Putting story on paper, or finding the story within the block of stone.

Do you build a story to its completion? Or do you throw words on the page then chip away to reveal the story? Either way you are in good artistic company. 

Michelangelo (1475-1564) was a leading figure of the Italian High Renaissance and is counted among the greatest artists of all time. While many know him for the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome, he held a low opinion of painting as an art form, finding his true passion as a sculptor (it’s worth noting that he was also an accomplished architect, working on the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome among other important projects).  

Michelangelo, Pieta

The Pietà created between 1498-1499, when he was 24 years old, is exquisite in photographs. In person, it looks alive. The bodies aren’t marble, but flesh and muscle and tendons. You feel Mary slouch under the weight of Christ’s body. Here, is perfection. The work of a genius.

Compare this with the series of sculptures titled Slave. These speak to the particular nature of Michelangelo’s work and provide insight into the creativity at the heart of his genius. Here, it is possible to glimpse Michelangelo’s vision – his ability to see within his minds’ eye the figure trapped within the block of stone. His work allows the sculpture to emerge out of this inert material.

Michelangelo, slave series

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is one of the most widely recognized artists of the 20thcentury. His work occurs at a time of rapid transformation of culture and nation states and he is at the center of redefining art and the image of mankind in art much as Michelangelo was four hundred years earlier. 

As a young man Picasso mastered the painting techniques of the old masters and sought a new way of seeing. While (‘old master’) Michelangelo allowed the form to emerge from within, Picasso distilled images. In his well known lithographic series “The Bull,” he takes a form we recognize and peels away unnecessary gestures, leaving the essence of a bull and ushering in a new artist language for the 20thcentury. 

Pablo Picasso, The Bull, lithograph series

As writers we face the dilemma of how to create. There is much discussion of plotting or pantzing, putting words on a page and finding the story within, or carefully crafting the novel before beginning. Lee Child is well known to start to write with only a central idea and a place, from there Jack Reacher drives the story, with, according to Child, little to no editing. Elizabeth George is at the other end of the spectrum. She has written extensively in her own book WRITE AWAY about her technique. She creates elaborate biographies and an extensive step outline, where each scene is carefully detailed, before beginning to write. She, too, does not like to go back and do extensive edits. 

I’m going to try to approach my next work inspired by Michelangelo and Picasso, hoping to see the story before putting it on the page, then use a sharp edit to cut away to the essence. 

What are your techniques for putting story on paper? 

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