Rubber to road: A novel excerpt inspired by the art of René Magritte


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In the previous post, I wrote about my experience with the artwork of René Magritte, a Belgian surrealist painter who depicted everyday objects in unconventional scenarios. His intent in doing this was to make “everyday objects shriek aloud.” His artwork inspired me to think outside the box in terms of how I use objects to create a scene and produce emotion. While working on my novel yesterday, I accepted the challenge to use ordinary objects in an unusual way for one paragraph.

“It was the absence of sound that told Lennie it had snowed. Snow softened the sharp edges of the city and made each noise a mellow, un-tuned version of its original self. She pulled off her bedcovers and tiptoed through the dark to the window. The clouds had passed and a small, round moon cast silver light through the wide darkness like a flashlight through a keyhole. Still, still, still, one can hear the falling snow, she sang quietly to herself. For all is hushed, the world is sleeping, Holy Star its vigil keeping. Still, still, still, one can hear the falling snow. Moonlight on snow always reminded her of her favorite Christmas carol. She pictured a red sleigh, huge evergreens, and rolling hills covered in white, probably inspired by all the Currier and Ives Christmas cards she’d seen. Spreading her fingers against the cold glass of the windowpane, she looked out at the houses and the far-off black shapes of the buildings downtown. Her world was not a Currier and Ives greeting card; it was a spider web of flat, gray streets with homes and buildings stuffed into each quadrant. She thought about Tom, and where their lives would fit. It was only a matter of time before he proposed. Standing at the window, a draft slipping through her nightgown, she knew “the rest of her life” was about to be set in motion. She would say yes, and she would love him.” 

As I wrote this paragraph, the eerie scenes in Magritte’s paintings, as well as images from several Tim Burton movies, stayed in my mind. Flashlight through a keyhole, a spider web of flat, gray streets…I came up with those descriptions not because Magritte’s paintings showed me how to use ordinary objects in strange ways, but because they stirred up a certain feeling. One of something dark and supernatural, yet believable. Using the emotion from Magritte’s paintings as a touchstone, I chose words I thought would produce a haunting but true experience for the reader.

Through this writing exercise, I realized benefiting from inspiration is a two-step process. Once I feel inspired, I should make a focused effort to apply it.

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