Need something to steal, to ransom, to fake? Need modern forensic technology to solve a crime? Need a detective with guts?
Try using art as a plot device.
Art is a high price commodity. One of the four versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream just sold for 120 million. And it is pastel on cardboard. Lots to think about there. So you need look no further than art if you need a writing topic.
The Thomas Crown Affair. The Da Vinci Code. The Rembrandt Affair. The hunter and the hunted. See what I mean?
A question I am often asked is, “How the heck did you figure out what to write about?” That’s an easier one to answer than, “Why the heck did you even want to write a book?” I’ll answer the easy one here by getting back to art and how I figured out what art piece to write about.
Several years ago I enrolled in a UCSD class on how to write a mystery novel. I needed a plot, settings, characters. Piece of cake, I thought. But, no. What I knew about writing and what I needed to learn in order to write were worlds apart. I’ve studied books and language since college but studying and reading are very different from the active task of producing a story.
For the class, I didn’t want to spend hours writing about nasty murders, blood diamonds, or weapons of slaughter. That’s the daily news. At that time I was reading David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge, his discussion of how Old Masters might have used a camera obscura to trace a subject and then paint over the tracing. A camera obscura is simply a dark (obscura) room (camera) with a small hole in one side. Light passes through the hole from outside and projects an upside down image on a wall or a canvas. A pinhole camera does that. Every camera lens does that. It’s a physics thing.
For the class I needed to come up with an “object of desire,” something the characters needed to protect and/or steal? So, “Aha!” Why not create an art piece showing a camera obscura? Not so easy to do. I tried thinking up a painting, then a scroll, then an etching. While I was thinking, I also was studying Chinese art and Chinese brush painting. Finally I came up with a Chinese bronze bowl with an upside-down garden carved on it.
When I finally had the bowl, no one in my writing group could visualize it. So I had to write scenes to describe exactly how an artist had designed the bowl and how it was made into bronze. I went to foundries to see first hand how bronze is cast. That was fun.
Then I started putting together the whole art mystery. Several years and a lot of rewrites later I had Artists & Thieves.
Three guesses what the original title was.