Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hunting for Treasures

Part of the fun of building a world like Toriana is looking for artifacts in our world -- or to be more precise, things that exist here that might also fit into my parallel universe. The two worlds have many differences, but they also share a great many similarities -- primitive portraits like this one, for example, exist in both places. This little girl could be the daughter of a well-to-do Rumsen merchant, so I'll add her to my series notebook to provide a visual for future story description. This is basically why I regularly go on treasure hunts to find things I can use (or repurpose) for my stories.

Since the current era in my novels parallels the Victorian era, the best places to find Torian story treasures are antique shops. I paid a visit to one of my favorites to look around and see what treasures inspired me. This bright pitcher caught my eye because of the basic design and bright red flowers -- very cheerful. In our world it was probably a water or juice pitcher; in Toriana it's going to be a rinse pitcher for the bath. There are no showers yet in my universe, so when a female character (one who has no maid, like my Kit) has to wash her hair, this pitcher would come in handy for rinsing out the soap (male characters would probably use something a bit more manly-looking.)

I went into minor raptures when I spotted these two tin ceiling tiles. It's obvious they were molded to resemble plasterwork, and the traces of heavy paint indicate they were given quite a few coats to disguise the fact they are tin. Once they were put in place and painted it would be difficult if not impossible to tell they weren't plaster -- no one can touch a ceiling. I've seen similar faux decor tricks in 18th- and 19th-century houses in Savannah and other American cities and I love the ingenuity; it's exactly the sort of thing that would be done in Toriana by people who want to look like they have more money than they do, or by enterprising young architects who don't have all the materials or craftsman they need to pull off the real thing.

The other fun challenge of a story treasure hunt is coining new words for objects you want to repurpose. Here's a slideshow of twenty more artifacts I found and renamed while on my hunt:

Here are some definitions, too:

Baskenet -- like a bassinet here only made to carry over the arm. My Torian version would be a bit smaller.

Birthproof -- English-born citizens have more privileges than the Torian-born, so in certain homes birth certificates are displayed like pedigrees.

Calling Card Box -- this is one of those cute souvenirs you pick up on vacation; in Toriana they're hung outside homes without a household staff when the family leaves so visitors can drop their calling cards inside. Very popular among the merchant class.

Cigar Tray -- I could see this Torian version of an ashtray on a coffee table in the master's study; used for when he and his friends hang out together to smoke cigars and drink port or brandy. While they gossip and swill, the cigars are rested on the fluted edge.

Doll Chaise -- in our world we have doll cradles, in Toriana they have doll chaises. Barbie never had it so elegant. :)

Double Door Stop -- this is more like a Do Not Disturb sign; parked outside a room with double doors to indicate the occupant is not to be disturbed by the staff.

Eggnog Pitcher - Torians love animal objects, and the festive color of this little chicken made me think of Christmas. My version will have to be a bit bigger.

Grain Bin -- I didn't actually rename this object; it's a grain bin in our world and Toriana. I love the glass top.

Haunted Portrait - this would be a cute picture if not for that disembodied hand in the upper right section. What if the hand moved to different places when you weren't looking? I'm definitely going to use this in one particular setting.

Honeyjar -- I have no idea what this was in our world, but we'll be serving fresh Torian honey out of it at breakfast in mine.

Journey Desk -- this was probably a fancy jewelry box once; I thought it would make a pretty portable case for a lady's stationary, pens, ink bottles and so forth. I'd probably give mine a flat lid so she can write on top of it while on a train or at a hotel.

Keroseel Lamp -- this is an actual Victorian lamp, and I like the design, so with a couple of alterations it will serve the same purpose in my universe.

Key Jammer -- an old wood shuttle in our world might work as a Torian thief's lockpicking tool, or perhaps a tool to unjam a stiff lock. Must think about this one a bit more.

Le General -- You must recognize Monsieur here, who did not fare so well in my universe, but still managed to get a fair amount of publicity before he met a very unpleasant end. Probably hung up in a Torian tavern and used as a darts target.

Nutcracker & Nutbox -- I didn't find a label to tell me what this was, but that's exactly what it looks like to me. The little iron man will be George Washington getting ready to commit suicide at Broken Forge in my universe. He was one tough nut, our George.

Pocketclock -- an elegant Torian version of the travel clock.

Tubejack -- this old pipefitter's implement will work nicely as a flaring tool on the tubes in Rumsen.

Washbarrel -- this might have been used for washing dishes or clothing in our world, but I have another purpose for it.

Gunsafe in Washbarrel -- and here's the purpose: to disguise an illegal cache of weapons. Pile some dirty crockery or undies on top of them and they probably won't be found.

Wedding Soup Server -- this tureen was so small I thought it should have a special purpose. It's too pretty to use for a child, so why not the soup course at a Torian wedding reception, exclusively shared by the bride and groom in the same way they feed cake to each other in our world.

Story treasure hunts are a blast, and all you writers really need to go on your own is an imagination. If you see something and you don't know what it is, invent a purpose for it that suits your universe. To preserve the idea, take a photo of it. The world is filled with strange and wonderful things just waiting to spark an idea, be transformed into something new, and add that much more detail and realism to your stories.


  1. I am continually fascinated by the way you look at the world and awed by your imagination. I feel so sedantary in comparison. I must take a stroll through town at the weekend and try to look at the world through different eyes.

    1. They say storytellers always see everything as "grist for the mill", Fran. It helps to be a bit contrary, too -- I've always seen the world from the vantage point of "how can I change that to make it work for me?" Ha.

  2. I really really love that honeyjar. I think I would have fit perfectly into the Victorian era. Back then, it wasn't called "hoarding", it was being fashionable. ;)

    It looks like you took your pictures in the shop. I'm curious if the shopkeepers minded. Or is that maybe a common thing for people who are contemplating a purchase? I'd love to see their expressions as you explained what the pictures were for!

    1. I can't speak for other writers but personally I always ask permission of shop owners before I take any photos of their stock. Some are fine with it but others aren't. It's best to make sure upfront so you don't get kicked out. :)