You need more than a cool idea…

When I was earlier in my writing habits, I used to keep a folder of cool ideas. Because, I figured, a cool idea is critical for future stories. I just had to write something around it, when I finally had the time. But you know the funny thing? It wasn’t easy. I would stare blankly at the cool idea and think, what the hell am I supposed to do with that? The creative machine sometimes wasn’t even sure what the cool idea meant, much less how to work it into a legible story. But then later, as I learned the value of a strong pitch, I realized that it wasn’t that hard to convert the idea (at the TIME of the idea), into a pitch paragraph. And a pitch paragraph was easily handled in later months or years, even if the original light bulb in my head had turned cold and dark. So now, I keep a list of story pitches. They don’t seem that much harder to jot down, if I put my mind to it, at the time of the idea than the idea itself. Admittedly, there is some kind of overlap, in theme at least. But I look at that list of ideas now and am pretty sure that I could spend the rest of my life fleshing out cool ideas and never hit a drought. Which is a reassuring thought for a writer.

So something worth considering. An idea by itself is one thing. An idea wrapped into a story pitch is something larger, more powerful, and more enduring. And I can’t wait to read what you do with it!

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The image is another chapter heading image from StoneDragon. I’m nearing the end of the art for that book. But of course, even this close to the end, I want the quality of everything to be high. So I finally caved and signed up for Adobe’s Creative Cloud (CC) instead of using Pixelmator, which does a large number of Photoshop-like things for a tiny fraction of the price. So why switch over? CC lets me turn things into vectors (a line sharp enough to cut yourself). I want things to look uber professional. Anyway, I will now likely spend a few weeks redrawing a few weaker images, cleaning all of them into sharp black and white profiles, and then putting it all together in Vellum. Close to the end now! Can’t wait…

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!

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. :)