Stanley and his pet T-Rex

The wonderful thing about writing stories is that you can be ridiculous.
My son is a proper livewire and has no apparent sense of danger. So it makes perfect sense that he should befriend a T-Rex from baby to fully grown terrifying carnivore.

Imagine the fun that could be had if such a friend went to school with him :)

Here’s a quick concept sketched using Mischief.

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Kid Warrior – Concept art drawn with Mischief

Some days I just want to sketch and explore ideas. I’ll grab a coffee and fire up the iMac / Wacom / Mischief combination and just draw.

This morning was shaping up to be just one of those days so I sat down and thought about a character I’d had mapped out for some time – The Kid Warrior.

The kid is just an ordinary and very English kid called Eric. He loves cricket and often hits a ball in a nearby field while out walking his beloved dog, Hugo. Then it all gets a bit weird and Eric undergoes a mini transformation from shy and nervous kid into a potential dragon slayer in a mystical realm!

I’ve had the story mapped out for a little while but other more pressing projects have got in the way a bit. So it’s nice to spend some time with Eric and keep edging toward that stage where we can start to create his story.

Here’s a few concepts created with Mischief this morning.

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Thinking about a graphic novel

I always wanted to write something that I could illustrate as a graphic novel. But I don’t really know too much about comic books or graphic novels.

So I took a look around at some of the classics in the genre.
I confess I started with what appears to be one of the finest bits of work I ever saw – From Hell
. I just love the line art. It’s simple but powerful and at times beautifully complex. But it’s also a style that is completely accessible. By that I mean that it has an innocence and amateurishness to it that I find hugely appealing.

From Hell

From Hell

The entire book is a hugely accomplished piece of work in every sense, but it is of course the story itself that hits hard. I find it massively inspiring as an artist and writer to read a story that is so visceral and captured perfectly with the artwork.

I’ve got a number of story ideas that don’t fit my usual style of writing or presentation. One of them features a droid that is 90% human and the rest is synthetic. I never gave the droid a name but I’ve always known that I want him to be a combat droid. But a combat droid with a big difference – he’s terrified of combat. In fact he runs a mile and has the most gentle heart.

After years of conflict the droids have finally won over and humans are forced into hiding. The droids have gained strength and are pretty bloody horrible. But my droid doesn’t want to be a part of it.

As his story unfolds we learn more about why he is so unique and his journey sees him as something of a peacemaker. But not without some serious conflict both literally and psychologically. This is a droid with a conscience. A sentient semi-human with intelligence and great spirit.

This graphic was created to try and capture the mood of the story in the opening pages. It was created using Corel Painter’s Velocity Sketcher from the Liquid Ink collection.

Graphic Novel layout image

Combining traditional books with digital content

By far the most challenging aspect of being a ‘creative’ is trying to convince others that your creativity is worth purchasing. For me this amounts to writing and art.

I’ve never been overly bothered about selling art. It’s something that I do that I enjoy enormously and feel privileged and honoured when somebody requests a print.
With my writing I’m always looking to the market.

Currently I write and self-publish via Amazon’s CreateSpace. I’ve used Lulu but was less comfortable with it. The book’s quality was fine but I found the process irritating.

The books that I create are children’s books with a few (picture books) aimed at 0 – 4 years and a couple aimed at 5+ in the form of early chapter books.

I’ve always found it a challenge promoting my work without coming over as a one track broken record. Truth be told I’m not very good at it and not at all interested in the process. A large part of me wants to simply enjoy writing and then push my work to an established market. The process right now is of course very different in that I write without a market and once complete have to go in search of it.

A publisher would solve this, but attracting a publisher is painful. I’ll not give up on it but if my stress levels are already high then the process of obtaining a publisher is pretty much going to have me blow a fuse.

The perfect scenario would be to establish something of a pipeline from initial idea to marketplace such that the entire process is enjoyable.

So how do you develop a market? How do you break into an established market?

Yes, these are the questions we all want answering. These are indeed the questions that nobody has clear answers to so they write books on the subject in order to become an authority. The best we can hope for is some insider knowledge, an educated heads up on the painful process of becoming recognised and earning money from our creativity.

Social media helps us enormously. It’s free to talk amongst your acquaintances and free to have them share your news.

But social media is crowded with people and noise and distraction. What on earth would make my creativity stand out against the plethora of cat videos and political infographics?

Social media intrigues me greatly. There is generally a shift in activity on Facebook depending on the season, current affairs, sporting events and the sense of national unity. But something that seems to be commonplace now is the consumption of visuals. Words work to a point but there’s nothing quite like a strong photograph or video to capture somebody’s interest.

Videos inparticular are powerful. Concise and relevant videos are incredibly powerful and are soon being shared amongst millions of unacquainted people.

So how is this relevant to somebody trying to sell their writing?

I took a step back and analysed social media a short while ago. It occurred to me that the way in which we consume information has changed enormously in the last 10 years. The way in which we communicate with our acquaintances and the way in which we discover and respond to news is entirely different to the methods used just 10 or 15 years ago.

Every activity is now encouraged to be a social affair.

Gaming has more of a multiplayer / social aspect to it now than it’s ever had. Web based social media platforms have become far more visual. Epitomised by the popularity of Pinterest and Tumblr but also reflected in the changes made to the two kings of the genre; Twitter and Facebook. Only last year Twitter allowed the posting of visual material without eating up any of your 140 character post limit.

But reading has changed very little by comparison. We view stories in much the same way as we have for centuries. Significantly, I suppose, we now read ‘on the go’ via Kindle and similar services but ultimately it’s the same process of turning the page and consuming the written word.

Long may that last!

But I’m looking at how to make a dent into a marketplace. How to create a marketplace that I can push my hard work into. It strikes me that there’s scope for how a writer presents their story and consequently there’s room for changing how we consume stories.

Enhanced digital presentation of stories is the obvious route. Furthermore it’s probably going to work best in the children’s market. Some form of interaction where the child is met with a sense of play as they read would no doubt be a winner. Of course there’s an enormous market focused on this but it’s an exciting concept and something that must present gaps to the creative minded writer / illustrator.

Taking a story in traditional format and continuing it online is something that I’ve often been intrigued by but there’s just one thing that prevents me from exploring it, and that’s the fact that I’d be selling a potentially incomplete item.

It’d be an assumption that the reader has consistent access to the internet. How might that affect somebody who wants to take their paperback on holiday and lie on a beach?
None the less that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. The idea of placing QR codes throughout a book still intrigues me. QR codes that link to an image or an animation. Maybe even a video. The possibilities appear limitless and I’m already thinking back to the Choose your own Adventures of my youth. The QR codes could lead to a randomiser which guides the reader along a different path in the story. Complex but achievable. The challenge would of course be in making sure it wasn’t an utterly messy experience.
It’d be something that may help my work to stand out from the crowd and possibly give me an edge in a competitive market.

This post, as I’m sure you’ve ascertained, is something of a brain dump. All feedback is welcomed.

 

 

Designing nasty characters

Continuing my theme of creating ‘rotters’, here’s a couple I came up with while thinking about a story. I’m a big fan of drawing my characters rather than just writing endless pages of backstory about them. Though I do enjoy that as well, this really helps me to imagine the characters as real people.

Mrs Cheese, History teacher and a proper rotter

Mrs Cheese, History teacher and a proper rotter

Ivor Ratchitt - the class thug

Ivor Ratchitt – the class thug

Horrid Auntie Morag

I love getting ideas for characters and just sketching them out. The idea for evil Auntie Morag came to me as I was thinking of names for an elderly lady character. I remembered the name Morag from a kid’s TV show and always thought it was such an unusual name. The kind of name that would probably suit an old hag!

Auntie Morag and her horrible cats

Auntie Morag and her horrible cats

I imagined that Morag would be a hunched old woman with a kind of a hunchback. Her clothes would be rags and she’d be followed by her beloved cats. Horribly spoiled cats that she fed fresh salmon throughout the day. Consequently she stank of fish and her clothes were a mess of cat hairs and pulled threads.

Worse still she had grandma stubble and claws for fingers. Probably from years of sewing things or doing rubbish 10,000 piece jigsaws.
And of course she had to have mad staring eyes :)

Fun with character development

I love creating characters and getting to know them. My approach varies depending on the story but by far my most effective (and fun) method is to use celebrity photos. At least just to get the ball rolling.

I’ve lost count of the number of character profiles I’ve written. Hundreds, probably. But they all follow something of a pattern.

I first find a good photo of an actor or celebrity (largely because they are easiest to search for) and pin that up at the head of my document. I then pick a date of birth and look up some astrology for it. This is a neat way of creating a base profile. Lazy but effective.

Obviously the character’s profile has to compliment the story in some way but I do enjoy creating characters and their lives in this way.

Here’s an example from a story I’m considering about a teenage lad who discovers that an illness he had as a boy was actually linked to some form of dormant other-worldly possession!

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Asa Butterfield

So this guy is of course the young actor Asa Butterfield. But for the purposes of my story he’s called Jacob. 

Here’s a little detail.

Jacob Mason, born 17th May 1997.
Star sign: Taurus

Jacob is a quiet, intelligent, creative young lad. He comes from a good home and attends Sycamore College where he has ambition to become a comic book artist. He looks the type, don’t you think?

As a child Jacob suffered a seizure while out shopping with his mother. He spent a little over a month in a coma despite the doctors advising they could see no obvious cause.
In recovery Jacob’s parents vowed to protect him; and they do. A little too much. Jacob feels their pressure but is far from rebellious. In fact, he can be quite withdrawn and reclusive with few close friends.

Jacob’s first love is art. Since he can remember he’s kept a sketchbook journal daily.
Jacob’s best friend, Alice, is a pretty 17 year old and the two are extremely close.

Sophie-Nelisse-Interview-Book-Thief-Video

Sophie Nélisse

The young actress above is Sophie Nélisse who I thought was superb in The Book Thief. She has exactly the sort of natural girl-next-door looks that Alice has.

Jacob’s Taurus personality sees him as ambitious, reliable and independent but painfully stubborn with a short fuse.

Alice, the Sagittarius, shares Jacob’s ambition and works hard at her studies. But she is easily bored and is becoming increasingly frustrated by Jacob’s introvert nature.

So this is really enough to get me started on building their characters and establishing a strong plot.

Several questions crop up as I’m writing.

  • Is Jacob in love with Alice?
  • Is Alice in love with Jacob?
  • Is Jacob the sort of kid that could be bullied?
  • How would Jacob’s short fuse cope with seeing Alice with another guy?
  • What kind of drawings does Jacob draw?
  • Is Jacob a day dreamer in class?
  • Does Jacob take regular medication following his seizure?
  • What might happen if Jacob failed to take his medication?
  • What might happen if Jacob got drunk whilst on medication?
  • What does Jacob’s temper look like?
  • Just how much do Jacob’s parents stifle their only child’s movement?

and of course

  • What is the real cause for Jacob’s seizure all those years ago?

This is very much the stuff of teen angst and a decent foundation for the story that I have planned for Jacob. I want the story to be quite gritty and deal with love, lust, drink, violence, drugs and the supernatural.

Best get writing…

Three teen fiction topics that need more attention

I’ve been watching a number of teen movies lately. They are, to my taste, average despite the underlying story being quite intriguing. My understanding is that they are all adaptations of novels.

I’ve nothing against vampires and werewolves et al, but I do wonder whether or not the entire vampire / werewolf scene has been milked dry.

I love everyday life being a bit different. I love that theme in any story, and that is of course the crux of many of these tales. Somebody has a normal life until something far from normal happens or befriends them. Or, as popularised by stories such as The Hunger Games, life is ordinary but set in a grim, dystopian world of constant struggle.

For a long time films have been as important to me as books. Good film adaptations such as Stephanie Meyer’s Hunger Games trilogy, are compelling. Not least because they are well acted and well produced. Jennifer Lawrence cannot, for me, put a foot wrong. But I’m becoming disillusioned by the glossing of the movie scene. I’m tempted to call it over-production but I really don’t know enough about film production to offer that kind of a criticism.

I do feel that films / stories in the mainstream could be a lot grittier and dispense with the Hollywood gloss.
Kes, for example, has no gloss. It’s an old story and very much of its time, but it’s also a very real tale of a young boy in a working class setting. I do class the book as a teen book and I remember with some fondness reading it in school.
Lad: A Yorkshire Story offers similar vibes and is superbly acted.
I also remember reading Orwell’s 1984 in school. There were some parallels between the two stories for me that centred around oppression but of course in almost every respect they were quite different. I think these stories are wonderful for young adults to read. There are many more.

Some concepts could be really well handled by some good young acting talent in today’s films. To that end there are some intriguing concepts that I think need exploring a little further. Here are just a few.

  • Stories that scare but are not necessarily horror and don’t necessarily involve monsters
  • Stories that centre on the real life struggle with poverty and prejudice
  • Stories that involve serious adult issues such as domestic violence and alcoholism

I’m not suggesting that story time should be transformed into a lesson in morals and standards. I just think that there is an appetite for this level of grit in teen fiction that borrows directly from real life.

I am by no means an oracle when it comes to teen and young adult fiction so I would be keen to hear from anybody who can pick out stories that focus on the things I’ve listed.

How to write for children and get published – three simple questions

I’m currently reading the book that shares this post’s title. It’s a good read and contains many useful bits of information for the budding children’s writer.

Though I’ve written and published six books to date, they are all self-published. It is, of course, my dream to have a story published in the mainstream and available in bookstores the world over.

Of particular interest to me is the section in the book dedicated to plot and structure. I’ve read books before that are, I think, a little too concerned with formula. I tend to get a tad bored by reading somebody’s views on how all prose can be boiled down to some kind of a boiler plate from which we can all write fantastic fiction.

Louise Jordan dispenses with this notion in the main but does offer a number of exceptions worth noting. One interesting section discusses the power of the three word – three step overview.

For example:

  1. Boy meets girl
  2. Boy loses girl
  3. Boy gets girl

What I see there are essentially three acts.

  1. Boy meets girl: ACT I – SETUP
  2. Boy loses girl: ACT II – CONFLICT
  3. Boy gets girl: ACT III – RESOLUTION

An example from popular fiction is this from The Pied Piper.

  1. Man lures rats
  2. Town won’t pay
  3. Man takes children

It’s a neat way to look at your story from a great height.

Essentially:

  • What’s it about?
  • What’s the problem?
  • What happens?

This is very much in keeping with a previous article that I’d written about The Golden Thread that pulls the reader through a story. As the story evolves and we get to know the characters, we shift through each of the three questions.

I had a play with the most popular of all children’s books Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

  1. What’s it about? A boy who doesn’t realise he is destined to be a wizard
  2. What’s the problem? Plenty of people don’t want that to happen
  3. What happens? The boy becomes a wizard

Is that a fair appraisal? Of course en route to becoming the wizard the young boy first confronts numerous challenges and hundreds of pages of text! But certainly if you were to stand before a Hollywood studio and read those three lines you’d leave the exec in no doubt that you’re referring to Harry Potter. I’m sure that the same could be said for a commissioning editor.

For me this simple three step approach is very attractive. I can daydream all day long about the what’s it aboutquestion.

Here’s an example from my own notebook.

Invisible 

  • A shy child who just wants to be seen (accepted) and have friends
  • He’s ‘different’ to the other kids (disabled)
  • The boy has a remarkable talent and wins the support of the good guys

There’s threads to this story that involve bullying and his parent’s constant struggle to get the best for their child. The disaster occurs during the conflict of Act II when his parents separate and his mother abandons her son.

It’s only when the boy appears on national TV with his rare talent that the family tries again. This is of course a personal statement as to the superficial, fickle nature of people in today’s media obsessed world.

I recommend Louise Jordan’s book which has been revised from its 1998 initial release to include information about self publishing.

The Secret Society of the Hideous

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Every year The Secret Society of the Hideous holds its Creepy Cabaret, and every year it’s an enormous success.

Mere mortals cannot attend. Oh no, sirreee. This is for the truly grotesque and its location every year is the best kept secret in monsterland.

This year, back by popular demand, is the outrageously camp but supremely talented Squidge Morrison. His unique blend of jazz and showmanship has transformed him from deep sea hobo to a theatre sell out in just four hundred short years.

Intensely private and notoriously abusive to reporters, Squidge was kind enough to offer us a few words following his standing ovation as the curtain fell.

Sadly we can’t print them. But rest assured he was in fine form.

Gaggle Spencer – Entertainment Writer
The Monsterland Mirror