Picture This

By Tobsha Learner

A literary thriller set in the art world of New York

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Writer as Journey-Man - tricks of the trade.

Over the years (‘Picture this’ is my 11th book) I have developed a very specific writing process that really heralds back to my playwriting training at N.I.D.A (the Aussie = of RADA). Paul Thompson (currently NYU) was my lecturer and mentor then, and he taught us to approach and breakdown each scene with ‘units of action’. In other words what actually happens in that scene physically and plot-wise. Naturally before that I would have developed character backgrounds (for all characters – detailed for protagonists) research and a plot line that would take the form of a graph (three-act) or cards. I know this is very unromantic in terms of how people like to imagine writers sit down to a blank sheet and then just start weaving out of their imagination, but I truly believe in the craft of writing (talent being just about 10% of the equation, the rest sheer bloody-mindedness and making the discipline of writing a daily habit).

Apart from the detailed character breakdowns and I use whatever trigger points I can find: observation/imagination/photos/family/horoscopes even! To build these as three dimensionally as possible, I also always do a lot of research (especially with the historical novel i.e. Witch Of Cologne, Soul) into location, cultural/political and ethnic specifics) and often go to the locations to interview, photograph etc (a little like an investigative journalist) this has taken me to some extraordinary places and to extraordinary peoples – especially working on some of the TS Learner’s thrillers – Sphinx, The Map, The Stolen.

The advantage of having all these tools around me before I even begin a first draft is that I know where I’m going and who I’m taking on the journey.

It also frees me up to really polish the metaphor, onomatopoeia, language and nuance with each new draft – I usually rewrite up to eight drafts (sometimes more). This is the real pleasure for me – the honing of the word, this also allows subtle overlaying of other metaphor and themes – fro example PICTURE THIS could be seen as a reworking of the Memphisto story. 

Likewise with PICTURE THIS I have interviewed a number of gallery owners and artists, as well as visit locations. This is a little more personal for me as I have drawn on my experiences as a sculptor (first and only degree, NIDA training was post-grad) and on observing artist friends and their ways of seeing. ‘Commerce versus the artistic soul’ is the dilemma all working creatives have to face and I’m exploring this theme amongst many others in ‘PICTURE THIS’.  I look forward to taking you on this journey.  


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