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!!!

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! :)