Borrowed Worlds

When I think about writing, I think about pictures. I try to really see the world I am creating in my head before I even write down a single word. Sometimes, I cheat. Sometimes, instead of inventing my own world, I will borrow one that already exists. I will often borrow from pictures I see. I love going to exhibitions; I collect postcards; I clip photos out of magazines I hoard pictures. How Ali Ferguson Saved Houdini started out as someone else’s picture. I had been invited to judge a children’s drawing competition. The theme was my house. Lots of people drew pictures of chocolate’box houses, with smoke coming out of the chimney and a winding path up to the door. Except one boy. He drew a picture of a tower block and he wrote at the top I live in a skyscraper. I loved his enthusiasm and excitement this was no ordinary tower-block, it was a skyscraper where all sorts of adventures could happen. I planned the whole story using this picture as my starting point (in case you were wondering, the boy didn’t win the competition; I wanted him to, but the other judges didn’t agree with me.)

Try borrowing worlds for yourself. Find a book of paintings, or go online to the website of a big gallery such as the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Flick through the images until you find a picture of a person that looks interesting. This person will be the hero of your story. Spend a few minutes looking closely at the picture:

  • what clothes are they wearing?
  • What is their environment like?
  • Do they look happy, or sad?
  • Is there anyone else there with them?

Once you have looked at the painting for a while, answer these questions QUICKLY dontthink about it, just write down the first things that come into your head:

  • What is the persons name?
  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • They are good at something what is it?
  • What is their most treasured possession?
  • They have a dream, an aspiration what is it?
  • They are afraid of something what is it?

For a story to work, it is a good idea to have some conflict. Someone, or something, is trying to stop your character from achieving their dream. Think about your character again, then answer these questions QUICKLY:

  • Who is trying to stop them?
  • Why?
  • How will they try to stop your hero?
  • Will they succeed?
  • How will the hero fight back?

By answering these questions, you should start to see the skeleton of the story. As you write it out, you will be able to add dialogue and description to make it come alive.

Happy borrowing!