alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Here’s a practice and a concept I hadn’t heard before until the vicar brought it up today in her sermon. You can see why.

567px-BLW_Wine_pot_with_gold_lacquer_repair

Kintsukuroi: When beautiful or beloved objects have been broken, this is a technique of repairing them with gold or silver lacquer, and understanding that they are more beautiful after they’ve been repaired than they were when they were new.

Given that life has a habit of breaking us, many of us must be solid gold by now :)


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

A DIY guide.

I decided on Monday that I would talk about this. On Tuesday Chuck Wendig, freelance penmonkey, posted 25 Things Authors should know about finding their voice on his blog, at which point I threw my hands in the air and went “Oh, fine, I won’t write a blog post then!”

(Because, let’s be honest, I am outclassed in every way, and that’s not a competition I want to get into.)

However, I read the post and then I read it again, and while it says many useful and entertaining things about finding your voice – many things which if you’re at all interested, you should go and read now – it didn’t quite say the one thing I was going to say. So I’m going to say the one thing anyway. Possibly in a slightly smaller voice than I might have done if I’d got in first. But then if I had got in first, I would be even more embarrassed and without the chance to say so.

Polite British self depreciating introduction over with, here’s what I was thinking recently about finding your style as an author. It’s couched in the form of a ramble about cover art, but there is a point in there somewhere, like a pin left behind in a tailored suit – useful if you can get it out, but a nagging worry if you can’t.

I started making cover art a while ago. It’s nice to have something that engages parts of your brain that writing cannot reach. When I set out to make my first cover, I had no idea what my style would be. I would have said it was a bit pretentious of me to hope to have a style at all. All I wanted to do was to put some pictures together in a way that would result in the sort of cover I could imagine on a book.

So I got some photos I liked and fiddled with them until they looked OK together, and paged through fonts until I found some I thought looked nice, and I made my first cover. I didn’t worry about style. I didn’t say “what’s going to be my signature move? What’s going to be the thing that identifies this as a cover by me, as opposed to someone else? What’s my cover artist’s voice?”

I didn’t say that because I was too busy trying to get the damn thing to work in a way that was possible and looked good to me, given all the stuff I wanted to include.

Rinse and repeat with several more covers, and I began to notice something interesting. I loved and admired covers with subtle colour in misty, soft-focus. I loved complicated covers with big design elements superimposed over textural brushes so the picture looked aged and painted-over and intricate. In short, I loved covers like this:

CaptainsSurrender300 or this UnderTheHill-Dogfighters300-2

But when I made cover art myself I consistently went for as few design elements as possible, choosing to make them as bold as I could. I went for hard-edged lines, sharp focus, strong colours, clarity and simplicity. This sort of thing:

wingmentry2 or this charlielargebw

and it dawned on me that without giving it a thought, I had achieved a recognisable style of my own. It’s peculiar and a little ironic that my style in no way resembles the things that I like. It’s odd that my own style came as a surprise to me. But it’s amazing and rather gratifying to find that I have one, and it came as a free gift with the process of just getting on with it.

Which is my conclusion, really. Don’t worry about finding your authorial voice. Just tell your stories in the only way you can get them to work, given the stuff you’ve chosen to put in them. Tell them in a way that pleases you, without worrying that other authors – even the ones that you love – do it differently. Do it your way, because you are you, so doing it your way is the only way for you to be authentic. Then, when you’ve done it for five books or so, your author’s voice will jump out and laugh at you and say “Stupid! You’ve had a voice all along. You write like this!” And it may be an odd surprise, but it should be a pleasant one, if only because it didn’t ever need to be a big deal.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I have emerged from Christmas, and yet I still don’t feel as if it actually happened this year. It’s an odd feeling, comparable to going through some frightening initiation rite and coming out the other side completely unchanged. Something ought to have happened, but it didn’t.

One of the things that didn’t happen was a blazing family row, so that’s a plus. I also got a wonderful haul of presents including a new tuneable whistle in the key of D. (My previous one was untuneable, which meant that everyone else had to adjust their expensive, complicated instruments to sound nice with my simple cheap one. Now I can adjust my, still relatively cheap and easy to adjust, whistle instead and much annoyance is spared for everyone.)

This close to the end of the year, with nothing much due to happen between now and the beginning of 2012 it seems like a good time to look back on 2011 and get an overview of what that year was all about.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

That branding exercise was a good exercise to do, I think, even if nothing comes of it on the ‘finding your readers’ front. It certainly helped with the ancient Greek principle of “know thyself.”

One thing I did notice was that several people said my fictional worlds felt grounded and real in a way that brought the past (or the fantasy setting) to life. So I thought I would share the advice that I followed in order to achieve that. This is probably the only writing advice about style that I’ve ever made a consistent effort to follow, because the prevalent advice at the moment – to make your language as invisible as you can, so that people only notice the plot – has always struck me as a sad, barren, grey timidity in a language that can provide fireworks if you let it.

Two of my three favourite authors of all time are Tolkien and Ursula LeGuin. (Patrick O’Brian is the third, and although he doesn’t talk about this stuff, his books are hard to jam closed for the exuberance of their language and settings. He practices what the other two preach.) What I like about them all is not just because they have great plots and good characters – it’s because their worlds are lush and sensual and full of juice. You fall into them and you’re there, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching something that never existed at all, and being overwhelmed by it.

I wanted to be able to do that! So naturally when I found out that they had published writing advice, I went and got hold of it. If you’re at all interested in doing the same thing, it’s worth getting hold of it yourself, but in the meantime I’ll pass along a few quotes.

steering the craft

Here’s what Ursula LeGuin has to say in the opening of Steering the Craft

Most children enjoy the sound of language for its own sake. They wallow in repetitions and luscious word-sounds and the crunch and slither of onomatopoeia; they fall in love with musical or impressive words and use them in all the wrong places. Some writers keep this childish love for the sounds of language… Others “outgrow” their oral/aural sense of language as they learn to read in silence. That’s a loss.

Skipping over most of the book, here’s another paragraph that resonates with me:

Crowding is what Keats meant when he told poets to “load every rift with ore.” It’s what we mean when we exhort ourselves to avoid flabby language and cliches, never to use ten vague words where two will do, always to seek the vivid phrase, the exact word. By crowding I also mean keeping the story full, always full of what’s happening in it; keeping it moving, not slacking and wandering into irrelevancies; keeping it interconnected with itself, rich with echoes forward and backward. Vivid, exact, concrete, accurate, dense, rich: these adjectives describe a prose that is crowded with sensations, meanings and implications.

If I join up those two things, I get the advice to enjoy language, play with it, using all of its poetic qualities and techniques wherever you think they’ll enhance the read. But at the same time, keep it concrete, specific and as singular as you can.

Tolkien says something very similar in his essay “On Fairy Stories” (among many other thought provoking things):

fairystories6

The “fantastic” elements in verse and prose of other kinds, even when only decorative or
occasional, help in this release. But not so thoroughly as a fairy-story, a thing built on or
about Fantasy, of which Fantasy is the core. Fantasy is made out of the Primary World, but a
good craftsman loves his material, and has a knowledge and feeling for clay, stone and wood
which only the art of making can give. By the forging of Gram cold iron was revealed; by
the making of Pegasus horses were ennobled; in the Trees of the Sun and Moon root and
stock, flower and fruit are manifested in glory.
And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or
fundamental things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more
luminous by their setting. For the story-maker who allows himself to be “free with” Nature
can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the
words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.

Which I take to mean “remember that even the simplest things in your fictional world – the sea, the rain, the tea-cup in your character’s hand, reflect things in our own world which are real, and remarkable. There is a kind of miracle in the existence of anything at all, and in the same way everything that you put into a book is something created out of nothing.” The details of your fictional world are little marvels of creation and ought to be treated as (as LeGuin says) “Vivid, exact, concrete, accurate, dense, rich.” In your subcreated world, all the things are real things, which you summoned out of non-existence with your mere words. It’s well worth treating them with the kind of care you would give to anything magical, potent and strange.

A writer can draw your attention to grass in their imaginary world in such a way that when you come back, you see grass in your own land as the remarkable and peculiar thing that it is. The pundits may tell you that everyone knows what grass looks like, so just drop the word and move on. But it’s not so – few people have the time to really notice grass. If you do it for them, you can give them back some of their childish wonder at how amazing everything is. So don’t just drop the word ‘grass’ and move on. Take the time to notice whether it’s close cropped, hair fine grass, striped in two greens, or long, coarse grass with moss and dandelions, just turning blond in the summer heat. Your worlds will be better for it and you may end up working enchantment.

That’s the theory, anyway. I don’t think I match up to it yet, but I try.

Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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