A Swipe Clean of the Chalkboard and a New Start

I’m going to start a new novel. Maybe some animation too. I’d like to do a bit more of a mix of art and story on this one, if I can find the time (art is much harder for me to squeeze in that writing, simply due to logistics of needing an art table). But I’d like to make an effort on combining them, even if not in the final product, but rather as a creative spur. But in any event, it’s scary and intriguing to start a new story. So maybe it’s worth trotting out a process mountain again. A writing mountain was one of my very first posts. But now that I think about it, maybe a different mountain would be useful. A mountain of effort to progress down, but with the importance of the first steps being the most important. Inverse effort and outcome. Something like the featured image above.

I’m starting it now, the premise. The idea. I have one. Hopefully it is worth the effort that follows!!!

The making of a cover

I’m mucking around with my new animation software and thought I’d stitch together some of the progress paintings for StoneDragon’s cover image into a small movie. Each change of image is a new layer of paint (there are actually more changes, but these are the more significant ones). I originally wanted to put some music with it, but then navigating the intellectual property jungle gave me a headache, so I just plugged in some moody words over top. You can always turn the volume off if you don’t want to hear my mutterings. :)

The link is here:  StoneDragon Cover video

Warning: once again, please mute if you don’t want to hear audio.

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Featured image is an old unused cover sketch, just for some eye candy…

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!

Heroic Reflection (which isn’t sucking your gut in the mirror)

I think this is an appropriate topic (on the writing side, not sucking in my gut), as my current draft has an element of this in it. It’s a heroic style book, with a strong dark and gun-wielding hero, but I don’t really want to admire him from his own point of view. Even in stories with heroes that are larger than life, legendary, those same heroes must be modest, humble, and torn with doubt. Only then can they take actions that raise them above the average. They can’t admire themselves, or even acknowledge their own specialness, as that takes away from the humbleness. So how do you show how great they are, without having them say it, especially if you want to use a limited POV (no obvious narrative voice)?

You have to reflect their greatness from those around them. This can be in the other character’s dialogue, if you want a one POV story, or from other people’s thoughts, if you want to move it to multiple POV. This can even be to the extreme of making the entire narrative be the POV of a secondary character, such as Sherlock Holmes’ Watson. If you don’t want to go that far, you can do it more intermittently, such as the occasional female POV in Louis L’Amour westerns, or just through the dialogue and actions of the surrounding cast, such as the more recent (and very high quality) Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown.

A hero can’t admire themselves in the mirror.

Others must admire their sucked-in-gut for them…

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I’m now past the 60% mark on my StoneDragon edit. I’m starting to get energized as the end crawls into sight. I will be SO happy when it is done and I can start doing fun things, like some illustrations and maybe even move to a new story. The question will be whether I want to start something completely new, or shift to another already finished story that needs some editing. It can’t be said that I’m not a sucker for punishment! 😀

You don’t sand a tree to get a table (Priorities)

My first job was in a woodworking company, which made custom cabinets and furniture. We lived in a small town and I was fifteen and wanted to save up for a car, so I walked around town, handing out my carefully thought out CV (grass-cutting for allowance money, etc). The family-run woodworking shop must have had the same cutting edge attitude as I did, because they said ‘sure’, and put me to work right away—literally. I dressed up for what I thought was an interview in a nice sweater and they put me to work on a big belt-sanding machine right away. At the end of my efforts, they hesitantly told me to dress more appropriately for the next shift.

So what has this got to do with writing? Well, what I quickly learned was that you do things in a certain order. The company would get great big sheets of wood, then plan what the pieces they would need to cut out, cut it on a great ban saw (I saw that saw fling a chair across the room once, when someone wasn’t holding on properly, so cool), sand it, dowel it, seal, and stain or lacquer it. And that sequence never changed. Because it would be a waste of time or materials to do it any other way. You measured and planned what pieces you needed first, so you didn’t waste the great sheets and people’s time experimenting with different sizes and seeing how they looked. You cut the wood down before sanding, because why would you sand what you never planned on using? And in fact, I once got in trouble for sanding a part of a table that no-one would ever see or touch. Why waste the time they were paying me for to do that? It was a waste of money and time. No-one would ever know the difference.

It’s taken me a while, but it’s finally sinking in that it’s the same with writing. It’s very tempting to write the chapter of a first draft, then go back and polish the language. Make the dialogue better, correct the grammar, tighten words. It makes me happy. But it’s also wasting time. My time has an opportunity cost. If I was paying me by the hour, like my old woodworking boss did, I’d be livid. Because the scenes are not yet cut to size, or attached in the right order. It’s like I’m cutting down a tree, giving it a few swipes of sandpaper, then taking out the chain saw. It’s the wrong order. It doesn’t hurt the project, but why on Earth am I wasting the energy and time? There are better uses for it.

So when you’re writing: plan, write, do big picture edits (chopping, resizing, shuffling things around) and THEN polish. Tighten your words, dialogue, and shine at the end, not the beginning.

And if you do get an interview at a small woodworking shop, you may not want to wear your nicest sweater. :)

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An oldie but goodie image. I like this little dragon a lot. If I had more time, I’d do more art like this (posed more dramatically), but work is very consuming right now, as I may have mentioned. Not that it’s bad, just a lot to manage, so I’m struggling even to keep my StoneDragon edit going. Art has unfortunately taken a backseat. Hopefully that will change at some point…