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.ย  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 forย  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!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

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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

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