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! :)

Do we judge by appearance? (the text in a book, to be clear)

(I added the last bit just because I didn’t want to come up on all kinds of diversity-related Google searches)

But to answer the question, we know people do, especially when you’re a teenager and trying to fit in. Appearances matter a lot. And sometimes not without reason. Clothes, hair, makeup, all tell a story about where we want to fit. If you’re dressed in all black and have a nose stud, you could be exactly my kind of people, but you probably aren’t worried about how the cheerleader squad thinks about you–not that there’s anything wrong with cheerleaders either. 😉

So how does this fit with writing? I’m thinking that people judge books by appearance too. The length of paragraphs. The amount of dialogue. The flow of fat paragraphs versus short ones, the ‘intelligence’ (glasses wearing, articulate chess club member vibe) versus ‘power’ (sleeves rolled up and buzz-cropped football player).

Does any of this change your story? Not at all. But is it worth thinking about? For sure. After all, it’s easy enough to adjust.

Or maybe I’m wrong and it’s all about story and appearances don’t matter. That’s what your guidance counselor would have you believe. ☺

And I buy their argument. Appearance shouldn’t matter. At least for the things you can’t change. But I would suggest that the things you can change, the things you have the power to choose, in writing as well as in life, are indeed important clues about where you want to fit in, and maybe the worst thing to believe is that they don’t matter at all…

(PS, I’m a terrible and indifferent dresser, and it wasn’t much different when I was a teenager, so don’t expect me to be walking the talk here…) :)

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I’m having some fun putting a fine shine on StoneDragon. I’m also going to start doing some artwork for it this year, so the featured image is the start of some related sketches (in this case a map, not finished yet). I’m looking forward to doing a bit more art as a change of pace. I’m also having some fun introducing the Hooligans to art and animation. I’ve broken the bank and bought Toon Boom Harmony (yikes, there’s a big learning curve there) and promised them that I’ll get a story and some animation for them on YouTube. Depending on how horrible it is, I may or may not link it to my other stuff. Since they’ll be doing much of the drawing, and some of the story writing (I fight back where I can but…), those links may never appear here. :)

I’m Free… I Mean Finished!

The major promised rewrite of StoneDragon is finally done. Whoo-hoo! After a couple of years of delays, disruptions, and scraping up the bottom of the well for motivation, I picked up speed in the last 2-3 months and finished with a flurry on my holidays. I finished last night, realized that the formatting was a mess when I compiled it out of Scrivener, cleaned it up in Word, and have something that now resembles a manuscript. What a great feeling. It won’t hit the world yet, I want to run it past some new eyes to make sure it’s clean and polished (probably OWW and a copy editor at some point) and I also want to add some illustrations, many of which I’ll likely share here. But we’re now closer the end than the beginning and at least it’s not an incoherent mess that I couldn’t actually share with someone anymore.

On the personal front, my lovely wife has allowed me much writing time on our vacation (partly from being sick and going to bed early a lot, but let’s not split hairs!). We’re in Miami now, on the beach, and the day is beautiful. There are worse places to be!!!

May this be a wonderful 2017 for all of us…

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…