I Draw Like I Write 2: Pastel Edition

A while ago I realized that my drawing process and my writing process are very similar. In particular, fear plays a lot in both of them. As I've been getting better at both, and have been deep in Air Pirates' edits, I've discovered even more similarities. Particularly when working with pastels.

Step One: Loose Sketch
You'll have to click on that image if you want to actually see it. Before I put any color on, I have to make a sketch. This is like my outline. It doesn't have to be very detailed, because all the details are going to change when I do the "real" drawing anyway.

It's also totally fun. I'm free, I can make any mistakes I like because they'll all be erased or covered by the colors. It's like a puzzle, too, as I try and figure out where all the pieces need to go so the work as a whole looks right.

Step Two: First Lines and Fill
This is the first draft. It's not pretty. The shapes and skeleton are there. I hit all the easy scenes, the big parts, and I realize that this story is a lot bigger than I thought it was.

I'm tempted to just say this is good enough. The fun part's over, after all. But it's ugly. And although I have my doubts about being able to fix it, I'll never know if I don't try.

Step Three: Second Layer
The first revision/edit. This is when I fill in the empty parts from Step Two. This is really hard. The reason I skipped those parts was because I wasn't sure how to draw them, and now that I'm sitting down to do it, I still don't know. But this is what drawing (and writing) is: doing the hard parts so you can learn how to do them.

This is also the point at which I'm pretty sure I was overly ambitious when I decided what I wanted to draw this week.

Step Four: Last Fill and Shading
A second revision. Now it's starting to look like the final product. Like a real picture. Somewhere between steps three and four I had to disconnect myself from my initial sketch -- from the outline -- and take a look at the picture as a whole. To try and see what the picture really was, rather than what I thought it was going to be.

At this point, I know was too ambitious, but I also know that there isn't much work left before this picture is as good as I can make it. There's no going back now.

Step Five: Final Touches
The picture is done, or at least as done as I can make it. I'm not happy with it, necessarily, but I know that at my current skill level this is as good as I can do. I know the picture needs to be fixed, but I don't know how to do it and that's okay. The best thing for me, at this point, is to take what I've learned and move on to another picture. Eventually, I will know what to do.

Here's where the analogy breaks down, of course. With pastels, I can't erase portions and redo them. It's easier to see that moving on is my only option. But with writing (or pencil sketches, I suppose), you can always erase and redo. That's good and bad.

It's good because you can take what you've learned by the end and apply it to the beginning of the novel. It's bad because you can revise the same piece forever and never move on. Sometimes, though, moving on is really the best thing you can do for your work.

That Thing Where I Draw: Kauai

(If you missed it, the contest winner(s) were announced here).

I love Kauai. It's probably my favorite place in the world. If money and my calling were no object, that's where I'd live. This is from a picture I took once. On top of the mountains they've got all this swamp, and boardwalks all the way through it. It's beautiful as heck. I tried it with pastels.

It came out somewhat more impressionist than I intended (abstract? modern? Let it not be said that I know anything about classical art styles). There was so much detail, so many colors, that I just had no idea what to do with it all. So hooray for experimentation!

Contest Winner!

So last Friday, I gave you a task. Give me the funniest caption to this picture. You guys did great, making this quite difficult. You're all very funny, and the next time I pull something like this, I hope to give you better material to showcase your talent.

Unfortunately, there can be only one winner, and that winner is...

Cap'n Heine! E-mail me whether you want the drawing or critique, and we'll talk details.

"Now hold on," you say (while admiring my sudden use of the second person POV). "Cap'n Heine? Isn't that just a tad nepotic?"

First of all, good use of the word nepotic. That adjective doesn't get enough play. Secondly, although the good Cap'n is my brother, it's technically fair because that caption is really, very funny. Heh... Smaug at our poker nights...

Anyway, thirdly, you might be right. Or you're not, but I do want to recognize the runners-up with more than just: "Good job!" So to the authors of the following two captions, I am going to send you a short collection of (good) poetry I wrote, because I love you... or hate you, depending on how you feel about poetry. Um, anyway, runner-up captions!

"At least I'm not losing to a Hobbit." -- Sara Raasch

"Fold! Fold! This is an antique table!" -- Larissa

Sara and Larissa, you can e-mail me at adamheine [at] gmail [dot] com, and I'll send you your prize.

To the winners and all the rest of you, thanks for playing, and have a good Thanksgiving.

Points of View: Switching Around

(Note: The contest is over. Thank you, everyone who entered. I'll announce the winner in a special post tomorrow. That's right, you have to check my blog on Thanksgiving to see who won.)

Before I talk about switching viewpoint characters, here's table reviewing the advantages of the first person, third person omniscient, and third person limited points of view.

First PersonThird Person, OmniscientThird Person, Limited
Puts the reader up close and personal with the characters.X
Feels as though the action is immediate, rather than in the past.
Immersive. No barrier between the reader and the story.

Can give a lot of information in fewer words.
Feels less like fiction and more like an eyewitness account.X

Highlights the story over the writing (the narrator's voice).

Highlights the writing (the narrator's voice) over the story.XX

Got all that? Keep that in mind when you're choosing how to tell your story.

Now about switching viewpoint characters in third person limited.* You can do it, but you shouldn't do it mid-scene. You can, however, switch the viewpoint character when you change scene or chapter -- anywhere there is a visual break in the text. But there are guidelines you need to be aware of:

You should be consistent. If 90% of the novel is from one character's POV, then you switch to another character in chapter 28 of 30, it won't work.** And if you write only the first chapter from the villain's POV, that's not a POV switch, it's a prologue.

Likewise, if you decide to switch POVs at chapter breaks, don't suddenly switch mid-chapter (even at a scene break) later in the novel. The reader won't be expecting it, and they probably won't like it.

You need to clue the reader in to whose POV it is. Once the reader gets the idea that each scene (or chapter) may mean a POV shift, you need to begin each scene (or chapter) with some clue so the reader knows whose head they're in. This could be as simple as titling each chapter with the name of the POV character. Personally, I don't do this in my books because I'm fond of chapter titles. Fortunately, there are other clues you can use:
  • The name of the POV character. If it's the first name the reader encounters in a scene, or it's connected to the first internal thought presented, the reader will get the idea they're in that character's head now. "Hagai had never seen an uglier man in his life."
  • Setting details. Suppose one character has gone to war in the cold northern wastes, while his twin brother stayed at home in the castle. After a couple of scenes with these characters, the reader will know that any reference to fighting, blood-stained fields, snow, or wastelands is an immediate clue they are in the first character's head. Likewise, references to warm weather, nobles, courtiers, and torch-lit corridors will imply the second. This clue isn't always availabe, but you'd be surprised how often it works.
  • Plot details. Are the POV characters traveling with different characters? Are they carrying unique, important items? Do they have a distinctly different knowledge of events? Basically you can use any major difference that the reader is likely to remember as a clue. Just remember it should be both important and unique. Don't expect the reader to remember that one character has an eye patch on his right eye and the other on his left, for example.
  • Make your own clue. Maybe a chapter quote from the character, or a page from someone's diary that gives the appropriate hints. Use your imagination. In Air Pirates, for example, I preface every Sam chapter with the place and time the chapter starts in, while the Hagai chapters (because they tend to be more continuous in time and place) have no such demarcation and so use the other clues listed here.
POV shifts are always jarring. You want to minimize the reader's whiplash. Help them know what to expect and don't be tricky unless you have a really, really good reason (and even then...).

This is mostly based on what I've read. Does anyone have examples of unique POV shifts, even ones that break these rules? And did they work for you or not?

* While I'm sure it's possible to switch first person POV characters, or to switch between first person and third, I've never seen it done. I imagine it would be hard to pull off. Also, you can't switch POV characters with third person omniscient by definition -- unless you do something weird.

** PROBABLY won't work. Everything in writing is a guideline. But still, don't do it unless you know what you're doing.

Back to the Queries

(Have you entered the caption contest yet? You still have two days to win a drawing or a critique. Go now!)

It's been a while since I really talked about query letters. Of course, it's been a while since I've had to write them. But with Air Pirates in the gamma phase, and me ever-hopeful that I will not have to do any more major rewrites, I'm looking at my query letter again.

Queries are hard. Personally I think they're easier than synopses(eseses), but the fact remains that I have to condense four thousand score words into ten score. And for many agents, those ten score words will be the only sample of my writing they ever see.

So I do crazy things like read every single query critiqued by the Query Shark or all the successful queries posted on Guide to Literary Agents in an attempt to figure out what, exactly, agents are looking for.

Nathan Bransford says the only things to really worry about are the overall look and the description of your work. That's certainly helpful in an anxiety sense (the last query I sent him started with a rhetorical question, for example), but it doesn't help me much with actually describing the work.

There are lots of formulas (lots and lots) out there to help write a query, but in the end they're just that: helps. Just like "don't start your novel with the weather" or "don't start with the character waking up in a white room" are helps, they're suggestions for those of us who don't yet know what we're doing. But it's entirely possible to break these rules and write something great (though probably not by accident).

So query formulas help, but they don't solve the problem. Worse, if you read those successful queries I linked to above, you'll notice many don't follow any formula. So why did they work? What are agents actually looking for? Here's what I think agents want to see in a query:
  1. A story they like and can sell. Believe it or not, the query doesn't sell the work. The work sells the work -- or at least the idea does. The very best query letter in the world won't sell a bad idea. Conversely, a great idea can (sometimes) carry bad writing.
  2. The ability to write. Credentials suggest that you can write, but your query shows that you can. It's not the little mistakes that will hurt you, rather the overall appearance that you don't know the craft or don't care enough to use it in everything you write. The query letter is such a short piece, there's no excuse for slapping it together without carefully choosing each word.
  3. Voice. Writing ability is to writer's voice as a common soldier is to a samurai (or a ninja). How you say it matters just as much as what you say. Your novel probably has a voice already. It might be funny, dark, matter-of-fact, dry, silly... whatever it is, it should come out in the query, not just the sample pages.
  4. A sane person they might like to work with. You need to come across as professional, intelligent, and not a jerk. Professional means no crazy fonts or cute gimmicks. Intelligent means you've done your research and understand at least something about the industry you're trying to break in to. Not being a jerk means being humble.*
It's not a formula, but hopefully once you're done following the formulas and have a query put together, you can ask yourself if it has these things. OR you can win my caption contest, and I'll tell you!

* Not in the commonly-understood sense of spineless or self-effacing, but in the dictionary-definition sense of "a modest estimate of one's own importance."

That Thing Where I Draw: Caption Contest!

I got stressed out about what to draw this week. This happens every once in a while when I feel like I need to be perfect or impress you. I forget I'm just doing this for fun. The way I solve that is by drawing whatever the heck I want without caring so much about quality.

I've also decided to do a little contest. This sketch begs for a caption. Give it one. The funniest one will win either (A) a drawing of their choice or (B) a query/sample pages critique. Details after the sketch.

  • Entries must be posted in the comments.
  • You may make as many entries as you like.
  • Contest will close Tue, Nov 24 at 11 pm PST.
  • The drawing may be pencil, ink, colored pencil, or pastels. Your choice, or you can leave it up to me.
  • The critique may be a query letter, sample pages, or both, up to about 6 pages.

You can see samples of my drawing here. I promise I'll take extra care with the contest winner's sketch. Not like today's sketch, something more like this, this, or this. As for the critique, I'm no agent, but I'm not new to this either. I'll do a good job with that too.

Anyway, it's free and for fun. Get over it.

That last paragraph was for myself.

Points of View: Third Person Limited

If you missed them, here are my posts on first person and third person omniscient. The last one I'm going to cover is third person limited.*

Technically, third person limited is just like omniscient, but (wait for it...) limited. The story is told by a narrator outside the story, but not an all-knowing one. The narrator only has access to what one character sees, thinks, and feels.

On the surface, it seems like this would have all the disadvantages of first person (happens in the past) and of omniscient (putting a barrier between the reader and the story). But as it turns out, the opposite is true. Third person limited has the feel of present action like omniscient does, and because there's no obvious narrator, there is even less of barrier than in first person. It also carries first person's advantage of getting the reader up close and personal with the characters, like the reader is in their world.

With third person limited, the story rather than the narrator shines. There's still a voice -- there is always a voice -- but it's more subtle than in first person or third omniscient.

One important note though: don't ever switch your viewpoint character mid-scene. That's what third person omniscient does. If you switch from one character's thoughts to another, it will be jarring if the reader thought they were in one person's head, and inconsistent if you only do it occasionally.

So how do you switch viewpoint characters then? I'll talk about that next time when I wrap things up.

* There's also second person, which I've never used nor read past 100 words, so I'm not going to touch it.