World Building – Landscapes

Can a novel be inspired by landscapes? Usually, a story is derived from either plot or character. Locations mostly come into play when the story is specifically about them. Climbing Mount Everest or the siege of the Alamo, to name just a few, have specific locales as their driving force.

If you look at the picture below, can’t you just taste and smell and see the possibilities for a story? Who are the people who live there? What is a day like in this world? How deep do those buildings go into the ground? How did those cracks appear?

In my early twenties, I was introduced to a German painter named Hans Werner Sahm (if you google his name and click on “Images,” you can see most of his paintings.) His landscapes spoke to me on a very deep and personal level. It was as if the scenes stirred some ancient memory within me.

When I started my first novel, a fable called The Three Feathers, I had not thought about the paintings for a few years. But the subconscious is a fascinating thing and when I began drawing a map of the world that opened up before me, the images came back. Thanks to the internet, I suddenly had all of them at my fingertips.

From that point on, roughly around chapter 6 in the book, the plot was mostly motivated by the landscapes in the paintings. And because they somehow stir up stuff from the subconscious, the story that appeared also felt as if it rose from deep down somewhere. I was soon swept away in it.

Take the above image, for example. It became the inspiration for the Porte Des Lioness, an ancient gate into the mountain, the heroes had to find. From that scene a character appeared. His name is Broga, he’s a peeper frog who, despite his size, was the mighty guardian of the gate – the only one who could open it. This is a major plot point in the story and one that, without that image, would not have been there.

Once inside the mountain, another image served as the foundation for a good third of the story all the way to its fantastical climax: An ancient abandoned mining town deep underground. The light source never changed; the pillars were, as the legend states, carved by dragons.

I believe that for every writer there are triggers fueling the stories from a well beyond the rational mind. We all have different means to fuel our imagination. Landscapes is just one of them.  For me images like this one open the door to those hidden chambers inside – the ones where the stories come from.

 

Cheers,

Stefan

The Emotional Impact of Landscapes in Writing

Have you ever had dreams where the natural laws were suspended, where you were able to swim under water for  long periods of time, or float in the air without wings? I’ve had a lot of those dreams during childhood. In my early twenties, I discovered a German painter named Hans-Werner Sahm. His work could be categorized as surrealism as he paints stunning landscapes that never quite follow the natural laws of physics or nature. Nevertheless, or maybe because of it, the paintings evoke emotions of longing, hope, and limitlessness of spirit.

hochland_hiWe all know that the basic task of the writer is to evoke emotions in the reader. Ideally, each scene includes at least some element of that. Usually, emotion is created when one or more characters in the story go through experiences of loss, love, fear, external and internal struggle, etc. I always felt that landscapes can evoke those very same reactions, albeit in a completely different way.

Refugiumwindows

As an example from my own writing, in The Three Feathers, the landscape itself is what pushes a good amount of the plot forward. The characters travel from one location to the next and the landscape itself, dangerous and beautiful alike, becomes an obstacle or a place of refuge, depending on where they are on their journey. The images create an emotional arc, adding depth to the individual arcs of the characters.

Aufbruch

The depth of the landscape can mirror the depth of the emotions the characters go through at any given point in the story. I found that whatever the landscape is, should reinforce the emotion of the characters so that, even if there is a scene where nothing much happens in terms of character development, the emotional impact of the landscape is still present.

Entdeckung

Landscapes can make characters seem powerless and small in comparison, adding to the sense of danger and futility the characters have to overcome in order to reach their goal.

Meeting Point

The image above is a good example. For me, it evokes feelings of loss and parting, danger, and a certain finality. I imagine a traveler reaching this point in her journey only to realize that she cannot continue. Her quest is in jeopardy, maybe the life of a loved one on the other side of the bridge is now more in danger than ever before. How will she get to the other side. Here’s an idea: Eagles!!! 🙂

In the book I’m working on right now, I have just reached the point where I was able to begin working on a map of the main character’s whole journey. Simply working on the map always provides me with immense insights into the story and characters. Plot points begin to fall into place and things come together more coherently. Drawing a map, to me, is always the most helpful part of developing a story (Besides, in this case, listening to an extensive amount of DRAGON FORCE!). The book is called Apocalypse Weird: The White Dragon – Crucible. It will be out next year.

20150815_101726

Hans-Werner Sahm does not have a web site but if you Google his name, most of his paintings will come up in the search.

Cheers and happy reading and writing,

Stefan

The Three Feathers – An Approach to Location-Driven Writing

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.

prison cell

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.

Refugiumwindows

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.

LeuchtFeuter

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:

Lions

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.

Entdeckung

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.

Aufbruch

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.

Cheers,

Stefan

 
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Joshua and Grey meet Ayres, the guardian of the Gate of Time. They have to pass the grueling test of the Mirror Labyrinth and make their way through the City of Light Ruins to the Refuge.
 

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