Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Little Visual Stimulation

There is no writing tool more valuable than imagination. The facility for crafting prose is a poor second, because if there is nothing in front of the inner eye, there is nothing for the prose to express.

I am sure all writers have different methods for strengthening and stimulating their imagination. I do not naturally think in visual terms, and in recent years I've found the internet very useful not only for training my visual faculty, but also for providing 'models' around which I can write. Both Dragonchaser and The Dog of the North drew both inspiration and topographical information from the wonderful antique maps of Braun and Hogenberg. The one shown below, of Loreto, has never featured in one of my stories, but I do own a 16th century original of this map.


For The Last Free City I have used maps of another mediaeval city. Because that city is relatively unchanged today, I've also harvested a collection of photographs from the web which I've put into a phyisical file. I can use this for inspiration and also for "blocking out" scenes. Here are a couple of my favourite images:

The Last Free City


This is my image of Taratanallos, the 'last free city'













The Road to Grandille




This image of the bridge leaving the city nicely captures both climate and arcitechture.











The Prieko




It's easy to imagine all kinds of dark deeds in these steep narrow treacherous streets...














Naturally these pictures are all of a 'real' place: my customary non-existent prize for anyone who can tell me where this is.

How do you go about visualising your locations?

3 comments:

Matt Curran said...

Hi, Tim

I guess it's a little different for me as the locations in the first two books of The Secret War chronicles are based in real locations, so I scour the internet for historical paintings, and in the case of The Black Hours, old photographs. But yeah, I use visuals a lot in my writing, especially if I've never been there.

One example I can think of is where someone said to me they didn't think I'd been to London as my description of the city in the early 19th century for The Secret War was not vivid enough. However, they thought I'd spent a considerable time in Italy – when the reverse was the truth. While I haven't - and never will - spend much time in 19th century London, I've been to the capital enough times to know the city reasonably well. Italy - on the other hand - I had never been to prior to 2006 and after The Secret War was written. If my description of the surrounding areas of Rome and Northern Italy are convincing, it's because of DK's Eyewitness guide to Italy, and the vivid and glorious colourful photographs and illustrations that haunt its pages. I lived with that book for almost a year whilst writing The Secret War and it proved an inexhaustible well of inspiration. So essentially, my Italy is no less of a fantasy than Taratanallos...

Alis said...

I think I go about designing the topography of my books in the same way as I develop the story - I take one small detail and extrapolate from that. Salster grew around a north-south plan and around the colleges. The key college, Kineton and Dacre, grew out from the octagonal hall. As I always tell people when they ask where I get all my ideas from, to write a book you only need one idea and everything grows from that. For me, it's the same with places.

Neil said...

Hi, Tim.

I've experimented with map-drawing for a few bits of high-fantasy I've done in the past, but usually have the visuals in my head. Interestingly one of the stories I've written with Aliya is set in a real place I have intimate knowledge of (Calpe, near Alicante in Spain), but I neglected to let Aliya know this and she thought I'd invented it, but was still spot-on with the atmosphere. (But then she's clever like that.)

Like Matt, for real places I've not been to, I tend to do a lot of research, books and online. In fact, it's one of the few bits of research I enjoy, reading Rough Guides and travel diaries and suchlike. (Ooh, look, I didn't use a hyphen. David and Aliya will be pleased.) I mean, who has been to Albania?