Shake Up Your Story With Art!

Daphne and the Duke take in a serene landscape that spurs the realization of their feelings for one another in Bridgerton. Out of the frame: they touch hands for the first time.

By Paula Butterfield

I feel lucky as an historical fiction writer to have found my niche writing biographical fiction about women artists. Aside from the pleasure of studying an artist’s creations, her work can also solve many writing challenges. Not everyone intends to write a book about a woman artist, but—whether your preferred sub-genre is mystery, romance, paranormal, or something else entirely—you can use art as a tool to enhance writing. Amy Maroney and I will show you how in our Cozy Chat, Shake up Your Story with Art!

  • Want to develop your character in more depth? Say you’ve got a secondary character who plays an important role in your plot, but who just doesn’t jump off the page. Describe how they respond to a work of art. It can be anything from a statue in a park to a child’s clay figurine. Contrasting one character’s response to another’s will tell you reader a lot about them.
  • Want to set a mood? Aside from reporting the season and the weather, or whether one of your characters is slouching or striding down the sidewalk, cataloging an interior can help set a gloomy atmosphere or a pleasant ambiance. Mentioning a print of a lone figure from Picasso’s Blue Period hanging in the background will lend an entirely different tone than will Norman Rockwell’s scene of a family enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Playing with an idea for a story but can’t seem to get it started? Art can inspire a plot point or drive the entire plot. Many an author has centered a book around a piece of art. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code are about paintings. But (going way back to a book that first pulled me into historical fiction) James Michener’s The Source was an interconnected group of stories inspired by  artifacts discovered during an archeological dig. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, follows a Hebrew manuscript through history.

I invite you to send a story problem you’re struggling with to paulabutterfield@msn.com. (The sooner the better, naturally.)  Please specify the genre of your novel and the nature of your story issue. Amy and I will come up with some ideas to share with you at our Cozy Chat. We’ll also share relevant examples from our own books and WIPs, as well as from other books and movies. And the other participants in this Chat will no doubt also have ideas to contribute. With all of us brainstorming, you’ll likely leave the Chat ready to concoct a story cocktail of story that includes a shot of art—shaken, not stirred.

Register for the Historical Novel Society conference to attend our Cozy Chat “Shake Up Your Story with Art!” Thursday, June 26, at 6:00 pm Central Time.

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