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12 February 2012 ·

Diving Deeper into your story:

Yesterday, Margo Lanagan tweeted pictures of the scrapbooks she used while working on her new novel  Sea Hearts (which I’m dying to read, not only because Selkies are dear to my heart, but because she’s an excellent writer and well worth reading.)

She uses the physical scrapbooks for the same reason I use a digital collection for a screensaver (and a few pictures stuck onto the door or windowsill): to drive ourselves back into the story, to refocus, and find depth.

No matter how clear a story seems to be in your head, you’ll usually find that there are details you haven’t pictures, or haven’t even known that you’ve needed until you actually start writing. If there’s something you’re not familiar with, it can help to collect as many pictures as possible so that you see it from different angles, or notice different details: for my own Selkie, Nim’s sea lion friend – which I wrote before the days of easy screensavers – I had a huge collection of photographs from Old National Geographics etc, pasted on the wall above my computer.  (When Paula Mazur, the Nim’s Island film producer, told me that the Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, the directors and final draft scriptwriters, had screensavers of sea lions etc, I knew we were in safe hands.)

For the more familiar animals of Rainbow Street, which were often a mix of many pets I’ve known, it was still important for me to choose one particular animal and have its image there, reminding me of its personality, as well as which ear was white, or the colour of its tail.

But the best images of all are the ones that capture the mood you’re looking for for this story, that lead you into the emotions that your characters are feeling. It can be the colours of a sunset, the expression on a face, the flip of a pony tail… there are no rules. You’ll know when you find the images of the clues that’ll help you dive deeper and focus more sharply in the world you’ve created.

WANTED: A Guinea Pig Called Henry (and other Rainbow Street Shelter Series/ Rainbow Street Pets) 


  1. Dorien I love using images, but I have recently been scared to use anything but my very own photographs. I've heard stories of people being sued for using images they had no right to use and want to prevent that myself. therefore, screenshots are a great way to overcome that hurdle.

    And it still lets you be creative. And share your vision.

    Great post.
    February 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio