Gird your loins, Literati, the media is about to get a little more "multi" than you are used to seeing on this site. Sure, you've seen the book review I did for D. Robert Pease's Noah Zarc 2, and the occasional book trailer or a clip from one, but I'm going to talk about a few of the things that I stay busy with them I'm not producing word count, and my feelings on why having other creative endeavors outside of writing are a good thing.
There is a school of thought that says that the only hobby a writer should have is reading. While I think it's hugely important to read as much as possible, I think it's also important to draw inspiration from as many places as possible. Sometimes it's just not enough to see how things have been done by other writers. I think if you aren't creating in some other form occasionally, your writing will suffer. I mean, think about it, our genetic code begins to break down if "you can't keep it in your pants, at least keep it in the family", so why wouldn't our writing suffer if we're only taking in new experiences or looking for inspiration from the written work of others.
I've heard that there is a great big world out there. I haven't seen much of it lately, between editing and working on a few other projects, but I hear it's nice. (Actually, it's been raining for about a month here in Maine, if this keeps up I might start searching the woods for sparkly vampires to kill (Twilight reference, keep up people). My point is that mentally regurgitating the work of others does nothing to advance the craft.
There are other forms of storytelling that can teach us useful lessons about how to tell a story through prose. I actually started thinking about this a while back, during the beginning of my editing process on pre://d.o.mai.n. I listed to alot of audiobooks, as my day job necessitates a two hour round trip daily commute. That's 10 hours a week, people. That's hours a month, and about 40 hours a month. Sure, I can listen to the same 40 songs (or as few as 10 if Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars happen to both have hits on the pop charts that month), but I'd rather get my reading in.
Audiobooks are an invaluable tool for learning to write dialog. Real dialog flows, has a natural "rightness" to the ear. The obvious first step when writing is to read your dialog out loud to see where it sounds off, but I've found that listening to audiobooks allows good dialog skills to sink in almost subliminally. If you happen across a poorly written line of dialog in an audiobook, it's ten times more obvious than if you read it. Trust me.
But that's technically still reading. The types of books that I enjoy reading are the ones where I finish and immediately jump online to check on the status of the movie rights. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline? Oh yeah, when I finished that I immediately hopped online to see what the status was on a movie adaptation. We are a uniquely biased culture when it comes to films or TV shows. Sure, the majority of it will rot your brain (because the majority of it nowadays is "reality" tv or competition shows like American Idol, The Voice, and Wipeout), but every once in a while a show or film comes across that tells a compelling story.
These are the ones that I'm talking about. The ones that you will look up on Netflix later on and immediately throw into your cue. The stories like LOST that have you around the water cooler the next day dissecting the motives of fictional characters like they're past coworkers recently relocated to a mysterious island.
Visual storytelling is a different animal, for sure, but one that can teach us valuable lessons in how to pace action sequences and how the mannerisms of characters can become a language all their own. This progresses to people watching, and start imagining how you might describe them if they were to inspire a character in one of your stories.
You begin to imagine more and more elaborate settings for your stories, drawing from worlds and visuals beyond your own imagination, which is usually half of that "movie" you play in your head when you are reading. As you see more, you begin to up the stakes for your own work, and eventually you might start to envision your own worlds in a visual-first manner.
And this brings me to the crux of my post here. A problem that I often run into is that I have an image in my mind of how a scene unfolds, or a fight sequence, etc. If I don't already have the words to describe whats in my head, it's nearly impossible to draw on the style of another writer to do so, or else I already would have done it. Inspiration is the gently stirred soup of memories, coming together in that one flash of brilliance.
If that flash doesn't happen, such as if you fail to describe a scene adequately for the average person to visualize it (and this is the problem that I had recently with on of the scenes in edit), sometimes it's helpful to have something visual to show. If you can show your beta reader either the visual that inspired it, often they will say something like, "Oh, so it's like ________". If you get a few responses along the same lines from your beta readers, chances are that is going to be your most effective path to take in describing that scene.
Beta readers are another invaluable asset. I have a few that I will trust to give me honest feedback on pre://d.o/mai.n before I send it out for query, and I'm sure that some of the feedback I get will help me improve my novel in ways that I would never be able to do on my own, no matter how many days and nights I stared at that screen.
This instance I refer to was the description of a room. The room is fairly unique, as in I've seen toys and special effects that hint at it, but I've never seen a room that itself uses the effect. It's really hard to describe something that people have never seen before, so I had a few false starts of, "Well, do you know what this is? Hmm, well how about this? OK, yeah, it's kinda like that, but different in this way, or instead of the whole thing being like that, it's like this." If you're having trouble describing it to someone where you're under no pressure to be eloquent or concise, imagine the impossibility of doing it in text without help in refining your description.
|The Giants Causeway-Ireland|
In the end, I was able to find images of a natural formation that began to describe what I had in mind (The Giants Causeway in Ireland). It wasn't a perfect picture, but it was close enough to make that leap in my readers mind. Metaphors like that are only useful if you find a common ground with your reader, you bring your vision halfway to them
and set it next to something they already understand, and the reader puts two and two together and joins you in your vision.
When there are no natural formations to help you do that, it's helpful to be able to develop your own. I use a 3D program called Blender, which is a free, open source program that can be downloaded HERE. It's free, in every sense of the word, without ads or trial periods to deal with. It's taken me years to learn, and it's one of those things where you really never stop learning, because new tool are added to it every year. I've reached the point where I can make things like this below, which is a video game teaser trailer I made last week for an upcoming massively multiplayer online browser based game called Fielty.
Every part of it I created in Blender, then output it to a video editing program and put it all together with background music and sound effects. It was a ton of work, but every time I create something with it another barrier is removed from my ability to describe the visions in my head. That doesn't always directly translate into text, but it often does.
Working in 3D had taught me alot of terms that explain those really difficult to explain visual phenomena, like Specularity and Index of Refraction (IOR). These are words that, when used in the proper context, can get your reader closer to your goal of understanding when 20 words couldn't do it better. If they are still uncertain, they can Google them and it will mean the same thing on whatever resource they find on Google as it did when you learned it. Facts are a strange currency sometimes, but in an age of nearly limitless access to it, I see no reason not to employ them whenever possible.
|Water has an Index of Refraction (IOR) of 1.33|
Having the precise word to describe something saves time for a reader, because they don't always need the exact image you are going for in your head to get the general idea. If you were writing about a sweater that was admittedly a damn fine sweater, but not overly pertinent to the story, you wouldn't spend a half a page describing it. (Well, you could, but it would be a waste of time for both you and your reader).
Besides, if it stuck in their head as either incongruous or interesting enough that they decide to investigate it after the fact, and they will have learned something new. Aside from entertainment, that's really the essence of fiction, to teach without the reader having had to experience the story for themselves.
I have started a new storytelling venture with my son, and as it's still in it's infancy we don't have a great deal of it ready to show you, but I thought I would share it here since it feeds into the central theme of what we're talking about. It's called (tentatively) SURVIVE: An interactive YouTube Experience. Here's the first teaser trailer we made for it below.
Once I refined the idea a bit in my head (again after a few failed explanations) I took a weekend and finished up a proof of concept for the way I intended to make the video interactive. It wasn't really long, but I loved the old "Choose your own Adventure" books as a child and wanted to do something similar that would get me away from my keyboard for a little bit and out with my son this summer. Here's the concept trailer below.
The 3D words were generated in Blender, rendered onto a green screen background and composited into the video, or "overlaid" onto it. It's only a generic loop sequence, but enough to give you a taste of the interface, and to hopefully get you used to clicking on the words in order to dictate where the boy goes. The storyteller in me won't let the story end at just wandering around the woods, we've already agreed on what will happen in a rough sense and will tackle it in a more in depth manner in the coming months.
Another by product of all of this dabbling in special effects work is that the scope of my planned book trailer for pre://d.o.mai.n has gone from a slideshow with text and music dropped on to aspirations of a Hollywood style trailer. I also have some other, "out of the box" ideas for promoting my book through video, but since part of the surprise is posting them and waiting for them to go viral, I'll keep that a little close to the chest for now.
Well, I better call it a night before I show you everything on my YouTube channel (it's HERE if you really want to check it out, and yes, I know it needs artwork. It's on the list). Please share this with your friends, and if you have any questions or comments on anything I talk about, please feel free to comment, as always.