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Picturing a World

Lady and the devil

While I was chasing the Green Man in March, I bookmarked Facing sin: late medieval roof bosses in Ugborough church, Devon, a 2015 article by Dr. Susan Andrew. Going back to it, I found this image of an elegant lady with a devil draped over her head.

The question became, how could this be used in a story? The object photographed is a roof boss in the ceiling of a church. That's a topic about which art historians would have informed opinions, so it might be a place to start. But in the spirit of a Natasha Pulley exercise, it's worth jotting down other ideas, too.

  • An art historian finds a typical Devonian roof boss somewhere outside of Devonshire and tries to learn how it got there.
  • In the 16th C, an artist carves a lady's face with an ambiguous message. What? Why?
  • A young man's face is carved in what appears to be a woman's horned headdress. What's up?
  • A magic mirror with the capacity to reveal truths about those reflected in it causes this woman's image to appear. What does it mean? Why is she so cool when she sees it? Or does someone else see it and learn something about her?
  • A witch bearing the dead body of an imp on her head walks into a hall.  

Next step: Choose one. I'll choose the witch and the body because, for purposes of a quick demonstration, fantasy is actually easier to write than, say, proper historical fiction, which requires research. (Ditto a story about someone's profession.) So, what else might be true in this story?


  • Everyone else is peculiarly dressed, too.
  • It's a christening and everyone else is horrified when the witch arrives.
  • At an occult gathering, only true initiates can see the monster.
  • When the lady bows low, the body tumbles off at the foot of the king.
  • The demon isn't dead, after all.

Third step: Take ten minutes to write an opening paragraph. Here's what I wrote in six:

  • The inhabitants of the wearisome underground kingdom of the Faerie king Orduluc were compelled to dance every night in tattered garments they must pretend were elegant high fashion. The most bored lady of the court was Millicent, who cornered an imp one day in the pantry. It shouldn't have been there. Neither should she. Only working fairies of the humbler sort had any business in the kitchens, but Millicent had gone exploring. And the creature gave her an idea. She bribed it to ride on her shoulder to the ball that evening and tumble stinking at the king's feet. It worked. They were both expelled. And that's when their adventures together began.

Notice that the witch morphed into a fairy in the blink of an eye between the idea and the first key strokes—a good lesson in just letting a story tell itself.

Your turn: Find a startling picture and …

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