The Role of Images in Storytelling

by George Getschow

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FenceSpur_ThibodeauxEach year, I like to take our writers on a backroading excursion to Larry’s ranch, a place the locals call Idiot Ridge, to gaze upon the McMurtry brand, a rusty stirrup welded on the front gate leading into the ranch. The stirrup is a symbol of McMurtry’s ranching heritage, an image Larry’s branded on each of the books in his private collection. Every time I gaze at that stirrup — first branded on McMurtry’s cattle — I’m reminded of just how important images are in laying hold of the deepest meaning of a story.

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After spending weeks engaged in conventional methods of reporting and research — conducting dozens of interviews, combing through archives, reading page after page of Larry’s novels and essay collections –I still didn’t have a clue how to tell Larry’s story. In desperation, I drove out to Idiot Ridge one day and sat at the front gate staring at the McMurtry stirrup for hours–scribbling words in my journal, meditating on the deepest meaning of that object.

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And finally, through that image, I was able to channel the story. (Read “The Rancher and The Writer” in the section titled McMurtryland) And that’s why I return to Larry’s front gate with my tribe of storytellers year after year. I want them to understand that to grasp the deepest meaning of a story goes beyond conventional research. It takes observation and feeling, intuition and learning how to divine a story from an image onto the pages of a journal. These are not easy storytelling methods to teach. But unless they’re understood, the deepest meaning of a story simply can’t be rendered on the page.

— George Getschow, Writer-in-Residence at the Mayborn School of Journalism and founder of the Archer City Writers Workshop

Read some of our writers’ image exercises in the Under the Stoplight section.

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