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…

A Digression on StoneDragon Art

I try to talk more about writing than art on the site, although as you can probably tell, I like to make the site pretty and put lots of scraps of drawings and paintings here and there, limited mostly by time. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t sure how much time I wanted to put in the art of StoneDragon. I knew I wanted a detailed cover (done, although not yet revealed on this site in all its glory), a map (also now done, also still to be revealed, sorry!), and I knew I wanted some art inside the chapters, although I struggled with how much, as a detailed piece of art per chapter would be a massive time investment and only having a couple of pieces would make the book somewhat lumpy in its art offerings. I was leaning toward the latter anyway, when I came across a compromise that I like: doing some simple black and white images as part of each chapter heading. The software program that I’m using to compile the book (Vellum) makes that an easy thing to do, which I’ve had loads of fun with. So as a bit of a treat, and to celebrate how close it’s starting to get to release day of StoneDragon (I think the latest it will be is December, and very likely earlier), I thought I would share some of this style of drawing. The featured images is one, and there are three more below (completed: 12, ultimate total: 53, yikes!).

These are early drafts and I may or may not polish them up further–or even rotate them out entirely, no promises on final content at all, he he. But I quite like the style in general, and how it looks in the book. Hopefully you will as well!

Best of writing and reading as we creep into the end of the summer. Hopefully it’s been good for you.

PS, the images are pen on paper, and actually intended to appear smaller than they appear here, so they may look a little rougher in this post than in the final book (I couldn’t manage to shrink them further in wordpress, sorry).

 

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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!

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. 😀