One Photograph Changed Everything

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Almost four years ago, I met Noah for the first time. His face showed up in my imagination and it was so real, that  I initially thought he was an old acquaintance.  I knew him, though I was certain I did not recognize him.  Every day over the next week, he entered my thoughts and become more defined with his blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and lanky frame. He was young, uncertain, and always looked like he was pleading for something.

It had been a number of years since I’d written anything creative or fictional, so it took me a while to realize this young man’s arrival in my head was something special.  Noah was a character and he was asking me to tell his story.  The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what story he needed me to tell.

So I dusted off my journal and started to write down everything I knew about him whenever he decided to show up. The list was pretty small until I noticed he was carrying a camera.  Hmmmm . . . he was a photographer.  My first thought was, Great, I know nothing about photography, but the compulsion of strong inspiration drove me to do some research.  After a few hours of digging, I found the phrase “street photography” and I heard Noah’s voice for the first time.  Yes.  Call me crazy if you want, but most writers I know can hear their characters speak.

From there, I did some research on photographers that had any relation to street photography.  A few names popped up repeatedly, but one kept reaching out to me as someone Noah would admire: Robert Frank.  Image searches revealed extraordinary photographs of people who didn’t know the camera was watching and places that reflected vulnerable aspects of humanity.  I could feel Noah’s soul in Frank’s photos, so I knew I was on the right track.

When I came across Frank’s photo of a highway in New Mexico . . .

. . . everything changed.  In the space of a split second, I had Noah’s story.  I knew the meaning of the pleas in his eyes and why he holds his camera so tightly.  He wanted to be on that road.

I wish I could say I started writing immediately, but the whole thing was a little overwhelming. Writing a novel had never been on my bucket list, nor did I have any clue how to attempt such a task.  Noah, however, was stubborn and refused to let me be.  He had chosen me to be his scribe and it really wasn’t up for discussion.  My life was about to change course in a pretty drastic way.  Every free moment I had was now devoted to writing Noah’s story and it was all-consuming.

Noah stood by me through three false starts, multiple fits of self-doubt, and endless moments of frustration.  After the last false start, I found the courage to start again and hold true to Noah until the end.  To keep myself focused, I put Frank’s photograph in as many places as possible.  I put it on my writing desk, made it a screensaver on my computer, used it for avatars on social networks, and most recently chose it for my gravatar.  It’s my constant source of inspiration for not only Noah’s story, but also my own as a writer.  The novel is completed, but I still keep that New Mexico highway close at hand.  There is more work to do and I can’t let Noah down.

c.b. 2011

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42 thoughts on “One Photograph Changed Everything

  1. I was just getting ready to leave work and saw your post. Fascinating to hear about your process:
    I have heard writers say they can hear the character’s voice and it drives the writing.
    Kudos for sticking with it, believing and trusting your mentor.

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    • Thanks for hanging back at work to read – that’s so sweet. 🙂 This post helped me start writing the synopsis for my query letter and I hope it will be just as inspiring for others.

      I seriously thought I was going nuts until I started hanging out with other writers. It seems we are the only group where its okay to hear those little voices. 😉 Lol.

      Stay inspired!

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    • Lol! 😀 It’s worse when we start talking to ourselves in public. Sometimes Noah would talk so fast, I had to ask him to slow down or be quiet. I think a few people may have looked at me a little strangely.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  2. Thanks for this post, C.B.! I’m especially encouraged by:

    “Noah stood by me through three false starts, multiple fits of self-doubt, and endless moments of frustration. After the last false start, I found the courage to start again and hold true to Noah until the end.”

    Even with an inner critic nagging, or with discouragement lurking in the shadows, you never gave up. You are tenacious.

    You are further along in this writing journey than I am. Please know that I am learning from and being encouraged by you. Thank you!

    Like

    • You are an inspiration to me as well! 🙂

      Tenacious only because its in my nature not to give up and well, Noah wouldn’t leave me alone unless I kept writing. Lol.

      Thanks so much for reading and I hope you stay inspired!

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  3. I love this post. I’m hoping that one day one of the characters that appear in my head (yes, unfortunately I have more than one voice in my head…) will stick around long enough for me to figure out their story. And I hope that when they do, I’ll have the same courage and determination that you obviously have!

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  4. False starts are all right – it means you give your idea another try 😉 Discovering a character the way you did means he’s intent on becoming real for others too. Good that you help him come to life, he’ll lead the way for you 🙂

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    • I will always be thankful that he chose to find me. I learned so much from him and I hope I did his story justice. He’s very real to me and I hope he speaks just as loudly to all who read his story. 🙂

      Like

  5. Susanne

    The photo which inspired you will be an excellent cover for your novel. The picture is very compelling and speaks of adventure, beauty and the unknown.

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  6. You showed great courage in staying present for Noah’s story. Sounds like he picked the right person to tell it. Have you seen the bumper sticker “I just do what the voices in my head tell me to do”? Only a writer can really appreciate the truth of it!

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  7. This is amazing! i hope I get to experience something like this at some point. There’s something about artists, whether they be painters, musicians or writers that intrigue me. I can never get enough of their stories and discovering their creative processes. It’s a curiosity that I don’t think can ever be satiated.

    Congratulations on sticking with the novel. Noah picked you for a very special reason; I’m sure it’s the story he needed to tell. What happened after? Does he have more to tell or is he satisfied with your achievement?

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    • He’s been strangely silent ever since I finished the last draft, but I do hear a whisper every once in a while. 😉 I miss him and I hope he’ll come back to visit.

      I, too, am quite intrigued by the artistic process. I love it when other people explain the inspiration behind a song or a painting. It creates an entirely new perspective while also inspiring me to follow my muse. 🙂

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    • I was so intrigued by Frank’s work and I bought his landmark book “The Americans.” Every page is filled with photographs just as powerful as this beautiful stretch of road. 🙂 It truly is amazing what one photograph can inspire!

      Thanks so much for reading. 🙂

      Like

  8. I’m dying to read Noah’s story! If you need another reader before it’s complete, I’d love to be on the list!!! 🙂 I hope you can get it published soon – there are so many of us who would Love to read the story. This is a great post – so awesome to read how a fellow writer discovers characters and story! I’m glad I’m not the only one who hears these voices… 😉

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    • Thanks so much for all the enthusiasm! I am just astounded that people are interested in reading my novel . . . and very excited. Two readers are working with it right now and I am hard at work on a query letter (a post on that odyssey is forthcoming).

      And no, you certainly are not alone. Lol. 😀

      (You may be hearing from me. 🙂 )

      Thanks for reading!

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  9. “most writers I know can hear their characters speak” – I can’t write if they don’t!

    There’s a pick-up coming,
    in thirty seconds its hum’ll be
    a dirty roar, then it’ll die again.
    Meanwhile the sun is overhead,
    it won’t play poor-gal’s-compass,
    and Albuquerque’s fifty miles
    ahead, or back, the sole
    of a shoe from here…

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      • For some reason I seem to have an affinity with what I can only call ‘Steinbeck’s America’, and I get a buzz from writing poetry to express this. Frank, Lange – photographers like that. Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs, the blues, bluegrass, Tex-Mex, Zydeco… jumping freight trains, old Chevy pick-ups and John Deere tractors, ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’…

        Glad you liked the poem.
        🙂

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  10. What an amazing post . . . and reading all the inspired comments should give you so much, um, comfidence doesn’t seem like the right word, validation?
    Your whole story of Noah and your writing path could easily be a story in itself. I’m so glad you are sharing it with us.

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    • This entire week has been an amazing source validation and the comments on this post are like a heap of frosting on the cake. 🙂 (Mmmm . . . that sounds good) I’m so encouraged to take the next steps.

      I’m hoping to share more of the writing process as there are so many little moments that lead to my novel’s final draft. May those moments be just as inspiring to others as they were for me. 🙂

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  11. I am engrossed by Noah’s story, I am seeing many pieces of you in him. I so want to have this experience of a character that won’t leave me alone as I’m always fascinated when I hear writers say this. perhaps I will learn to listen more intensely.

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    • I am so happy to hear that! 🙂 There is a bit of me in Noah, but then I put a little piece of me in every character. In some ways, that makes them a little more real. On the same note, Noah left a part of him with me as well . . . the messenger bag I carry was his idea.

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  12. Wow! Amazing post.

    I have someone named Juniper Jangles whispering in my ear these days. I have no idea yet who she is or what story she has, but it’s inevitable that it will come…

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  13. I had wondered about the picture; so glad I have the story now. And now I REALLY want to meet Noah and read his story. You’ll, of course, let us all know when it’s in print. It’s also very gratifying to know I am not the only one who has chracters suddenly appear, start talking anf refuse to leave their “chosen scribe” alone.

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    • This totally makes my day! As I get closer to sending off that first query letter, its incredibly encouraging to know someone is interested in reading Noah’s story. 🙂 He is a special character to me as we both learned so much from one another.

      Yes, writers really do hear “voices!” Maybe that makes us crazy, but I wouldn’t give up the stories for any stretch of silence.

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      • Absolutely! Honestly, if my characters didn’t talk to me, the stories would never get written 😛
        Have you ever thought about taking Noah to a Wirter’s Conference?

        Like

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