It’s International Museum Day – and I bet you didn’t know about that until now – so today, I want to talk to you about how great they are for writers.
Last year I went to Windsor Castle for my sister-in-law’s hen do. I’m not the sort of person who is easily excited by things to do with the royal family, but I do really like history. Even still, I had memories of walking around old houses and museums when I was young and hating it.
I remembered being on walking tours that I completely ignored, looking at paintings and feeling nothing. I have a strong memory of disappointment when, aged 18, I went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa. I remember thinking how small it was, and how unimpressive for something so significant.
But Windsor was different. I put on my headset for the audio tour, stepped into the building, and found…that I was listening. That it was interesting. That I was stepping into each room and looking around me and getting ideas.
As a child or even a teenager I wasn’t very interested in history. But now I’m older – and writing a novel in a historical setting – suddenly it was all so much more relevant.
The tour described why the defensive walls had been built that way, and I found myself thinking of everything I knew about castle defence. It talked about how the building was used in centuries before and I suddenly, desperately, wanted to write about it.
I took notes. I took photos. I listened, enraptured, to every single room. I walked through it and worked out how, when I was able to write it, I wanted my characters to walk through this building. I worked out what I wanted to change. What I wanted to keep. Why they were here, and what it was all about.
And when I got home, I wrote almost the entirety of the last act of Protos, where – amongst other things – Kalyani goes to Windsor Castle. It’s one of my favourite parts of the novel; one that not even my beta readers have seen yet. And it wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t gone on that tour last year.
But it isn’t just a source of inspiration for historical writers. Even just being in a place like that can help you imagine its size, the complexity of its layout. Buildings aren’t like in the Sims where you make a rectangle and then some perfectly aligned rooms inside. They’re weird, and make no sense where someone’s built on them a dozen separate times. That can be hard to conceive mentally until you’ve seen it.
So if you’re seeking inspiration, whether you’re in the early stages of writing or towards the end, hie thee to a museum. A historical house. A castle. Somewhere that is relevant to you, and will give you the ideas and the visual representation that you need to help conceptualise it in your mind – and in your text.
If you enjoyed this blog post and now can’t wait to read Protos, you can! Patrons of Daydreaming Darling rank and above have the first half of Protos accessible, and you can still join them by pledging just $10/month on Patreon.