Visual Story Skeleton

I’m a visual person. I have come to realize that writing for me is not pure words, but comes with images as well and sometimes the better tool for planning my writing is a combination of words and images. I’m thinking specifically of the broad story plot, or the skeleton that we hang all the characters (heart and brain), action (muscles), and description (skin, yucky image) on. Mixing words and images on paper lets me better understand what scenes are low key, which are BOOMING, where things are dark, what flows in the main story river, and what are secondary islands (I really use hand-drawn text and pictures on physical paper, but have substituted some random font changes here to help make the point).

In revisiting my stories recently, I’ve created a visual story skeleton for both new ideas and one completed book and it’s giving me some new confidence in both editing and forging ahead with new ideas. I can FEEL the story better when I see it in this fashion and I can see holes in story arc beter.

I’d show you an example, but why don’t we wait until I’ve published one of the books first, so the skeleton doesn’t contain any spoilers. ūüėÄ So, in other words, if I have some publishing success, I promise to show the related skeleton (assuming I have one and can find it).

Happy Writing! And if we have a zombie apocalypse in the meantime, don’t let those skeletons get you. ūüėČ

Best, Adrian.

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!