Wednesday, October 28, 2015

World Building: Why my camera means more to me than chocolate or coffee

By Ataska Brothers

Only once did I leave my camera at home on a walk with the dogs — what could possibly happen on a quick stroll around the block? Well. We bumped into a tiger salamander crossing an empty parking lot. In February!

But what was so important about taking the critter’s photo? Besides posting it on Facebook (which would be fun)?

I needed that picture for three reasons.

The world building is my favorite part of writing. My genre is Dark Fantasy, but the stories are set in “our” world, “our” reality, because I’m fascinated with the idea of ordinary people being forced to deal with supernatural phenomena. I strive to create an atmospheric setting for every scene, which means adding “doom and gloom” to every sunny afternoon.

Here’s a picture of the river that plays a huge role in my setting.



As much as I love describing lush meadows and verdant willows, I must somehow make the scenic river menacing.

I open my picture file, and here’s the right spot. It’s the same river, and the background is still sunny and lush and verdant. But now the setting gives out a spooky vibe, just what I’m looking for. I have my inspiration for the scene, and I don’t have to rely on memory to describe the details.


Would it be easier to find a fitting picture on the Internet? No, not for me. I joke that I have enough photographs to illustrate every paragraph in my novel — twice. No need to spend time researching unfamiliar images when I have every slime-covered rock, every blue dragonfly, every downed tree I want to depict, in my files.

Another reason why I take so many pictures is because I never know when something strange and fun will be needed to add specificity to a scene. For example, this is George. He’s been in my family for generations. 


Recently, I discovered one more reason why having my own illustrations on file is a good idea. Blurbs. I don’t have to seek an artist’s permission when I’m using a picture I took myself. Here’s an example of how I worked “in reverse” to create an interesting image for my future promotions.

One of my characters held a shard of green glass over a burning candle until it burst from the heat. I imagined the piece as a fragment of antique stained glass. But was it interesting enough? I brainstormed with my critique partners, and they suggested a perfume bottle with a mysterious liquid inside. I liked the image, but I was already using flasks and bottles and vials …

However, the three-dimensional form of the container gave me an idea: a semi-transparent lump of glass that melted in a village fire. Specificity! And I had a sample in my collection, a keepsake from my childhood, to help me with the description. Then I grabbed my camera. 


An excerpt from the novel, and the names of the author, the story, and my publisher, all incorporated into the picture — and voila, an unusual promo will be ready to be posted on my author sites.

The photograph of a salamander crossing an empty parking lot, with the piles of February snow in the background, could have come handy one day. If the need arises, I can describe the bizarre scene from memory, but there will be no cool blurb. A few nights ago, a friend sent me a picture of a baby amphibian sitting on her doorstep. A cute critter, but the photo was too dark. Maybe one day I’ll find another salamander. Hopefully, my camera will be with me and ready.

I’d like to show you one more picture. A photograph. The words. World building.


About the author:  Born in Moscow, Ataska grew up with the romance and magic of Russian fairy tales. She never imagined that one day she’d be swept off her feet by an American Marine. An engineer-physicist-chemist, Ataska realized that the powder metallurgy might not be her true calling when on a moonless summer night she was spooked by cries of a loon in a fog-wrapped meadow. What if, a writer’s unrelenting muse, took hold of her. Two of her passions define her being. Ataska is an orchid expert and she writes dark fantasy.