Monday, 21 September 2015

Gophirith of the Mountains in German

This is big news, though I've already posted it elsewhere before I found the time to make a blog post. I've been working on translating my second "Pelsatia" book, Gophirith of the Mountains, into German recently and it's finally finished now! It's out in print as Gophirith von den Bergen and can be bought on Lulu:

I'm a link! Click me to view the book!

It's only available as a standard paperback book so far (no "value" edition and no ebook yet), but the rest will eventually follow.

The whole project was certainly an interesting experience. German is my mother tongue, but I prefer to write in English, not just because it's more widely spoken but also because I'm more used to it these days. Taking my own English writing and translating it into my mother language didn't seem like it should be difficult at all, but it turned out to be surprisingly challenging at parts. It wasn't as much work as writing a completely new story, of course, but it's quite frustrating how often one comes across something that simply cannot be translated "as is" and needs some more natural-sounding workaround. I am thinking this kind of thing is probably the biggest difficult about translation anything into any language and most likely to trip up people who don't speak the language natively.

On a fun linguistic note, as can be observed in the end result (and as I kept noticing again and again with every paragraph I had to translate), German writing is a bit longer than English writing. I believe a lot of people are aware of that and I've heard exorbitant percentages to which German is allegedly longer, but it's actually not that extreme; the book ended up with 272 instead of 244 pages, including a blank one at the end, so that's slightly over 10%. However, the German version actually uses fewer individual words than the English one, and not by a small margin; over 500 words have been cut. This was a trait of the German language compared to English that I had suspected already, but it's nice to have confirmation of it.

I knew right when I started that the most daunting task would be the songs; luckily, there's only two of them in this particular book. I've seen some book translations handle songs and poems in a rather unrestrained manner, the more extreme cases being more akin to writing a new work of poetry altogether that simply covers the same topics. I tried to avoid this and keep as close to the originals as possible while retaining the rhymes and metre. This proved to be rather tricky and I'm not sure if it was a good idea. The end result may be a bit stilted as it's visibly trying to imitate the English version. I may or may not come up with something different if I ever translate something like this again, but right now, I'm just glad I don't have those on my to-do list anymore!

Something I had some fun with were the translations for names. The personal names largely remained the same, the rest didn't necessarily. Some translations were obvious, others not so much. Sometimes I may have gotten a bit too creative with "germanising" things. Great Ephiana became Großephianien instead of Groß-Ephiana, imitating German place names more closely. Raurack became Rasselbock, which is ironic as the name used in the English version is already a German name of the creature, but it's the Austrian one. Muckleweald gave me trouble and ended up as Michelwald; I'm not quite sure in how far any equivalent to muckle/michel actually exists in proper German, but Carroux kept the Michel in Michel Delving in her German translation of The Lord of the Rings, so why not? Muscaliet became Glühmaus, which I'm really proud of; although the muscaliet has an entry in a mediaeval bestiary, there is no "proper" translation of it into German and no explanation of the name I could find, thus I went and derived the most likely etymology myself; mus is mouse in Latin, the caliet part is most likely related to calere, meaning "to be hot" or "to glow". Glühmaus means, quite simply, "mouse that is hot/glows", which I am guessing is the intended meaning of muscaliet. Hurra!

As you may have seen on the book's Lulu page already (and if you haven't, now may be the time to click the link above!), I've also redesigned the cover since the original had a custom title that was in English and I didn't want to redraw that. This was a fairly quick job compared to the original cover, but I think it looks quite neat. It's coincidentally more reminiscent of the cover I made for Ssalia and the Dragons of Avienot, which I didn't notice until after I made it. Instead of green, it's predominantly purple, which is a prominent colour in the book. This was totally intentional. The title isn't custom, but it has a neat Photoshop layer effect.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this quick look into my experience with translating Gophirith of the Mountains and I also hope you'll check it out! If you buy it together with the English version, you could even learn something about the language by comparing them (hint, hint!).

Oh, and speaking of that, the book is back in print in English as well! I put out a revised edition after I temporarily retired it due to my first editing job having been rather shoddy. The links to it haven't changed, so just look on my website!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Gophirith's Temporary Retirement

As some folks may already know through my Pelsatia website or my Twitter, I've temporarily retired the print editions of Gophirith of the Mountains today to be revised for typographical reasons. Well, I think this is the place to rant about this decision a bit and what exactly has happened.

I've been working on a German translation of Gophirith of the Mountains, my second self-published book, as I have tweeted about in the past but didn't intend to hype on my blog yet (but I guess it's out now, so bam). It's a tiring and monotonous job and it also requires me to devote the maximum amount of attention to the written words and grammatical structures on the pages. In doing so, I've started to notice typos and similar errors, starting in the first chapter already. That's bad.

Now, it's not like I hadn't proofread it. In fact, after spotting a few typos in my finalised version of Ssalia and the Dragons of Avienot (which have, to my knowledge, been corrected in the ebook version and "value" re-release) and feeling really frustrated that those had made it in, I took good care (or so I thought) to make sure this wouldn't happen again. The editing process for Gophirith of the Mountains involved reading over the whole thing and reworking things many, many times. I wanted to be absolutely sure that it's free of mistakes, since it wasn't going to be edited professionally.

I don't really know what happened. I'm embarrassed, but even more so, I am utterly confused how the mistakes went past me. I had been so careful, yet it took me until I decided to write a translation of the book to notice mistakes that should have never been in the original release. Alright, so mistakes happen. I'm only a dragon, after all. The more I found, the more I wanted to revise the book, and I promised as much on my Twitter early on. However, I was prepared not to make a big deal of it and leave the existing version in place for the time being, since these were merely typos.

And that's when I saw it.

The placeholder.

A short line of underscores to be filled in with a name later. I leave placeholders like that in my books while writing them to return to them and fill them in during the editing process at the latest. This one wasn't filled in and it boggles my mind how such a thing could have remained in the book. One single word, but completely unacceptable. Inexcusable.

There were absolutely no alternatives for me at that point. To my knowledge, lack of promotion and perhaps the high cost of print-on-demand means that no one has bought the book in print yet (unlike the digital release), but I certainly did not intend for anyone who may do so in the future to end up having to suffer through a book with such a critical and careless-seeming mistake in it. I rushed to my Lulu account and retired the print editions, announcing it on my Twitter and website, and that was that.

How could this happen in the first place? I haven't the slightest idea. I run a search for all underscores before I finalise my books because they have no legitimate reason to ever be there and will be placeholders. And yet this.

I'm revising the book simultaneously while I write the translation, and when I'm done translating I'll probably proofread it again just to be extra sure. I hope to be done with that within a month if I don't run into major difficulties. Once it's done, it will go up again with the label "second edition" and the mistakes fixed. I can also take the opportunity to brighten the illustrations a bit because they're kind of dark the way they are printed. The ebook version is still available right now because I'm under the impression that people will be able to download newer revisions of it once they have purchased any version at all (correct me if I'm wrong). I think my writing is worth a better editing job and I'm going to give it one.

And if anyone is wondering (which I'm sure someone has been), the name to insert is "lealuck" on page 117.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Purple Without Rhyme or Reason

All the skin-covered digits on Tamara's hands, located at the ends of her arm-like forelimbs like marvellous verdant leaves at the end of a tree trunk albeit not bearing the same colour nor otherwise resembling the aforementioned, impinged upon the pale, white, pallid, achromic, alabaster-coloured, hard, solid, smooth, three-dimensional bodies of plastic known peradventure more commonly with more common awareness to modern common English-speaking inhabitants of such regions as the glorious nation shaped and alas! formerly inhabited by King Arthur, the once and future king, as keys on what shall thus be known as her keyboard, composed thus of the words key and board, in the manner of a butterfly settling on a luxurious burgundy, yet ever slightly so slightly mahogany-coloured flower on an incandescent daylight session of summertide in the northern hemisphere of a planet called Earth, or Terra, orbiting the sun of the Milky Way galaxy, that same magnificent region of the magnificent universe that this magnificent story also taketh place in, in order to type fan fiction on its tiny, small, little butterfly-proportioned laptop, and letters began to form words began to form sentences began to form paragraphs began to form this post on her computer screen in utter disregard for the reader's ability to make any sense of it.

I recently made a post about using repetition in order to artificially stretch a story and what to rather do instead. Well, here's another thing not to do, and as the above paragraph shows if you made it through it (in which case: congratulations), it's likely worse. This thing is fortunately not as easy to do out of habit; much rather, it tends to be the result of too much goodwill. This phenomenon is the result of taking a decent narrative and polishing and enhancing it until it's no longer decent. It's the epitome of shooting so far past the goal that the story lands in the middle of a crocodile-infested marsh in Equatorial Guinea and gives the crocodiles a stomachache because it's so convoluted and full of nonsensical metaphors. It's called purple prose.

Now, it's obviously a matter of taste how detailed one would like the descriptions to be. I'm not personally opposed to elaborating on the various aspects of what's happening and do it a lot myself to control the pace of the story and provide interesting little tidbits for those who care. I actually enjoy reading information that is ultimately pointless to the plot, but helps paint a more vivid picture of the setting, characters and events. However, this is exactly what purple prose generally does not.

So what's the difference then? When does the prose become "purple"?

The answer, I believe, is when it ceases to convey anything meaningful - and I do mean "meaningful" and not "important". Small details may be unimportant, but they still describe something within the story. Prose is purple not because it goes into detail, but because the elaborations are all on the stylistic level and end up stretching it way beyond its purpose of conveying information. What makes it long is not what is written, but how it's written, and that's the point at which - in storytelling - it becomes a problem, in my opinion. The focus has shifted from informing the reader to trying to perform literary acrobatics in a context where it's simply not desirable

That is not to say the writing has to be crudely simplistic, of course. Indeed, an utter lack of polish is not generally desirable and "dumbing down" the style can be perceived just as negatively. However, there needs to be a balance, and the narrative has to remember that it's intended to actually carry a meaning. Add to much decor and it detracts from the meaning. If the paragraph is 1% meaning and 99% embellishment, it becomes a chore to read, and in proportion to that, the reward most likely isn't worth it.

Oh, and here's a better version of the paragraph from the beginning:

Tamara began typing on her keyboard to compose her newest blog post.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Don't Say it Again, Sam

Being asked by people to look over their writing is an interesting reciprocity; not only does the inquirer receive heaps of well-intentioned advice of questionable worth, but it brings issues to my attention that I can find in my own writing and never quite realised the ubiquitousness - and potential urgency of being addressed - of. While looking over a couple paragraphs that my significant other wrote, there was one thing I was sadly quite familiar with that stuck out as particularly fix-worthy and which I think may need my own personal attention a lot more in my own writing: reminders for the reader.

And I don't mean reminders of important information when they're likely to have forgotten about it, but reminding them about the current state of affairs when it's already been stated, probably in the same paragraph, and there is no reason to assume it has changed. This is an issue and it's one I've found myself having in the past, which becomes more apparent the more I'm forced to think about it. I could call this a "walking problem" because walking is what it most commonly entails for me. For some reason, in absence of anything better on my mind and a need to fill that page with a couple more word, my mind seems to decide that the process of putting one foot in front the other is exceeded in excitement only by its importance and needs constant reiterating. In effect, the outcome would be something like this (exaggerated for dubious degrees of entertainment):

She started walking towards the bridge. She walked and walked. Then she walked a bit further. "I'm walking", she thought as she continued to walk. She was still walking, walking as she walked.

The problem here lies not just with repetition of words, but unnecessary repetition of what has already been said. The reader does not have to be reminded all the time of what the character is doing; the general assumption is that unless there's a good reason why the character would have stopped, they're still performing the same action. If she set out for the bridge and hasn't reached it yet, she's probably still walking there. Emphasising it repeatedly like this causes clutter and makes the story take longer than it should without actually adding anything. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to slip into the habit of restating facts in absence of anything meaningful to say, as some of my own writing can sadly attest for. So what to do instead?

You'll most likely have a certain pace in mind at which the story ought to be moving. Unless that is to change drastically, something will have to replace the repetitions. And there are sooo many things that could when you just allow yourself the time to consider them. Even if the character really is (from a rougher viewpoint) doing nothing but walk, there are tons of details to set the pace with instead of emphasising that one action. What's going on around them? What do they hear, see, feel? What are they thinking about? Maybe there's something minor on the character's way from A to B that they react to. All of these things are not particularly important, but they are new information. If the scene's going to be moving slowly, you may as well use the time to provide these kinds of details rather than dwelling on the same single thing.

Keep in mind that these things should replace the needless repetitions, not add on to them. Don't start the sentence with "as she continued to walk" (that especially goes for you, myself!). Double-check yourself; once you get into a habit like this, it can easily slip past you if you're not consciously avoiding it.

As Tammy continued to write her blog post, she thought about a fitting manner to end the blog post she was writing. She was still writing it when it occurred to her that such an ending may not be feasible, so, as she wrote more of it, she decided it would simply have to be a written blog post she had written. Thus, she wrote the ending and concluded her writing of the blog post she had been writing.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Art Tutorial: Cylindrical Towers

What's this? A tutorial on art on this blog? Yep, yep! After years of artsy-though-mainly-cartoony work to my name, including my oft-mentioned-but-rarely-read comic, I figured it was about time that I do one of these. I'm hoping to be able to share some semi-helpful thingamabobs here now and then that will potentially teach you to draw just like Tammy Spahn (whether that is desirable is of course up for debate, but hey - the option is there and it's not running away, unlike you may be at this silly prospect).

For this post, here's something that I've had to draw lately for the comic buffer: towers!

Cylindrical towers, to be exact. Cylindrical brick towers, to be exacter. Cylindrical brick towers from a sideview perspective, to be even more specific. Cylindrical sideview brick towers named Carlisle, if I wanted this to be particularly exclusive. But fortunately for you, you can name your tower whatever you want. Yes, even Bill.

So what's so tricky about those bricky towers? Aren't they just tall thingamabobs with bricks? Drawing bricks isn't very difficult! Tiled wallpapers, progressive rock album covers, they're everywhere. Let's just do it like that.

But that doesn't look cylindrical, now does it? (Let's forget the fact that it's also vertically challenged, for the sake of preserving space.) Even if it were taller, it would simply look rectangular (or cuboid, for that matter). So how do we go about showing the tower as what it is even from this easily misleading angle? How do we expose its nature before its peers? There are of course many ways, but here's one that works well for me. We'll be using our example tower with bricks and turning it into a visibly cylindrical brick tower. (Please note that I've been taking special care to make these pixel-perfect for the examples. You most likely won't have to do this. Unless you're making pixel art, in which case you most likely will have to do this.)

Step 1:

We'll start with the outer borders. Nothing special here, really. I made these a bit thicker than the inner lines will be as it works well with the technique I'll be using for those.

Step 2:

Next we add the division lines between where the rows of bricks will be. They'd be curving in an arc for other perspectives, but since this is sideview, they're straight lines and identical to the "rectangular" tower image further up.

Step 3:

Now it's getting interesting! For this simple method, we put a "brick" in the middle of one row and a division line in the middle of the next. Your tower is of course going to be taller than two rows, so these should alternate. What I did in the upper row was divide it into three fairly equal-sized parts; the lower row is divided in half by the line in the centre.

Step 4:

Our tower is starting to take shape! What I did here is simple, but effective: the leftmost and rightmost "bricks" have been cut in half by a division line. The effect that's going to result from this is already visible in the upper row here, but not in the lower one.

Step 5:

And presto! But whoa, how were all these lines made? What I did was to simply repeat Step 4 several times: I cut the leftmost and rightmost bricks from the Step 4 illustration in half with a division line, then did the same thing with the new leftmost and rightmost bricks resulting from that, and so on until reaching (or almost reaching) the edges. It becomes more difficult (and also more pointless) the closer one gets to those; the fact we drew them as thicker lines makes it easier to still make the shape relatively convincing at the edges.

Step 6:

We're actually done with the linework, but just for fun, I went and coloured it in a way that compliments the shape somewhat. This can be done a lot better, of course.

Aaand that's it! Done right, the tower should look a lot more like a cylinder now even in sideview. Similar approaches can of course be used for other angles as well, but it's not as essential as the vertical brick division lines will not be the only thing to convey the object's shape in those cases.

And now, have fun trying this out, playing around with it, sharing it with all your friends, sharing it with all your enemies and creating some much better things than my silly example here!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Long Story Short

When I first started to write and try my hand at putting actual stories together, my paragraphs were way too short for my taste and the pace was too fast. It should go without saying that my writing at the time was also, to be quite frank, absolutely terrible. Whether or not anything has changed about might be for debate, but I did start to become more satisfied with my writing as it became noticeably more elaborate, dwelling on things for long paragraphs at a time. As a result, I had been equating the original lack of quality with brevity, and seeing how many beginning writers start with shorter paragraphs (a lot of amateur writing and fan fiction on the internet seems to be short), it did seem to imply a connection. But is it true?

The book I'm currently writing got me thinking about length. It's a radical departure from my published books in style, being a collection of several self-contained, relatively short stories about the same characters (Vellisia and her friends, for those familiar with Ssalia and the Dragons of Avienot). Unfortunately, I'm finding it extremely difficult to write these stories, which seemed illogical to me for a while. These are a lot shorter than what I'm used to writing; why have I been having so much trouble finishing each? Shouldn't it be easier? I believe the answer is quite simple and is actually right there: they're shorter than what I'm used to writing. Writing good short stories is proving to be more than an "easy mode" of writing longer ones. When I began to find my style and (hopefully) become a better writer, I focused on an elaborate style. Writing in a concise style is an entirely seperate skill and I keep being surprised by how hard it is to transform one into the other. It's not a downgraded version of my natural style; it's a different one and it's no easier to master than any other, as proven by the huge problems I'm encountering in handling it. It's easy to underestimate how difficult it is to optimise a story for a short length while still living up to my own quality standards rather than just writing short paragraphs due to lack of skill and I've been starting to feel that.

A brief writing style is not bad by definition. I believe that writing for different lengths requires different skills, just as writing for different genres and formats in general does. Being compact and still delivering a high quality story is more than just taking out a pair of scissors and cutting a longer story apart. If concise writing is what you do best, do it. Long form is apples, short form is oranges. Neither is comparatively superior, either can be a strength or weakness.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Providing Some Background

When working on sketches for some buffer pages for my comic (Tails of Lanschilandia), some thoughts occurred to me while drawing panel backgrounds. I've heard from someone recently that they don't draw them as often as I do, and I've noticed of myself that I often add them as an afterthought and focus on the more important elements first. So why have them at all, and what level of attention do they deserve? "Expressive", abstract backgrounds can be used to affect the mood of the panel or story. But is there ever any need for "real" backgrounds of actual places? What do they add to a comic, in this humble author's opinion?

Backgrounds set the scene. They make the comic's world feel more complete - or rather, actually present. For without them, what world is there other than a blank void? Backgrounds can also provide context. Where are the characters? What might they be able to do there, where might other elements come into play? And in the almost words of Cotton-Eye Joe, where did they come from, where do they go? Backgrounds give the impression that things are happening outside of the panel; what leaves the panel goes somewhere, and what enters it comes from somewhere. It's not just there because it has to be, for the limited time it has to be. Everything exists within a setting and can move to other locations within that setting to interact in and with. Even the basic implication of a room lets one assume so much more: the characters are most likely inside a building and able to move around within its boundaries, interact with elements in other rooms and also leave the building. They don't wander a featureless plane, and when a character isn't present, they may be in another room or somewhere outside the house, pursuing their own activities, not inexplicably absent from reality because they aren't needed.

Does this mean that backgrounds need a great deal of attention? Absolutely not, I would say. From my experience, panel backgrounds are something that I - as a reader - pick up subconsciously and retrieve information from about general location and an impression of the setting. They are not something I analyse or gaze upon in awe (unless the particular panel deliberately invokes awe-inspiring scenery over actual action - which is also fine now and then, most obviously for establishing shots). My focus will be elsewhere: on the characters, their actions, their speech. Backgrounds add to the comic, as stated above, but under normal conditions, they are not the comic. They should be there and convey that information, but there is no mandatory reason to go beyond that in most situations as the vast majority of readers most likely won't go beyond picking up the basic information unless what's happening in the foreground cannot hold their attention (in which case there's a bigger problem at hand that's harder to fix than by polishing backgrounds). Here's an example from a story by the late Carl Barks that I love to cite on this topic:

Clicky link to image hosted on Comic Book Resources

Let's look at the panel backgrounds here. Do they convey information? Very much so - the characters are interacting inside a room, mayhap an office, and it's in a building within a city, as the window illustrates. It sets the scene and provides a context for an approximate location within the setting - anyone with experience should be able to tell that the characters are inside Scrooge's money bin, information that can be retrieved even from these few basic details and lines in the background.

As stated, however, the panel backgrounds are extremely basic. A few straight lines outline a room (which consists of plain surfaces devoid of texture in the line work); there are money bags to clarify the location, as these are recurring motives in Scrooge's office (and in association with him in general); the window provides a view of Duckburg; the telephone is there because it's being used. Apart from a lone picture on the wall, the background is suspiciously lacking in details, and it's also inconsistent: Where's the picture outside of panel 2? Where did the window go in panel 4? Why does the telephone table change size? In panel 3, there is no background at all (apart from the gradient added by the colourist).

Is the reader going to be bothered by any of this? The answer, for the majority of readers, is most certainly "no"; there is too much important action going on in the foreground for anyone to question the absence of texture on the carpet. Without deliberately focusing on the background details, their lack is hardly noticeable when reading the story, and neither are the inconsistencies. Many comics I have read are ridden with them if one is specifically on the lookout for them; the reason no one cares is that they tell interesting stories and convey the important aspects well, which the reader is going to pay more attention to than whether or not the tree in panel 5 has disappeared by panel 7.

So, in closing, should a comic utilise panel backgrounds? Most definitely, at least enough to convey the information touched upon above. Should a lot of time be spent on them? It's hardly necessary, I would say. An entertaining story, even with only the basic implications of a setting for it to take place in, is worth so much more, and when working on a schedule, time can be precious.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Huh? I have a blog?

Oh, right! There was something like that. I haven't been updating this in a while, but I should probably get into the habit again.

So, what's been happening since I last posted? Not much, really. My comic has been trailing along and had its first print edition released while my Fantasy writing that I mainly started this blog about has been slowing down to a crawl and my life has had all the ups and downs of watching paint dry and wondering if mayhap you should have used a different colour.

So what will I be talking about? I'm not really sure yet, but I'm hoping to be doing enough interesting things to at least keep the blog on life support for now. There's a short story collection about Vellisia from Ssalia and the Dragons of Avienot in the works as well as a few potentially neat developments related to my comic, and I've been fleshing out Pelsatia's home on the web a little as well, so there may be things to report, or not.

If you have stumbled upon this for the first time, please do check out my older posts about writing, as I feel I managed to put some helpful bits together back then. The ramblings about my individual comic pages that I used to post here will largely be going on my Patreon in the future once I actually have a patron who will read them.