A Digression on StoneDragon Art

I try to talk more about writing than art on the site, although as you can probably tell, I like to make the site pretty and put lots of scraps of drawings and paintings here and there, limited mostly by time. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t sure how much time I wanted to put in the art of StoneDragon. I knew I wanted a detailed cover (done, although not yet revealed on this site in all its glory), a map (also now done, also still to be revealed, sorry!), and I knew I wanted some art inside the chapters, although I struggled with how much, as a detailed piece of art per chapter would be a massive time investment and only having a couple of pieces would make the book somewhat lumpy in its art offerings. I was leaning toward the latter anyway, when I came across a compromise that I like: doing some simple black and white images as part of each chapter heading. The software program that I’m using to compile the book (Vellum) makes that an easy thing to do, which I’ve had loads of fun with. So as a bit of a treat, and to celebrate how close it’s starting to get to release day of StoneDragon (I think the latest it will be is December, and very likely earlier), I thought I would share some of this style of drawing. The featured images is one, and there are three more below (completed: 12, ultimate total: 53, yikes!).

These are early drafts and I may or may not polish them up further–or even rotate them out entirely, no promises on final content at all, he he. But I quite like the style in general, and how it looks in the book. Hopefully you will as well!

Best of writing and reading as we creep into the end of the summer. Hopefully it’s been good for you.

PS, the images are pen on paper, and actually intended to appear smaller than they appear here, so they may look a little rougher in this post than in the final book (I couldn’t manage to shrink them further in wordpress, sorry).

 

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Emotional Resonance (it hurts so good)

I’m binge-reading Robert Crais’ detective books right now (the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series). I always love when I find a good writer that I never knew about and has a lot of stuff to read. And one thing I’m noticing, as I have with other strong series, is that the books where things become emotionally difficult, where there is personal struggle, are the books that stay with you more, even if the ending is (mostly) happy.

To get a dark moment that really resonates in that way, you have to build the connection between reader and character first. You can’t throw the dark moment before the reader really understands the character’s personality and why it’s so impactful. This can be through backstory or in-story events.

I’m also admiring the career that Robert Crais has already had. As I think I’ve mentioned before, people love to return to certain series because they love the characters. At least I do. And so creating that bond, then throwing that character into a dark emotional moment, can create very powerful emotional resonance. Take advantage of it! :) It’s how some writers have built very successful careers.

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I’m hoping to do some more art and finish StoneDragon off this year, but as usual, work has been crazy and we’ve moved into a rental during some renovations. So my expectations are probably a bit too high for what is really achievable in this period. But I’m determined to get this book out in virtual form this year, so that I can tackle something else. Can’t wait!

This image was a sketch for StoneDragon’s cover art that I never went with, but is some fun eye-candy to show and put in the record book, as the book winds its way slowly into reality…

Description should be carried on the wings of action; they shouldn’t be a plane each.

I’m almost tempted to leave the title as the whole post. :) But to clarify the point I’m making slightly, writing is not a paint by numbers exercise. Each sentence is not a plane, flying by itself, with only one destination and purpose. This doesn’t work well:

1) Setting sentence. (plane #1)

2) Action sentence. (plane #2)

4) Next paragraph. (next two planes line up)

Setting, character, mood, and action are intertwined in effective writing, with one or more factors points carrying more or less weight at different times. But at a minimum, there should be some action or tension that carries the reader through description. Unlike books of old, readers have little patience for pages of rolling plains, puffy clouds, and wind toying with the leaves. You need a person striding through that setting with a knife in their hand and fire in their eyes (or at least, that’s the type of book I like to read!).

So avoid writing: “The dust was pale and deep. It was quiet. I drifted down and settled softly to earth.” (sight. sound. action, all with a sentence each) and go for “I drifted down silently, my boots sinking into pale dust.” (All wrapped together. You could even lose an adjective or two and still accomplish most of your goals.)

Keep your writing concise, interesting, and weave description into other things, particularly action or tension, which pulls the reader along. Give it a shot and see how it works for you. :)

As usual, half these rules are for my own benefit and something I try to practice as well as preach. Not that there’s been much practicing in the last few weeks. Hope your writing is more productive than mine!

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A small sneak peak at the current state of my current painting (the image shown is a crop of a larger piece, to be clear) which I expect to be part of the StoneDragon art set, and possibly the cover. The StoneDragon manuscript is now back from its final edit, so now I just have to get organized on all the rest of the logistics: cover, interior art, format, and epublish, to put it out into the world. I’m still thinking of including four or five additional images, but we’ll see how the next few months go. At the moment, things are looking pretty horrible for spare time and extra art, with work and some major house renos that I expect to be very disruptive. :( Oh well, be nice when things calm down. Hopefully, they calm down!

To ‘Art’ or Not

Let’s put that title statement in context, as I struggle with a question on my work in progress. The following are facts:

  • I have written a book. I think it will be well received by some portion of the people who would read it, but those people don’t yet know it exists.
  • I don’t have a pre-existing reading audience.
  • People like art.
  • I am a strong artist.
  • Implication: Adding art to the book might strengthen its appeal and lead to more people giving it a chance (after which, the merits of the book will lead to its success, whatever that may be).

Now, some counterpoints,

  • This will require a considerable time investment. (Luckily, I like to do art).
  • Some people WON’T find it a positive. They will say they don’t like art with their books, as they prefer to imagine the things in their head. That is what the words should accomplish, they say. This is similar to the distaste readers sometimes have with movies, as the images don’t match their imagining.
  • I would argue that this is less of a concern if the art and words are put forward together, as the images are then shaped early and are less rigidly formed.
  • Science fiction and fantasy short stories usually have art tied to them, for some reason. Similarly superhero comics.

I think that art broadens the audience, although with longer books maybe less so than with graphic novels. I believe that some people simply have less concrete imaginations than others. I have had some people tell me that they can’t actually visualize images in their head (not saying this is most people, just some). People think differently.

So, my plan is to bring more art into my work, and at least some into this new novel. The biggest drawback for me is really the time investment, as I have very limited amounts of time for all my hobbies (which includes writing, art, sports, and—certainly not least—my family).

We’ll see if the response and return on investment justified doing it more than once. :)

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This is one of the rough sketches for StoneDragon. I think the pose is off slightly and I haven’t had time to figure out why, but this is just a bit of art that will eventually work through, become more polished, and grace the pages of my work in progress. I’m hoping to have it out on Amazon by the end of the year, but we’ll see how the art goes. 😀

Squeeze your Reader like a wet rag. They’ll thank you for it.

The worst is not boredom. The worst is not stress. The worst is both together. For example, having a job that is stressful and yet not challenging or rewarding in any way. That is why I left a reasonably well-paying job, when I was younger, for another round of education (but any change would have done really. I also explored alternative careers). But it seems like more and more people have jobs of this nature, which makes entertainment and a good story more and more valuable.

People read fantasy to take their mind off their boredom, off their stress and tension. They want to relieve the knots in the back and shoulders and distract their restless mind that can’t escape replaying their work day in an endless loop.

So bring them out of their tedium. Tighten the tension, in some new and exciting direction (a bright new world or character). Squeeze the tension in the story tighter and tighter (although not so dark or relentless that it seems hopeless), build the suspense to a fever pitch, then release it, leaving your reader wrung out and exhausted, but with a warm glow of satisfaction, resolution.

The answer to the combination of boredom and stress is not less stress, oddly enough. It’s stress of a different kind, that spikes even higher, while combined with a character that overcomes their challenges, and a nice warm resolution. Something that gives the reader catharsis and release, which they don’t receive in their normal day. Catch their attention, bring them out of their every day, then release them. Or at least aspire too…

(PS, to give credit, I believe that the inspiration for this post came from thoughts planted in David Farland’s writing advice, although I can’t recall the exact source).

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I gave the first few chapters of StoneDragon a round of critiques at OWW and now have the full manuscript with the professional editing services of Indie Books Gone Wild (IBGW). I’m very much looking forward to getting their feedback, polishing it up, and being able to put a finished product out into the world (even if I’m not planning on necessarily being a marketing machine once it hits the internet). In the meantime, I would like to do some art for it and have been doing some rough sketching, which looks a bit more cartoony than I expect the final product to be, but has been fun. The featured image is one of those sketches (it will be painted eventually, but I threw a quick colour fill around it for a bit of contrast).

Unfortunately, I’ve been sick the last week or so and finding it a bit hard to find the energy to do any art tonight. But this year will see me put more paint and ink to paper than I’ve done in a while, which should be fun. I expect some of it will find its way to this site. So enjoy! :)