Okay, so while I was at Hal Con 2011 I met this great artist name Ariel Marsh. She works with my friend Jay Paulin over at Ink’d Well Comics on titles like Infastany and What the Wild Things Read, and has this great kid-friendly, cartoony style that is just amazing in its simplicity and ability to convey story in a great manner. That’s what her art is great for: telling a story. It’s not the hyper-detailed what am I supposed to be looking at -style that dominates a lot of big comics publishers. It serves the story well, and that makes her a great comic book artist.
So as I said, I met her at Hal Con. I don’t get to see Jay and Heidi much, so afterwards the four of us went out for a frate (friend date). Had some great laughs, lots of fun.
Apparently Jay lent Ariel his copy of Black Womb, because a few days later I got this message:
Jay and Heidi lent me their copy of Black Womb #1. I started to read the
book on the train ride home. I’m really enjoying the book!
As soon as I had finished reading the prologue, I had to draw something
from it. It was so intense! It’s a pretty messy sketch but I do want to
properly ink and colour it soon. Working on this has been a lot of fun.
The subject is so different from what I usually draw (bright colours and
cats everywhere haha!).
Hope you dig!
It was great to meet you and Ellen at Hal-Con. What a blast Sunday night was!
Isn’t that awesome? I think it’s awesome. I was on her website ( http://happyraccoon.com/ )and it says she does commissions. I think this proves she’s got more in her than just cute stuff, though there was nothing wrong with the cute stuff. This just proves she’s a versatile artist.
I can’t wait to see what other images the book might inspire.
So a few months ago when I was at Hal Con 2011, a very nice person in one of my writing panels asked me: “Once you’ve created an alternate world, how do you work those details into your story?”
I apologized and told her I really couldn’t answer. I prefer to write things that take place in a version of our reality where some strange things can happen… “urban horror” it’s been called. Regardless of the title, all my stuff takes place in present day Earth.
I felt bad that I really wasn’t qualified to answer the question, but I wasn’t about to make something up either, so I went to the horse’s mouth to get the answer.
Kenneth Tam is an accomplished Canadian author of over twenty science-fiction alternate history novels. His best-known works include The Equations Novels and the Defense Command series. He is the son of fellow Canadian author Jacqui Tam. He is a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ontario. Kenneth has been an author guest at the Polaris Science Fiction Convention for seven consecutive years,and a guest at the Sci-Fi on the Rock convention for its first three years and a major guest (and my partner in writing panels) at the first Hal Con.
He seemed like the guy to ask. 😉
So I did. He says:
Seems to me the most important aspect of layering the details of a different world into a story is just trial and error. Too many details too fast and you’ll drown the fish, so to speak. Too little and people won’t be able to follow.
So isolate the most important facts that are essential to your story and make sure they’re layered in early, along with some less-important facts to disguise the important ones (in case you’re afraid of telegraphing your plot).
As to how, avoid stilted expository dialogue. Don’t be afraid to tell your readers what they need to know as the narrator. Again, just a matter of trial and error to figure out how much is tolerable, and how much is too much.
That seems like a smart answer. I agree completely.
If that aspiring writer was listening, I hope that helped.
I left this one out of my initial coverage of Hal Con 2011, but as the holiday season is upon us, I feel that maybe it was time to give it mention. Jesus Needs Help is a indie-press comic that was sold next to the Ink’d Well Comics booth at Hal Con 2 (2011).
The reason I left it out is because I know literally nothing about it. Nothing, save the title and this one promotional gimmick. I don’t know the premise. I don’t know the story. I don’t know who published, wrote, or drew it.
I know nothing about this comic.
But just the image and poster demand discussion, don’t they? I mean… Look at it. Jesus Needs Help, and there he is, looking nervously at scary shadows. I can’t even imagine what this is about. Are they devils? The Romans? Scientologists? I don’t know.
And the promo poster. “If this book actually converts you to Christianity, you get a full refund! (baptismal certificate required)” That’s just compelling. I love ads like this, mostly because it makes me want to do them. Ask Ellen, I’m actually insane enough to buy this book, get rebaptised, then return to next year’s con with the certificate and demand my money back. Just to see the look on their faces.
And with fans of Ink’d Well saying “I found salvation through Ink’d Well Comics” right next door, it was just a strange funnybook religious presence.
Is it wrong that this book offends me? I shouldn’t say offended. I’ve done much harsher. And I haven’t read it. I guess I’m just aware that some people I know would be offended and in empathizing / channeling them. And that makes me feel bad. I feel like those people who wrote hate mail to Kevin Smith over Dogma without ever having seen it.
So if anyone wonders why I didn’t buy this, it simply leaves me unsure of what to feel and that makes me uncomfortable.
It’s a new year and whole new crop of virtual writing panels, and I’m going to get back on track doing topics that, I feel, really matter. A big one for me regarding how I do what I do involved description.
Basically most of my core writing habits, good and bad, come from advice I got at a young age. With description, I can trace the origin back to my grade seven home room teacher. He was talking about then-mega popular novelist RL Stine and his Fear Street series of novels. He said that people liked it because it was very visual… That it appealed to all readers because it was so richly described that people could see it. I believe his exact words were: “People can see the head hitting the floor.”
So when it came time for me to put pen to paper, I described everything… And I still do. Later on during my late teens, a great mentor of mine named Elona Malterre mentioned something similar, but said that we should remember to describe with all five of our senses whenever possible.
I think this is how I got labelled a horror/thriller author. When you describe leaves you’re just a writer… When you describe an evisceration, you’re a horror writer. I describe everything. At least, everything I see. However the pictures in my head get to me, they aren’t perfect. But I’m trying to communicate them to you as clearly as I can, so I’m going to use all the tools at my disposal.
That’s kind of what the “A Thousand Words” panels are about. For instance, look at the picture accompanying this post. What do yo think it is? You presumably don’t really know, but how would you describe it? Orange? Octagonal? Would you spend much time on the raised pattern in the centre? If you had to describe this picture to someone who couldn’t see it, what words would you use? Because if you can do that, that’s what writing is. That is the essence of it: taking a picture in your brain and explaining it well enough that the same picture is in someone else’s. Then, just like early animation, you follow it up with another picture and another to make it move.
The picture is actually the Peteo-Can hall at Memorial University, taken during the Lorna Goodison reading I attended. They are the sound proofing pads above the auditorium. Neat though, huh? I’ve never seen ones so thought out and intricately designed.
For describing this it’s easy to JUST use sight, and that’s fine… But you could do more. Do they have a smell? Does the auditorium have a smell? If I could touch them, what would they feel like? Or taste like?
If you’re drafting your manuscript, think these things through. Describe the world around you characters. Make it real, bring me in to that world. If you’re done drafting, re-read the story and ask yourself: have I given enough information that people can see what’s in my head?
Let me know how you do with it. Whether you describe everything or save it for the special bits, I’m sure your story will be great.
Truth is the single most important thing any fiction writer can learn. It’s the answer to every question and the defense to any criticism. It is why we do what we do.
Let me get new-agey for a moment. If you write, you’re not just creating that from nothing. Any writer knows this. There’s a muse or a divine spark in your head that feeds you those transmissions from the great beyond, and even though it’s fiction, it happened to somebody somewhere.
That’s laying it on a bit thick, but you get my point.
Anyone who has ever known a liar in their life knows that the truth just sounds different. There’s a ring and a hum to it that resonates within us all… Even if that truth lies within a secret plot by Martian’s to invade Ohio. Just Ohio, nothing else.
The key lies in the logic of your story and the reflexivity of your characters. The first is bendable, the second isn’t. But both have to remain consistent to successfully suspend your readers’s disbelief and engage them in your story.
Suspension of disbelief is a very real thing, and if it isn’t obeyed than nobody is going to pick up what you’re putting down. I’ve seen gaffs that can’t be followed in premises as simple as a romantic comedy. I’ve also completely believed epics on other planets, such as Firefly.
Whether your world is completely made up or just a fictionalized version of our world, you have to establish the rules of your world and never break them.
People cannot return from the dead in the Engen Universe. We will never break this rule. To do so would undermine everything Ellen and I have created. On the other hand, people have noticed that everyone in Coral Beach tends to heal a little faster than normal people… This may be a plot point, but it also serves as narrative convenience. Just because Mike gets hurt in book 2 doesn’t mean I want to deal with him in crutches for 10 books.
Once the rules of your story are in place, it’s up to your characters to respond to the events therein appropriately. If Jimmy Five sees an alien spacecraft fry a pedestrian, don’t have him say “Gosh!” (And I’ve seen almost that exact thing happen, with that reaction). If your characters don’t react realistically, your readers will become “aware” of the story.
But if you obey your own rules (whatever they may be) and have the characters react in realistic, character-specific ways than the reader will follow you anywhere. AND you’ll find after a while that you are “seeing” the movie through the cosmic projector in your mind. And you’ll just be telling it like it is.
A lot of authors like to pepper their work with what we like to call ‘local color’… That is, phrases and idioms that are specific to a certain region in order to increase it’s level of realism.
Being from Newfoundland, I see a lot of this. It seems like every local book published by Breakwater or Downhome are peppered with “Newfie Speak” (a term I despise, by the way). Even my good friend Kenneth Tam over at Iceberg Publishing does this. His His Majesty’s New World series about Newfoundlanders in an alternate timeline is chalk full of Newfie-isms. And he does it quite well. Most do. And I’m sure that every other region of the world has their own brand of local color that their own local authors use. Novels like The Color Purple are famous for it. And sometimes again, local color is used by people not native to the area (like me writing about Americans) to create an illusion of authenticity.
Here’s the rub, and it’s where you have to be careful: sometimes it can be offensive. Now while I strongly believe that you should never pussy-foot around when it comes to writing, there’s also a point where you’re just being insensitive. Personally, I opt to simply say that a character has a certain accent, rather than attempt to portray in phonetically. But that’s your call.
There’s also the possibility that nobody (not even people from the demographic presented) will be able to understand it. For instance, in outport communities here in Newfoundland people tend to remove the letter H from where it should be and install it other places. So rather than: “That house is orange,” it would sound like: “That ‘ouse is horange.” But I wouldn’t write it like that. I might describe it, but writing it would be confusing and possibly offensive. On the other hand, many Newfoundlanders say “B’y” at the end of their sentences. That I would keep, just because there’s not really a non-phonetic alternative and it’s an authentic part of our speech.
So it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s important, like all these writing processes, to take it with a grain of salt and to decide for yourselves. Let me know what you think… And if anyone has any local speech patterns they want to post, do so. Let’s have fun with it. 😉