all day, keeping watch and protecting their animals from predators. The nearest other village or encampment is many kilometres away and one day they may walk there to find a wife for themselves; a wife they will bring back to their village, and build a mud hut for; a wife, perhaps two or three wives, who will bare them sons, so they have the means to watch over more cows. Some people suggest these people are happy enough with their lives, but their faces told me a different story.
As I reflect on my photos and my time in Africa, I am still saddened. It's hard to see the story of many African tribes changing any time soon. But the story in their faces has changed something in me forever.
I am also left with the very poignant reminder of the truth in the saying, 'A picture paints a thousand words.'
As a novelist, I've almost found myself being jealous of authors of children's books, who can use images and photos to such advantage to tell their stories. It has made me think again how important the cover of a novel may be. An image or photo that grabs a reader, that draws a person into a story, that compels someone to pick up a book, may decide whether our stories will be read at all.
I've also been reminded of the central work of the novelist; to use words to paint pictures. To blend and weave words into paragraphs and chapters which create in the reader wonderful, beautiful, moving, tragic images, so that all of their senses are immersed in our stories.
What a challenge! What a thrill when it works! What a gift when our words transport a reader into another world, another time, another life, and what a privilege to have the opportunity to change a person's world, even for a little while, and perhaps forever.
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