In fiction writing, we usually distinquish between plot-driven and character-driven stories. Ideally, there’s a healthy balance between the two, otherwise the story ends up either in the shallow part of the pool or drowning in the deep end.
In my other job, I’m a licensed real estate broker. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to a third approach: location, location, location. But let me back track a bit. When I was in my twenties, there was a German painter I loved. His name is Hans-Werner Sahm. His forte was surrealism. In most of his images, the natural laws of gravity, scope, and physics were completely suspended. His paintings had a big imapact on me. You could say they spoke directly to my soul.
You can see what I mean in looking at this example. Fast forward to 2011 when I began to write The Three Feathers. Its a fable and, growing up in Germany, I’ve read tons of them at school, together with all the Grimm’s fairy tales and such. In one sense, my subconscious was primed for something I didn’t even know yet. When I was about fourty pages into The Three Feathers, I began to draw a map. That lead me to searching for and finding Hans-Werner Sahm’s paintings online. I printed a bunch of them out. At that time, I wrote mostly at the kitchen table which had a glass surface. I stuck the print-outs under the glass so I could look at them while I wrote.
I began to like my characters but realized that what really pushed the story forward were those images. Their scope and beauty and utter abandon of physical laws created this field in my mind (sorry, I couldn’t find another way of describing this) that pulled – or pushed – the characters along. The locations became plot points. The hero’s journey now moved from one to the next. The character development happened within those locations. The plotpoints came out of them.
If you have read The Three Feathers, you might remember The Refuge, a high tower completely enclosed in glass. Its inspiration came from the above image. You can see the tiny people in this painting. That’s how I envisioned Joshua, Grey, Krieg, and Wind as they had to solve the riddle of the Porte Des Lioness – the entrance to the mountain. It was an amazing and kid-in-a-candy-story-like experience to discover and embedd those images into the story.
This image shows what I envisioned the Lake of Tears and Refuge would look like. You cannot but be captivated by the sheer scope of it. The other thing that happened, at least in my own mind, was that the characters became an integral part of the landscape and took on a depth and soul that mirrored the landscape. I’m not sure if I am describing this correctly. It’s kind of hard to put into words. I cried sometimes while writing, overwhelmed by the beauty of it.
There was one character in particular that came right out of one of the paintings. The lioness, a presence in the world of Hollow’s Gate, was inspired by two paintings. This is one of them:
The Porte Des Lioness in the story – the entrance to the mountain – lies right below the lion’s head. It was easy to imagine the characters travelling this world. Danger and beauty were built into them already.
In the third part of The Three Feathers, Grey, Joshua, and Krieg make it into the mountain where they discover the ancient mining town, abandoned for thousands of years. You can see how one can get inspired by this image to write just one out of so many possible story that happened there. The light source in this image has become a major plot point in The Fourth Sage as well.
The above image is a great example. The spheres in this painting became a huge part in not only The Three Feathers but have fueled the rest of the five-book series. I imagined that the spheres were devices through which one could travel through a wormhole. Imagine a movie with those images as inspiration. It would be breathtaking.
Check out Hans-Werner Sahm’s paintings. He doesn’t have a website there’s plenty of material online by simply looking for his name.
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