A Picture PLUS A Thousand Words

TreeLifeMy church got new stained glass windows this week. Here’s a picture of one of them.

Each one is different. They have the same colors, but in different groupings, and each has a different color ribbon running through the pane.

Each also has a different picture. This one is the Tree of Life.

That got me thinking about writing (yes, everything gets me thinking about writing — everything is about writing). Although I have no figures to back this up, I venture to say that most people in the world know what a tree is. Most people know what a deciduous tree is, and that it drops its leaves in the fall, goes dormant, blooms in spring, and bears fruit (or, at least, drops seed). Most people know that a tree sends down roots and sends up branches and puts forth leaves to collect moisture and sunlight. Most people know that animals and birds shelter in trees.

Long story short (too late?), most people can look at a picture of a tree and auto-load rafts of associations, most of it positive for most people.

There are lots of objects or figures like that, which come accompanied by big bulging satchels full of associations. One way to enrich a book or story is to use the human tendency toward association to layer your meaning.

Charlotte Brontë did this in JANE EYER. As Shmoop.com says:

The day after Rochester proposes to Jane under “the great horse-chestnut at the bottom of the orchard,” that same tree gets “struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split away” (2.8.119). It can’t be a good omen to have something that’s whole get violently split in half right after two people sitting beside it decide to unite themselves.

Too right!

p.s. It doesn’t have to be trees.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write a paragraph centered around a cat — SHUT UP, KATYA! NOT A CAT! centered around a … damn, now I can’t think about anything but a cat. Okay, a cat.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “A Picture PLUS A Thousand Words

  1. Pete Laberge

    January 6, 2014 at 8:32am

    I’m glad you told us that was a tree. I doubt most people could figure that out. Glad you also told us that the green was a ribbon winding through the pic. And that it was in a church. Perhaps, full size, it is easier to tell.

    While it looks nice, there are no clearly identifiable references in it. To me it looks like very abstract art. I would picture it in a Hollywood home…. As I said, it may be more easily understood full size. Apparently, whatever the artist was trying to communicate, was lost on me. I would wonder about other people. As “swirly” as it is, it makes me think of the Tornado scene in the old “Wizard of Oz” movie, more than anything else.

    As for cats, well, in this weather, let us hope they are all inside. Snow, and well below zero. As for trees, the deciduous ones are dead at this time of year. The evergreens seem to be surviving, but with the deep freeze, are probably frozen solid. Can’t wait for spring!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 6, 2014 at 9:26am

      Pete, you need a bigger computer screen, dude! You’re right: except for the one figure, it is abstract, suitable for contemplation, meditation, and interpretation. I like it that it makes you think of a tornado. I think that’s the best thing that religion ever does: rip apart the world as we think it is or should be and make us see it with new eyes. The messages of Job and Jesus were pretty much the same: The Divine doesn’t work the way the Everyday works; if you want to align with the Divine, tear up your assumptions and look deeper.

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  2. jane

    January 6, 2014 at 10:21am

    You are so right!

    The first flight of novels served many more purposes than to offer a plot. Their readers had no mental files full of pictures of hawaiian beaches, majestic Himalayas, elephants, zebras, Turks, etc. Many books were straight out travelogues, a VERY popular catagory for writers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many were read aloud in the evening. No TV, heh.

    Another category was the Gothic, which was a conduit for expressing violent emotions amid violent settings. Whew! A tree is never JUST a tree in those babies!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 6, 2014 at 10:40am

      Yeah, any time you read, “The sky was clear, but for a cloud the size of a man’s hand upon the horizon,” you knew somebody was in for some trouble.

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  3. Holly Jahangiri

    January 6, 2014 at 12:04pm

    Continuing on this morning’s “pedantic” theme – isn’t it “Jane Eyre”?

    A cat, eh? Given that Pete and Vivian both suggested I come back in my next life as a cat, that seems almost self-centered, to write a whole paragraph around a cat.

    Also, I’m trying to figure out how to write a paragraph AROUND a cat – without a good graphics program at hand. 😉

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    • Author
      • Holly Jahangiri

        January 6, 2014 at 3:42pm

        I had to look at it twice and get a refill on my coffee, to be honest. I knew it was wrong, but it took me a few to figure out what it was supposed to be. 🙂

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  4. Pete Laberge

    January 6, 2014 at 3:43pm

    @Marian Allen
    Well, I have a full size desktop PC. The monitor is a 22″ diagonal ACEr, the best I could afford….

    But a lot of people read stuff on tablets or phones now-a-days.

    Of course, I suppose my not so hot vision may account for some issues.

    Then too, as I said, real life and pics on a monitor are 2 different buckets of bolts.

    I hope they have something in real life, written is a good sized font, under each window, explaining what the thing is supposed to portray.

    Very few people in computer land (Too many perfect 20 somethings with little real world experience!), know much about people with various disabilities and other issues. I have know quite a few in my day. I tend therefore, to note these issues more often than most.

    Take care. I have to go shovel again………

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 6, 2014 at 6:16pm

      Thanks, Pete! In RL, the pictures are clearer, but there isn’t anything in writing. We’re supposed to have a Dedication when the weather is a little better, and I would imagine there’ll be a handout detailing it all then. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, either, which is why I used the tree as my example rather than the pictures which were even less clear!

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      • Pete Laberge

        January 6, 2014 at 6:26pm

        You got my agreement there!

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