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. :)

Lessons from First Pages Critiques

(as in my critiques of other people)

I find critiquing someone else can be a valuable exercise, buy information pills in crystalizing your own thoughts about a topic, buy more about in being inspired by some things, thumb and recognizing things that you like less in others. To be clear, there is a wide spectrum of readers in any audience and I can only speak to my own tastes, as is often clear from other comments on the same work. So this is not meant to be a slam to anyone I may have critiqued at any point over the years, but simply things that I thought might be useful to my own work and what I find effective:

  1. Introduce tension and stakes early, some hint of the negative story problem, don’t leave those until chapter 2, the reader won’t get there.
  2. Have a question or curiosity that makes reader want to start reading chapter two, as it’s easy to stop at the end of chapter one and never pick it up again.
  3. Either make your POV character likable with a problem (creating sympathy and tension), or if you’re going for an ant-hero or redemption story, consider a) having some minor redeeming qualities, b) have them have minor regrets about how bad they are, raising possibility of a redemption turnaround in the story, or c) have them be very very good at something, as then people will follow them anyway, because they are so interesting.
  4. Work backstory in a paragraph at a time, spacing it out, and giving some excuse for mentioning it.
  5. In a short story, have the ending be consistent with the short story’s theme (as shown in the unique mix of character and his / her story problem). A short story works best if everything seems to fit together, blending into one another, rather than being disjointed.

These can be valuable things to have in mind when you’re either planning or polishing a first chapter or short story. Or at least I found them so. Good luck with the writing!

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I am finding some time and picking up speed on my StoneDragon edit, which is gratifying. I’m a little behind on my art, partly because all the art stuff is still saran-wrapped in the basement and I haven’t really found the time and place to bring the art back into the day to day routine yet. But I’m thinking about it, and the creativity well is filling up. 😀

Wag that Tongue. Dialogue is how we get to know people

It may sound incredibly obvious, but in real life, the most common way for us to understand someone’s personality is when we hear them talk: the words they say, the way they say it, the topics, the tone, and the body language. And yet, sometimes in stories, we skip conversation for interior thoughts, assumptions, and the narrator telling us why someone is doing what they are doing. Why? Why ever replace a powerful relevant conversation that has a place in the story with exposition (non-dialogue) instead? This is something I’ve caught myself doing recently and am trying to fix. I think the answer is it’s easier. But easier isn’t better. Those words, even if they’re incredibly obvious and expected, help build character in a way that actions and expressions don’t.

I remember when I was a teenager, before Kindle and story samples online, that I would flip through books to get a sense of writing style before buying a book. And I would put one back down that had too little conversation (I remember some with almost none). I didn’t know why, but those books felt sterile and dense to me. They weren’t as fun or easy to read.

Dialogue is a great benefit to our writing. Don’t neglect an easy benefit to your writing! Let your characters talk…

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I had some fun painting the Broken Cowboy / StoneDragon cover image. It’s not done yet, and this was a quick snapshot with a cheap camera in bad lighting, but I’m looking forward to when it’s done. I’m also on vacation, getting a little bit of momentum going again on the story, which is nice. At this point, I’m just focused on ‘chopping wood and drawing water’, getting the revised words on page and letting any judgement on quality wait until the end. The only thing worse than an imperfect book is no book at all!