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Picturing a World

Canal bridge

Now look at this photograph of a bridge over a canal! Even when I don't want to describe something in detail in a story, I want to be able to visualize it for myself so that I know I'm not building an impossibility into the plot. The physical world, moreover, shapes our lives and should shape the lives of our characters. Okay, so I'm trying to imagine a bridge over a towpath in winter. Here I have the architectural solution for going from one bank to another. Curves and straight lines, bricks and stonework, messy dead grass and moss. I can see the muddy track as well as cobblestones, damp under the bridge, and a gate on the far side. Perfect for giving me assurance now, and you never know when some detail will suggest a future plot development.

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Thaulow bridge

Websites for auction houses can be great sources for images to help writers as well as art historians or would-be buyers. In my pursuit of aids to visualizing a river bank with a bridge, I came across this one at Bonham's by one of my favorite Scandinavian Impressionists, Frits Thaulow. At the Bonham's link, you can zoom in on details. What interested me most was the ramshackle staircase on the left and the grass-and-flower-covered bank opposite a brick retaining wall.

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View of a bridge

A story I'm working on is set in an imaginary world based loosely on Renaissance France and Tudor England. So why show you a drawing of Florence? Well, because my capital city has three bridges, one of which is built over with shops and houses. Images like this help me to visualize what my characters see, whether they illustrate exactly what I have in mind or not. In this case, I'm pleased by the representation both of buildings and a glimpse of the surrounding countryside. It helps me with scale as I send my characters up the river, over the bridge, and into neighborhoods on either side.
Image via MetMuseum

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