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Inspiration

Inspiration from art

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opens to the public next week. I was lucky enough to sneak in early and pick up some word wrangling inspiration.

There were over 1,300 pieces on display. Here are three that might help you crack your next story.

1. Opening image

Divinity, Lola Flash

Struan Murray says he started Orphans of the Tide with one strong image in mind: a whale stranded on a chapel rooftop.

Exhibitions are always packed with visual story starters. And, for me, Lola Flash’s photo of a mysterious praying figure against an upturned boat has the hallmarks of a cracking opening image.

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want?
  • Where have they come from?

I can’t look at it without wanting to reach for a pen to find answers.

Lola Flash’s Divinity

2. Setting

Green Kitchen, Bogotá, Caroline Peña-Bray

Green Kitchen, Bogotá, Caroline Peña-Bray

I have a dreadful habit of writing first drafts in a vacuum – with characters doing things in spaces that are impossible to picture.

But getting the setting right makes telling the rest of the story so much easier. That’s where a good gallery can help.

Look at the personality bursting from Caroline Peña-Bray’s ramshackle kitchen. It’s hard to imagine any scene set here not being full of noise and life, too.

What do your settings – from the colours on the walls to the amount of clutter crammed onto the shelves (or not) – say about your characters? If your settings aren’t saying much, perhaps they’re not working hard enough.

For more world-building inspiration, make a beeline for the RA’s architecture room, where full models of buildings and cities are laid out in front of you. They’re such a help if, like me, you’re not great at visualising the places in your book.

3. Character

I Bite & Sting: Mosquito and Jellyfish, Stephen Chambers

I Bite & Sting: Mosquito and Jellyfish, Stephen Chambers

Have you ever seen a more terrifying, ready-made villain than Stephen Chambers’ jellyfish? This etching gives me the creeps, and also gets me wondering what evil sting plot is going on behind those very big eyes…

Galleries are great places to find your next characters – heroes, pets, sidekicks and evil jellyfish overlords alike.

The RA Summer Exhibition is on from 22nd Sept-2nd January 2022. Tickets are £20-£22 (and if you buy anything, you get a free ticket the following year). If you make it along, tell me about your favourite pieces in the replies. #RASummer