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.