Whenever I get stuck, I turn to Pinterest. Yes, there are more ads these days, but when the page stays determinedly blank, I find a store of images on which to focus invaluable. I make a pin board for each story I plan to write, and fill it with anything that sparks an idea, no matter how minor that idea might be. I use everything from paintings by old masters to songs and music videos to snatches of poetry.
Here are just a few examples from the board I made for my second manuscript Heart of Ice.
Image 1: This painting by Kelly Vivanco (You can buy her art at kellyvivanco.com) raises so many questions. The girl looks innocent and sweet but I can’t help but think there’s a little more than tea in that pot. Helen Grey, the heroine of Heart of Ice, has been locked in an insane asylum for ten years. Her nurse is physically violent. In the circumstances, who could blame her for occasionally spiking the tea?
Image 2: Dr. John Butler’s Electric Massage machine. Rumour has it that the vibrator was invented by Victorian doctors as a cure for hysteria. As to whether it’s true, in her book Unmentionable Therese Oneill says definitely not. But then I read The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines which is literally an entire book about how it is true. It certainly makes one wonder about the mentality of the doctors who administered this “cure”. Helen doesn’t undergo that particular indignity but the Victorian obsession with female sexual desire was definitely front and centre in my mind while I wrote.
Image 3: Floor plan of a Victorian kitchen. I don’t know about you but I don’t have a scullery (or a pantry or a larder) and when I realised I needed to set scenes in the kitchen, I didn’t want to get things wrong. I don’t describe the kitchen in great detail since it’s not important to the story and I didn’t want to get bogged down in unnecessary detail, but I still needed to know what it looked like so that I wouldn’t make my characters walk through walls, jolting the reader out of the story.
Image 4: Water is an important motif in Heart of Ice. I knew there’d be several scenes that involved bathing of various kinds and, when I saw this painting by Jean Baptiste Mallet, I knew exactly where I wanted to set some of them. The stone and stained glass make this a bit different from your usual bathroom.
Image 5: I’ve saved the best till last. Will, the hero of Heart of Ice, has a dog. He’s called Hector and he’s awesome. He was going to suffer from melancholia but then I re-read Jennifer Crusie’s Anyone But You and realised this was not the brilliant and unique idea I’d first thought. (Just to clarify, it is a brilliant idea but Crusie’s already done it). These days Hector is relatively well-adjusted and often shows better sense than the humans around him.
If you get the chance, check out my boards. Many of them are to do with my writing and my research into the Victorian period, and I also have a board for my Top 100 Romance novels. I know I couldn’t write well in this genre if I didn’t also love it as a reader.