Story Painting

How to Paint a Story by guest blogger Sandra Tooley

Painting a story is a lot like painting a picture. My sister is an artist. When she paints a picture of Santa Claus, you can almost smell the smoke coming from his pipe. I happened to be there when she was painting flowerpots for a Christmas bizarre. As I watched, I realized her process wasn’t much different from the one I use to write a book. You can use the same process to write a story.

Step One: Sketching the Story

First, the basics. She painted the terra cotta pot with an undercoat of white. She sketched a scene of a brick house, Christmas tree, a clothesline with Santa’s long underwear hanging from it, a birdhouse, shrubbery, and a deer.

When I start writing, I sketch my basic plot. I usually know the beginning, the end, and several action points I’ll include. Then I let the characters write the story going from Point A to B and C. It’s only a sketch so I write whatever comes to mind without agonizing over whether a scene is working.

Step Two: Add Details to the Story

When Sis completes her sketch, she erases and makes changes, such as adding ornaments to the tree, another plant, and the face of an elf in the window.

When I finish my initial draft, I read through to see what details are added, discover what doesn’t move the story along and what can be deleted. Sometimes I eliminate unnecessary characters or even whole chapters that aren’t essential to the plot.

Step Three: Add Color to Your Story

When Sis is ready to paint, she adds color to her characters and scenery.

When I write, I don’t take time to research. Instead, I type two question marks ?? where I need information. Then I print out all the pages with ?? on them and start picking expert’s brains: my brother, the lawyer; my friend, the nurse; my friend’s husband, the cop. I use a Forensics for Dummies book and of course, the Internet.

Step Four: Add More Story Color

My sister constantly does touches up on her art. She has a way with shading colors that makes everything look real. Santa’s long johns actually look worn, the trees and plants seem to grow in front of your eyes, and the snow looks real enough to cause a shiver.

This is the point where I make sure my characters have a distinct voice, that I have engaged at least two senses on each page, that my setting gives the readers a sense of place, and that the crime and solution are logical.

Step Five: The Critical Eye of Story Telling

This is when Sis turns on the critical eye. She knows the sections that are complete and which ones need more work.

Writers can’t see their own mistakes as clearly as artists can so this is where I pass my manuscript off to the editor or one of my friends. They’re great at catching mistakes that I miss because I’ve been looking at the words for months on end and don’t realize my character had brown eyes in chapter two and blue eyes in chapter twenty. Once I get my friends’ feedback and my editor’s comments, it’s time to make the final changes. Voila! I’m done.

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* Sandra Tooley’s Sam Casey Series combines mystery with paranormal (think Medium with a Native American twist). Her Chase Dagger Series combines mystery with fantasy. Dagger takes on cases that are more like X-Files and his assistant is a Shape Shifter (Critics call it MacGyver meets Dark Angel). You can find Sandra’s books in print, audio, and ebook formats. Check out her website at Her email is


2 thoughts on “Story Painting

    1. Thanks for stopping in, Nicole. I don’t paint (wish I did, just never found time for it), but I felt like the writer did a marvelous job with the comparison. I love having guest bloggers. Everyone sees things from a different point of view.


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