Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I've been taking my little camera with me everywhere to keep up with the challenge of posting a new picture every day over at the photoblog. I could never do this for a living, but while working on this project I've been learning more about light and shadows, composition and perspective, and how to wait for the right moment rather than snap in haste. I've never thought of photography as just another form of storytelling, but turns out it is.*

Sometimes when you're taking pictures in odd light, however, very weird things happen. Like this shot I took tonight of the side of a neighbor's house. It was getting close to sunset but still completely daylight outside, and one of the big windows was reflecting the sunset. So I took a shot of the window with the sunset at my back, and ended up with this image (click on it to see larger version):

I swear, it was not that dark out.** It was still full daylight. I'm guessing the reflected sunlight made my camera go wonky. Or for a split second midnight descended six hours early and retreated just as fast. Or the neighbors have a really good security system that messes with digital cameras. Whatever it was, it produced a very cool, spooky effect.

Sometimes when you're writing that happens, too. Words seem to come out of nowhere and arrange themselves in ways you never expected or even considered. You know what you intended to get on the page, but in the process of writing it it simply comes out another way -- weird, strange, different, whatever you want to call it. Spooky writing.

When that kind of thing happens in one of my stories, my first impulse is to dissect it and analyze it (so I can figure it out and control it, of course) but I find myself instead backing away from it every time. Those spooky moments happen for a reason, and even when I don't exactly understand why, they're powerful. They feel right, where they are, the way they are. Other than an editing pass for spelling and grammar I don't alter or cut them.

How do you guys handle those spooky moments on the page (or anywhere else, for that matter?)

*I want credit for not making the obvious flash fiction pun.

**Added: I checked my camera and sure enough, I took a shot of the window before I zoomed in and snapped the spooky one. The before shot is proof of how light it was outside.


  1. That is an interesting photo. I've had strange things happen with a 35mm on occasion, but with a digital? Strange. But cool. ;)

    How do you guys handle those spooky moments on the page

    On the rare occasions it DOES happen, I'll read it. Read it again. Wonder where it came from. And move along my merry little way. Inevitably, it's something much better and more distinctive than I could've come up with consciously.

  2. My thought is always the same:

    "Oh, wow. Did I write that?" And I leave it at that. As you say, "Those spooky moments happen for a reason..."

  3. Do ye mind if I nab that as my desktop background for me computer? It could well inspire a scene in a horror story I'm thinking of writing.

  4. Cool photo. You did notice it looks a, didn't you?

  5. Raine wrote: Inevitably, it's something much better and more distinctive than I could've come up with consciously.

    Exactly. And it takes time for me to get over the resentment for it dropping itself into my story, which otherwise would be written perfectly according to plan. Sometimes you just have to get over the plan and go with what you get from the Great Spooky Unknown place. :)

  6. Jaye wrote: "Oh, wow. Did I write that?" And I leave it at that.

    You're more Zen about it than me, Jaye. I'm more like "Who put that in my story, damn it, 'cause it wasn't me."

  7. Damon wrote: Do ye mind if I nab that as my desktop background for me computer? It could well inspire a scene in a horror story I'm thinking of writing.

    Sure, no problem (all the images except for publisher cover art or photos taken by other photographers over on my Photobucket account and the photoblog are free for anyone to use for nonprofit projects. If you use them online, a byline credit and a link would be appreciated. Use of publisher cover art or images that were taken by other photographers is subject to their terms and conditions respectively.)

  8. Darlene wrote: Cool photo. You did notice it looks a, didn't you

    Oh, my corneas are still so scarred from that damn cover that everything is a little pink.

  9. Basically, there is a wide difference in brightness between the reflection in the window, and everything else.

    The camera exposed for the brighter window, making everything else appear dark - if it had exposed for everything else, the window would have been too bright, and "washed out" with no detail.

  10. Like you, I am a planner. Therefore, I also get a little weirded out when unexpected things happen in the manuscript. Are pantsers the opposite? Are they surprised/delighted/spooked when things go according to plan?

    My outlines are fairly comprehensive, but I always try to leave room for the grace of the muses. When they show up and drop jewels in my manuscript, the first thing I always do is shout "thank you!" (Or whisper it if I'm in a coffee shop.)

  11. I love the spooky, strange stuff that comes out of nowhere. Often from my unknowns. It can be scary and sometimes I have to think about it for a day or so to decide if I've gone off the rails or if I should go with it. I usually end up deciding to let the editor cut it if she decides it's a problem. Those bits NEVER get cut.

    Oh, and digital cameras have trouble handling that kind of light. Gave you a nifty effect, though!

  12. Anonymous9:52 AM

    Keeping a camera with you all the time is a great idea. I use mine to even take close-up snaps of articles I'm reading while waiting to et my hair done, my car worked on, etc.

  13. Anonymous11:39 AM

    I love the photo. I learned that a good way to "see" what the camera might see is to squint your eyes, even with good film, lighting or a digital camera.
    This is a good trick to have on hand. I took a great picture of the Christmas lights on our house one year just before sunset. It looked like a night shot, except you could still see the details of the house, and the just-turned on lights.
    I'm always equally thrilled and spooked at things that drop into the story. It's kind of like hearing your recorded voice for the first time, disconcerting, but fascenating.

  14. As a pantser, those spooky moments ARE my story.

    I sit down to write and let the story flow and then Ol' Spook shows up and tells me where it's going.

    I make plenty of plans for my characters, but they're stubborn cusses and prefer to speak through me rather than have me speak for them.

    And yes, I often go back to my work and think, I wrote that?! Dude! That's good.

  15. Anonymous5:09 PM

    I love that photo. Believe it or not it reminds me of my new book cover. All that's missing are the hands.

  16. Anonymous10:08 PM

    Gorgeous picture! You need to get your daughter to try one of those prompts exercises, I bet she comes up with an amazing poem.

    A while back my daughter took a picture of our house at sunset. I developed later and didn't recognize the house at all. When I got home I showed it to my husband and he asked, "So when did we go to Hawaii?"

    The things that turn up can really surprise you!

    Great photograph.



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