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1. How Characters Can Become Stories – Erika Wassall

snowman family

Talk about character, here is a steampunk snowman family Sylvia Liu recently made, as part of a new daily creative challenge blog that she started titled, Create One a Day. You can see her portfolio at: http://www.enjoyingplanetearth.com)

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on….

How Characters Can Become Stories

I enjoy character studies. Books that give perspective into the mysteries of human nature, and how we deal with intense mental, physical and psychological difficulties.

Give me a character I want to sit down and have a drink with, or even observe from afar and watch their interactions and reactions… and I’m sold.

When I write, I’m often focusing on a character in my mind. They’re more than a name, more than any description I can put on paper. I can sense them, know their thoughts, feel their emotions.

Which is great, right?

Well… yes. And sometimes no.

I tend to get bogged down in character development. Plot, is much more difficult for me. I’m exceedingly jealous of people who are more natural at plot than character development. While probably similar to curly-haired people wanting straight hair and straight-hair people longing for curls, being able to nail down a plot always seemed like it would make things “come together” more, give me more to go from.

Reading books on plot and attending workshops has been absolutely mandatory for me.   Martha Anderson, The Plot Whisperer… I honestly don’t know where my writing would be without her insight. I highly recommend her books for anyone else who gets stuck on plot.

For me, I’ve found one trick that works wonders for me, helping me take my character molds, and create not just ANY plot, but THE PLOT. The path the character was meant to take.

It’s focused on character transformation.

One of the other problems with an overly specific character profile, is that, to me, that’s how they ARE. And it’s hard for me to see them any other way. This makes for a very stagnant character, which we all know doesn’t really work.

This process helps me on both accounts.

I take the character, in all their their moods, their quirks, their temperament, and I make them the FINAL version of the character. (obviously this can change as time goes on, it’s just part of my process).

I ask myself… why?  What happened to them that gave them that chip on their shoulder or that far away look on their face they get when they listen to a certain song? Why do they place money all facing the same way, before putting it in their pocket?

I write out/think about, three categories: Mental, Physical and Psychological. I start out with at least two major and three minor things in each category. There are overlaps, but they each must have their own, specific effects on the character.

And then I delete them.

Naomi doesn’t like to be alone because she was once left behind during a field trip and spent a horrifying weekend alone in a museum. What was she like before that? Maybe before, she didn’t see how people could be a source of comfort. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe before she was just a healthily independent person, and now she’s overly clingy.

Jurret has scars on his back up into his neck from fighting off a robot scorpion that was attacking his older sister. It makes him uncomfortable taking off his shirt, and sometimes he even wears turtlenecks so no one can see it. His sister lived, but was badly injured with many scars of her own, including some on her face. He feels responsible for her turmoil as well.

What was he like before all that happened? Did he and his sister get along? Were they close? Maybe he was a gym junkie who was overly concerned with appearance and it gave him much-needed humility. Or maybe he was already plenty humble and this just drained him of his confidence. Perhaps before that, he always felt like the baby, the one everyone was taking care OF, and that day, everything changed. Before then, perhaps he never felt both the joy, and the burden of responsibility.

I do this with dozens of concepts for my character. Literally.

And I don’t always write them down. Sometimes I just think about them. While I’m driving. Cooking. Food shopping. It’s a great exercise I work into time that I’m not necessarily able to write. Then later, I’ll jot down a few notes, sometimes just two or three words, to remember the concept.

The more interesting an idea – or a “deletion” as I have come to call it – the more I actually write it out. Sometimes these “scenes” even become actual events in the book.

But I write out FAR more than I end up using.

At some point, I start to feel a general theme, a pull in a direction of a certain “type” of transformation, and certain related concepts that bring the character through that change… events, relationships, both pain and joy.

And for me, this is where I find my plot. Hidden beneath the intricacies of the character. And I know it’s right when it makes the character themselves even stronger, more solid in nature, more truthful.

This doesn’t (usually) give me a nicely-laid-out plot. But it gives me ideas, storylines I can get excited about. It helps make “plot” a less intimidating, overwhelming word, and interweaves it into what I already have.

What “deletions” could you do to your characters? Do you have other tricks or exercises that help you to develop the nature and variables of your plot?

This one really can be time consuming. And I end up throwing out countless concepts, but that’s just nature of beast! And you know that I’m a believer…

… our manuscripts are worth it!

Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for another great post. We all enjoy your posts.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, Author, Character, inspiration, writing Tagged: Erika Wassall, Guest Post, How Characters Can Become Stories, Sylvia Liu

3 Comments on How Characters Can Become Stories – Erika Wassall, last added: 12/18/2014
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2. How to Get the Most Mileage — and Money — Out of Your Writing by Double-Dipping

Potato ChipsBy Tiffany Jansen

Have you seen the Seinfeld episode where George accompanies his girlfriend to a funeral?

It’s post-wake and everyone’s at her parent’s place noshing on hors d’oeuvres and sipping punch. George finds himself in front of the potato chips, so he takes one, sinks it in the dip, takes a bite, and dips the chip again; much to the annoyance of his distraught girlfriend’s brother.

A knock-down, drag-out fight ensues before the very upset girlfriend kicks George out.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a double-dipper.

And why not? It’s the only way to really enjoy that French onion dip and get the most mileage out of your chip.

Freelancers should be double-dipping too. Not their chips (unless they’re into that sort of thing), but their writing.

Double-dipping is a golden opportunity not enough freelance writers take advantage of.

So how does double-dipping work in the freelance writing world? Here are five easy ways.

1. Sell reprints.


It’s been published once, why can’t it be published again?

How to do it: The first thing you want to do is make a list of publications that cover the topic of your article. Then, check out their website and writer guidelines to see if they accept reprints. If you’re not sure, ask. Send the editor a friendly email telling them about your article and why you think their readers would be interested. Ask if they’d like to purchase it as a reprint.

Keep in mind: It’ll pay a fraction of what they pay for original works and they may want you to tweak it a bit to fit their market. But it sure beats having to come up with a new idea, pitch it, research and talk to sources, and write a new piece.

2. Repurpose old content to fit new markets.


Not all publications accept reprints…but that doesn’t mean you can’t reuse old content.

How to do it: First, find a market that covers your topic. Go back to your research notes and interview transcripts, and write a pitch that covers a different angle of the story with publication #2’s audience in mind. If you quoted someone in the first article, paraphrase in the new one. Where you paraphrased, use quotes. Include information that didn’t make it into the original article.

Keep in mind: You may want to consider doing some additional research in case things have changed, or find one or two additional sources. But the work load is going to be a lot less than what it was the first go-around. Only this time you stand to earn the same amount of money… maybe even more!

3. Send pitches in batches.


When you come up with a brilliant idea, don’t save it for just one publication – share the love! There are tons of publications with audiences that would love to know more about the topic you’re pitching. It’s just a matter of re-framing each pitch to fit a variety of publications.

How to do it: Let’s say you’ve got a great story idea about traveling with babies. Of course parenting magazines would be interested, but so would travel publications, women’s glossies, maybe even custom publications for baby product companies. As you’re doing your initial research and collecting sources, think about what these various audiences would want to know and how/why they could use this information. Tweak each pitch to suit each market.

Keep in mind: Unlike the tactics above, here you’ll be writing completely different queries and completely different articles for each publication. While parents would want this information to help them in their travels, a pediatrician might want this information to help her advise parents who wish to travel with their little ‘uns. A women’s magazine might want to provide tips on how to have a smooth flight for travelers finding themselves on a plane with a baby. The difference is, you do the research once and get multiple articles out of it.

4. Send simultaneous queries.


The idea here is to send the same query for the same idea to editors at multiple publications. When you send out a query, you could wait months — or even a year — only to have the editor respond with a resounding “no.” Sometimes editors take a really long time to respond to queries…if they reply at all. Rather than wait around for them to get back to you and risk having your idea become stale or already-been-done, cast your net wide and find that article a home ASAP.

How to do it: This one’s easy — find a bunch of publications that fit your topic, write one query, and send it out to editors at all of those publications.

Keep in mind: You may have more than one publication show interest in the article. However, you cannot sell the same article to more than one publication. In this case, it’s a first come, first served thing. But don’t let those other publications go home empty-handed. Offer them the same story, but from a different angle. Or pitch them a few similar ideas instead.

5. Once you’ve got ‘em, keep ‘em.


The thing about queries is they can get a “yes” or a “no” or be met with silence. There’s not much you can do about the third instance, but you can turn a “no” into a “yes.”

How to do it: An editor might turn you down for a number of reasons: the timing’s off, someone else has already covered it, they’re not interested in the topic, they’re having a bad day… But just because they say “no” to one idea doesn’t mean they’ll say “no” to another. If they’ve emailed you back, you’ve got their ear. So take advantage by replying with a “Thank you for getting back to me. I completely understand. Perhaps [insert new idea here] would be a better fit?”

Keep in mind: That you suck as a writer or the editor hates your guts is rarely if ever a reason for a rejection. Odds are the rejection is based on factors you have absolutely no control over. If you get a response, thank them, tell them you get it, and offer up a new idea. This shows that you’re persistent and not just a one-idea dude. Then send the rejected query somewhere else.

When you have a chip — er, idea — get the most mileage you can out of it by double dipping, and you’ll get more assignments (and more money) with less work.

Tiffany Jansen is an American freelance writer and translator in the Netherlands. She is also the author of an award-winning children’s historical fiction series. You can find out more about her at www.tiffanyrjansen.com.

P.S. Carol Tice’s and my next Article Writing Masterclass starts in January, and we have THREE editors on board to critique your homework assignments and answer your questions: Current editors from Redbook and FSR (Full Service Restaurant) Magazine, and a former Entrepreneur editor. In this 10-week class, you’ll gain the skills and confidence to land lucrative article-writing gigs. Learn more and read raves from students on the Article Writing Masterclass website.

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3. How to add a creative touch to your presents at christmas

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The christmas season is here and ofcourse the stores are full of beautiful things , there’s so much to look at and endless potential for presents to gift your friends and family. However you’re a very talented creative person and something you can give to make christmas even more special to your loved ones is something with your own creative touch. Ofcourse there are lovely gifts for giving that you can acquire instore, but there are also one of a kind creative touches you can add  that’s even more special.

1. Make your own christmas tags : This can be paper or ceramic based if you’re a dab hand with clay or porcelaine.  Really think outside the box and  personalise each tag for the person you’re giving to , adding their name and favourite things to it . In the spirit of recycling though why not adapt the tag so that once its taken off your loved ones present, it can find a place upon the christmas tree.

2. Hand design your own paper : Perfect for inky doodlers, painters or print makers why not make your own hand designed wrapping paper. Grab a roll of kraft brown paper and create your own hand drawn designs to really make it your own. Get experimental with coloured metallic markers or  block printing to add different creative effects and touchs to each present you wrap.

3.  Inky prints and wall art : Making a unique one of a kind print finished off in a frame is sure to be a gift anyone would proudly place on their wall. This is one project where you can just really be your creative self regardless of what kind of creative practice you’re in. If you’re a graphic design make a typography piece with personalised elements, photographer add your favourite photo or as an illustrator add a doodle. Valerie Mckeehan got creative with a black board , some chalk and her creative imagination so why don’t you?

The possiblities are endless really, go where your imagination takes you as no one knows the person you’re giving to better than you to make their christmas merry.

Image was created by illustrator Valerie McKeehan and you can find out more about her work here .

0 Comments on How to add a creative touch to your presents at christmas as of 12/15/2014 6:26:00 AM
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4. Publishing Industry J.K. Rowlings

barbaraD

Todays illustration was submitted by Barbara DiLorenzo who was featured on Illustrator Saturday April 14, 2012. Barbara is an author/Illustrator and her first picture book titled Renato and the Lion will be released by Viking in 2016. Very Exciting. Congratulations, Barbara! www.barbaradilorenzo.com  

David Caruba sent me an note saying that PW reported that one of the publishers will be publishing J.K. Rowland’s commencement address at Harvard University in book form. He looked it up on the Interent and her speech is on You Tube (it’s posted in its entirety) and it’s really great. Funny, moving, shocking, sincere–everything that makes her a wonderful author. Thanks David for sharing your find.

 

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Author, inspiration, success Tagged: Barbara DiLorenzo, David Caruba, Harvard Commencement Address, J. K. Rowling

10 Comments on Publishing Industry J.K. Rowlings, last added: 12/16/2014
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5. Publishing Industry J.K. Rowlings

barbaraD

Todays illustration was submitted by Barbara DiLorenzo who was featured on Illustrator Saturday April 14, 2012. Barbara is an author/Illustrator and her first picture book titled Renato and the Lion will be released by Viking in 2016. Very Exciting. Congratulations, Barbara! www.barbaradilorenzo.com  

David Caruba sent me an note saying that PW reported that one of the publishers will be publishing J.K. Rowland’s commencement address at Harvard University in book form. He looked it up on the Interent and her speech is on You Tube (it’s posted in its entirety) and it’s really great. Funny, moving, shocking, sincere–everything that makes her a wonderful author. Thanks David for sharing your find.

 

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Author, inspiration, success Tagged: Barbara DiLorenzo, David Caruba, Harvard Commencement Address, J. K. Rowling

0 Comments on Publishing Industry J.K. Rowlings as of 12/14/2014 9:48:00 PM
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6. Jami Gold’s Writing Worksheets

Jami Picture 200 x 300Yvonne Ventresca (Pandemic author) sent me a note pointing out all the wonderful writing worksheets on Jami Gold’s Blog. I wanted to make sure I pointed out all the helpful information you can find, download, and use on her site.

Last week we talked about the Seven Point Story Structure System. You can find worksheets for other story structure systems to use on Jami’s site, too.

I particularly like the one below because you can use to see if each scene in your manuscript has what it takes when you revise.

Here is Jami Gold’s Elements of a Good Scene Worksheet from her blog:

jamigold elements of a scene

Use this link to download and print the spreadsheet out to use: http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/ – Check it out!

Jami also does workshops:

Full Beat Sheet Basics OnDemand Workshop Information:

Beat sheets, long used by movie scriptwriters, can also help us create strong stories for our novels.
Don’t know what beat sheets are or how to use them?
Do you write by the seat of your pants and don’t want to plan your story in advance?

Never fear—learn the terminology, uses, and ways to adapt beat sheets to our writing methods. At the end of this class, students will have an overview of story structure and beat sheets:

  • Introduction to story arcs
  • Introduction to beats and terminology
  • Digging deeper to avoid formulaic clichés
  • Using beat sheets to find unnecessary scenes and pacing issues
  • How those who write by the seat of their pants can use beat sheets too

Click here for more information about Jami Gold’s Beat Sheet Basics OnDemand Workshop

A little bit about Jami: After escaping the corporate asylum by leaving a clone in her place, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas. Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Thank you Jami for sharing this with all of us.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 


Filed under: Advice, Courses, How to, opportunity, reference, writing Tagged: Downloadable Writing Worksheets, Forms, Jami Gold, Yvonne Ventresca

10 Comments on Jami Gold’s Writing Worksheets, last added: 12/11/2014
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7. How to have fun making that to do list!

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Making a to do list is pretty easy and though some of us love making them, others may find them boring beyond tears. If like me you often find yourself saying:

 

” Hurray I’ll write this to do list and get everything done no problem!”

To then find you’re half way through the day and your to do list remains untouched then there’s something not quite right with that to do list you’ve got there. Although to do lists or making them doesn’t have to be boring, being creative we love to add a doodle here, a splash of colour there with some photos or fanciful fonts it just makes our day more forfilling.

So why not try this approach with your to do list? Staring a rather plain lined page of text is no creative feast for the eyes, however  lorie at Elvie studio seems to have right idea with making that to do list fun ! So add your own style, favourite colours and really jazz up that to do list that will not only make it fun create but fun to tick off as you go about your day.

This image is by Lorie Vliegen and you can find out more about her creative work here .

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8. Why You Should Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers (And What You SHOULD Be Comparing Yourself to Instead)

You’re wondering how you’re doing as a writer. I know, it’s hard to not have a handle on whether you’re doing well or poorly!

So you ask another writer, maybe one who’s more experienced than you:

  • How many queries do you write per week?
  • How much are you earning?
  • How many assignments do you get every month?
  • How long does it take you to write an article or a blog post?
  • How many ideas can you generate in a brainstorming session?

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t make sense to compare your progress with other writers’ numbers because, well, there’s nothing you can do with that information.

For example, say you know another writer sends out three queries a week. What does that mean? Is that writer the last word in marketing? And are you even comparing apples with apples? If you are a stay-at-home parent of three young kids and have only five hours per week to work, and the other writer has no children and can work 50 hours per week, it doesn’t do anything for you to know how many queries she manages to send out — except to give you a guilt complex.

Plus, every writer has different superpowers. I can write a 1,000-word article in an hour once my interviews are done. When you ask me how long it takes me to write an article and I tell you that, should you feel bad if it takes you four hours? No. Writing fast happens to be a strength of mine, but maybe your superpower is writing kick-ass headlines, or generating ideas, or negotiating.

Another example: Maybe you talk with five writers about how many ideas they generate in an hour-long brainstorming session and they say five to ten. You know you can develop only two ideas in an hour, but that usually they will both result in assignments. So who’s doing better?

Finally, things change as you progress in your career, so talking to someone with more experience isn’t as helpful as you would think. For example, a pro writer doesn’t send out many queries. You know why? Because he doesn’t have to. He has a roster of clients who come to him with work. So if you heed the oft-told advice to look to more experienced writers for benchmarks, you could be led astray.

There’s a saying I found in a book, and I wish I can remember what that book was so I could properly credit it, but here goes:

What other people do is a data point, not a decision.

It’s always nice to know how and what other writers are doing, but you shouldn’t base your decisions or self-esteem on their numbers.

What matters for YOU is that you’re always improving your own numbers: Your income should be going up, the time it takes to do various tasks going down, you should be getting better assignments, and the percentage of pitches that end in assignments should be increasing.

If you’re doing that, other writers’ numbers should not matter one whit. As long as your stats are improving, you can be confident you’re on the right track. [lf]

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9. 7 Point Story Structure System

Seven Point System

To build a story you must have a story in mind. Plot – characters – conflict. Before you start to layout your plan for that book Dan Wells tells us, don’t start at the beginning, but start at the end. This is not the last chapter. It is the climax. Figure out the external conflict and internal conflict.

Once that is done then go to the other end, the beginning and start. Normally a good book will take a weak or flawed character on a journey that ends with them growing in some way. By the end, they are a better or stronger person because of their journey.  I’ve heard Richard Peck tell writer that he always rewrites the first chapter after he is finished the first draft. He says you can’t know where to start until you figure out how the story ends. He is doing the same things as what Dan is suggesting, except Dan is trying to save you from having to rewrite the first chapter.

This system can be applied to almost any writing, including short stories and novellas.

Here are the notes I wrote while watching the videos below:

The Seven Points:

Hook – Starting state loser – weak – flawed.

Plot Turn 1: Introduces conflict. Just as the midpoint moves you from the beginning to end, Plot Turn 1 moves you from the beginning to midpoint. Call to adventure. Introduces the conflict. The character’s world changes: Meets new people – discovers new secrets – follows the White Rabbit.

Pinch 1: Applies pressure – something goes wrong – bad guys attack and the MC is forced to go forward – often used to introduce the villain.

Midpoint: Learns the truth. This is wear the MC changes from reaction to action.

Pinch 2: Applies more pressure until the situation seems hopeless. A plan fails – a mentor dies, leaves the hero alone – the bad guys seem to win. These are the jaws of defeat from which your hero will be snatching victory. Make sure the teeth are sharp.

Plot Turn 2: Moves the story from the midpoint to the end. At the midpoint your MC is determined to do something, and finds the resolution you do it, so Plot Turn 2 is where the MC obtains the final thing they need to make it happen. “The power is in you!” Grasping victory from the jaws of defeat. MC has the piece they need even if they don’t realize it. The piece that gives the character something they decide to do in the climax.

Resolution – What is the climax? MC succeeds, and is now a changed person.

The story is not complete. It is just a skeleton, and needs flesh to fill it out: Rounded characters – Rich environments – Prologue? – Try/Fail cycles – Subplots.

If you haven’t watched Dan Wells videos, you might want to take a few minutes to do so. At least bookmark this page, so when you have a half hour you can watch without wasting time to find it.

First Video

Second Video

Third Video

Forth video

Fifth video

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, demystify, How to, Process, Tips, video, Writing Tips Tagged: Dan Wells, Free Writing Videos, Seven Step Story Structure

6 Comments on 7 Point Story Structure System, last added: 12/5/2014
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10. Illustrator Saturday – Gregory Manchess

I have been trying to share Gregory Manchess’s art for most of this year. He is a very talented artist, but a very busy artist. He exhibits all over the world, teaches workshops, lectures at universities, plus everyone is trying to bang down his door for a little piece of his genius talent. I gave up on getting the answers to my too many interview questions and showing him off without the interview. But there is a lot of meat to this post with a lot of tips for illustrators, so take a look and don’t miss the link to his two hour “How to” video.

manchesspicture

Creating a moment that communicates emotionally with the viewer is the essence of Gregory Manchess’ artwork. A native of Kentucky, he spent two years as a studio illustrator with Hellman Design Associates before striking out on his own in 1979.

He combined his love for fine art and science fiction and began his freelance career painting for OMNI magazine. His versatility and broad range of interests allowed him to crossover to mainstream illustration. There he was able to expand his client work to include covers for Time, Atlantic Monthly, spreads for Playboy, Omni, Newsweek, and Smithsonian, and numerous book covers.

Manchess’ interest in history and his excellent figure work has made his paintings a favorite choice of the National Geographic Society on many occasions, including an expedition down the Fond du Lac river in Canada for the 1996 article David Thomson: The Man Who Measured Canada.

Widely awarded within the industry, Manchess exhibits frequently at the Society of Illustrators in New York. His peers at the Society presented him with their highest honor, the coveted Hamilton King Award in 1999, and a year later, the Stephan Dohanos Award.

Manchess’ work has also been recognized in the children’s book market. His latest children’s book illustrations narrate the story Cheyenne Medicine Hat about wild mustangs. A lavishly illustrated limited edition of Robt. E. Howard CONAN stories with over 60 paintings, is due out in 2010. He has recently finished 10 murals for a traveling exhibition on the Pirate ship, Whydah, for the Nat’l Geographic Society. His painting of the Oregon coast was used for the 2009 Oregon Statehood Stamp by the USPS.

Gregory is included in Walt Reed’s latest edition of “The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000.” He lectures frequently at universities and colleges nationwide and gives workshops in painting at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, and the Illustration Master Class in Amherst, MA.

Here are a few pictures showing Gregory’s process:

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Thumbnail sketch for layout.

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Character sketches

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Sketches for the wolves

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Cleaned up sketch

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Sketching in more detail.

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Adding Shadows

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Adding foreground characters

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Continuing to develop sketch.

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Final Sketch

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Final Painting done in oil.

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This is the final cover for LORD OF CHAOS published by Tor.

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Gregory’s artist rep is Richard Solomon located in NYC. http://www.richardsolomon.com/

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You can view a two hour video of Gregory’s painting process available as a download from http://Conceptart.org

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One of Gregory’s many murals. Must have been fun to see it on the top of a NYC building.

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ABOVE and BELOW: Gregory’s illustrations have been in National Geographic Magazine.

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Gregory also was chosen to do a few postal stamps.

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The Society of Illustrators exhibited 50 of Gregory’s illustrations in 2013.

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ELEVEN GREGORY TIPS:

Value range.
I start with darks first, to get the deep shadows laid in. Obvious places: nostrils, eyelids and eyebrows, mouth line. Next, I’ll put in broader, but slightly lighter shadow shapes like under the nose, under the eye sockets, under the bottom lip, chin, deep cheek bones, hair. I place the boldest shapes to establish deeper values, then work my way up through the darker values of color to the lighter values placed on top.

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Avoid highlights.
Until the last bits of painting, I avoid the highlights as long as I can. Two reasons. One, I need to work my way up, so putting them in too soon will defeat that effort. Two, I leave something fun for the last. I delay gratification as long as I can. The best part of painting in oils occurs within the last few layers and strokes.

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Vary forms.
Hair is a bold shape, not individual hairs. I study folds and constantly vary them. Repeating the same folds will kill a painting as dead as an assassin’s shot through a pillow. I don’t think about the object I’m painting. I separate myself from the subject and only paint the form. I won’t ‘follow’ the form either. I cut my strokes across the surface of the forms. This adds dimension and lets objects feel sculptured.

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New painters: Avoid primary colors.
Ultramarine Blue. It’s deadly. It’ll make mud faster than 35 school kids running for the bus. And no, Cadmium Yellow Light is not a miracle color. Get over it. Using it straight from the tube does not show how brilliant one is at mixing paint. Same is true for Ultramarine. New painters seem to think they are phenomenal because they used Ultramarine Blue straight from the dang tube. They step back and declare, ‘look at me, The Genius. I have explained the essence of pure painting by opening a paint tube and using yellow next to blue. Admire me.’

Using primary colors as a statement of painting brilliance screams ‘AMATEUR.’

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Amount of pigment.
I trained to know just how much pigment is on the end of my brush. No matter how large or small, my awareness of the amount is paramount to good layers, good coverage, good overall effect in any painting.

I studied calligraphy. It taught me how to make letterforms with a brush or pen. Knowing the amount of ink held on an instrument for calligraphy is critical to achieve a skilled work.

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Brush angle.
Calligraphy also taught me how to angle a pen or brush. Making letterforms is a key factor in learning to paint. I know many great painters who also started by copying letter shapes, making signs, copying comics (bang! zoom! pow!). They learned to handle the brush and at what angle AT ALL TIMES.

The angle of the brush helps lay down the right amount of pigment, at the right angle, in the right direction, with the right pressure to achieve a free and confident stroke.

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Brush angle.
Calligraphy also taught me how to angle a pen or brush. Making letterforms is a key factor in learning to paint. I know many great painters who also started by copying letter shapes, making signs, copying comics (bang! zoom! pow!). They learned to handle the brush and at what angle AT ALL TIMES.

The angle of the brush helps lay down the right amount of pigment, at the right angle, in the right direction, with the right pressure to achieve a free and confident stroke.

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Brush size.
I start with the largest brush for as long as I can and work my way down to the smaller brushes. Many times, as I near the end of a painting, or even slightly before, I switch back and forth. It’s a good, general idea to keep things from getting too focused too early.

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Stroke speed.
Painting fast and loose comes the same way as anything else: with time. I painted very slowly in the beginning, placing my strokes deliberately, to look as if they were painted fast. Once down, it’s usually hard to tell the speed the stroke was laid. Over the years, I built up speed through confidence. It’s just plain ol’ experience. And LOADS of training.

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Patient strokes.
I don’t judge my strokes too quickly. I lay it down, and press on. I come back to that area after a bit to judge whether it was the correct feeling, size, color, etc. I don’t lay one down, hate it, and take it off. Or worse, try to keep changing it.

At this point in my career, I lay strokes down that don’t make sense, but I let them sit. I find that they are just fine once I come back to judge them in context, against other strokes that are adding to the whole piece. Judging too early destroys spontaneity.

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Scale.
I decide how I want the paint to feel once a piece is finished. I scale the brush size to fit the scale of the painting. If it’s a small painting in a magazine, I have to decide how clearly the strokes will be seen and what feeling they project to a reader.

If it’s a large painting and I want it to feel loose, I have to decide on the size that feels best. Paint it too large with small brushes, and when it comes down in reproduction, it can look too detailed. Too small with large brushes, and the piece can look too loose, too unfocused.

New painters can make the mistake of painting too small with too large of a brush and vice versa.

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Below is Gregory explaining his thought processes for Jake and the Other Girl.

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There’s another way to make successful thumbnails that can lead to a final sketch.

Get right to the research first. Instead of exploring small thumbnails on the page, searching for the right image design, there are times where I know that the assignment demands a clearer knowledge of the setting before an idea takes hold.

I read this short story for Tor.com, a follow-up for a previous story, “Dress Your Marines in White,” by Emmy Laybourne. I toyed with a short-lived idea that might connect with my illustration for the first story, based on a set of men’s arms.

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But I had a clearer idea that I needed to know & show the environment for the piece. The mood needed to be established instantly. The story is post-apocalyptic. I quickly rejected that early approach after researching, at length, war-torn cities, destroyed cities, hurricane, tornado, and earthquake damaged city streets. There is only a brief scene where the main character is outdoors, but it gives the tale a sense of place and I wanted the reader to feel that.

I gathered abandoned cars, some parked, some wrecked, some neglected. I used the status of the cars to reflect the status of the story. I researched shots of broken buildings, street scenes, and abandoned towns. I put all of these images up on my computer and freehanded a large scale thumbnail as the main sketch.

With that much information, I only needed to hit it one time. Most times, you have to create your own luck.

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But the challenge after getting the idea was to pull it off. It must read fast and it must feel factual. Rendering cars is not so fun, but discovering and simplifying their shapes to read quickly was very gratifying. But I had to show more than just shiny cars parked. I wanted some to feel like they had just been abandoned, while others had been there for some time.Again, getting the value correct meant the difference here. Capturing that feeling meant I had to forget what it felt like, and pay more attention to exactly what it looked like. By doing that, I managed to capture the feeling of a dust covered car.

Not so intuitive. I had to study and mix the difference in value range to get shiny vs dusty. I wasn’t surprised to find out how much I learned from this painting about simplifying detail.

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As painters, we must sometimes compartmentalize our feelings to actually capture those same feelings in the image. We start with the impression of feeling, reverse-engineer it methodically through observation and application that then re-communicates the feeling we were after originally. Using contrast was another way of projecting that feeling. I decided to have someone leave a cryptic message on the windshield, like a “wash me” note. The difference between the soft values of the dusty windshield and the crisp, hand drawn letters brought this across. To get that affect, I had to pay attention to exactly what value would be revealed if someone had haphazardly wiped away some dirt.

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I could’ve added that passage after the oil was dry, but instead, I painted it digitally. This allowed me to give the art director, Irene Gallo, the choice to keep it or not.

This is yet another way in which digital is informing my analog painting development.

Click this link to read Gregory’s Ten Things About Painting in Oils: http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2013/03/10-things-about-painting-in-oils.html

You can find Gregory Manchess on his website http://www.manchess.com and his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gregory-Manchess-Art/180916225410035

I would love to hear what you think about Gregory’s illustrations. Maybe you have taken a class with him or got to see his illustrations when he exhibited in NYC or for that matter in one of the many places he has exhibited around the world.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 


Filed under: Advice, How to, illustrating, Illustrator Sites, Illustrator's Saturday Tagged: Gregory Manchess, Illustrated USPS Stamps, NYC MURAL, Smithsonian, Time Magazine

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11. Free Fall Friday – Results

Alexander SlaterI want to thank Alexander Slater from the Trident Media Group for agreeing to be November’s First Page Critiquer. All the agents and editors who have been Guest Critiquers are doing this for free because they want to help writers improve their writing. So please realize what a big deal this is to have an industry professional take their valuable time and share their expertise with all of us.

I also want to thank everyone who submits their work for the chance of review. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there, but it is the fearless who end up making it to the published book goal line.

This is the last First Page Critique session for 2014. I will announce January’s guest in December.

Here are November’s winners and Alex’s thoughts:

 

TILENIKA, LEGEND OF DEO by Richard Bisbee – YA

Darkness surrounds me as I float, lost, on the wild sea…

“Ghemmi, you must take rest and come to bed this day,” Kiyami said. “Our Tilenika is away now three days. She is young; she cannot swim forever. Even you, stronger than most, would find difficulty swimming in these wild and powerful seas we now have. You also know,” she swallowed hard, “that the giant bullwah fish rise from their depths seeking prey in waters so restless.”

“I know Kiyami, but I will not leave this spot until she returns. I smell Tilenika on the wind and taste her on the sea spray. The waves whisper that she yet swims. Her heart throbs with life as surely as mine. I feel she has not parted from our world.”

Kiyami lowered her head as the wind whipped through her long black hair and blew the tears from her eyes. “I too wish to believe as you, my husband, but…I will pass by later.” She turned and slowly walked away.

Ghemmi’s deep blue eyes continued scanning the water as his floating samong community moved with the waves and currents of the sea. He thought, ‘Tilenika, your spirit is strong, but I feel you are weakening. Take care not to distance yourself from life. I sense you are close, so please come to the signal float I tend. Death only offers change of life…with understanding and wisdom too late to use.’ He closed his eyes as he rocked upon one of the bulbous seaweed kiila floats of the samong. His mind reached out to hers, rippling, spreading, reaching out, like circular rings expanding when a shell is dropped in still water…rippling…reaching out…reaching out.

Suddenly, he felt a strong tug on the line. He sprang to his feet and began pulling length after length of dripping line. “Kiyami!” he yelled, “Sound the alarm! We have a fight ahead!”

Here’s Alex:

TILENIKA, LEGEND OF DEO

The dialogue here has the old-fashioned feel of a 1930’s Hollywood film, with its grandiosity, detail, and heightened exposition. I see this style utilized in many high fantasy projects, as the ornate and otherworldly setting tends to mirror itself in the language. My problem is that I often have a tough time connecting to this lofty speak, as it might simply feel unnatural and overexposed, as in this sample with descriptions like, “stronger than most,” and, “rise from their depths seeking prey.” These are examples of dialogue that tell, rather than show, and in so doing, the voice feels forced, rather than organic. I would say be careful with such a high style, as it leads to easy traps where characters blend into the narrative, rather than stand out. Also, I think it would be for the readers benefit if Tilenika is given just a bit more description – I cannot tell from this first page if this name is that of a character, or a pet, or what, and therefore, it is difficult to get hooked immediately without that knowledge.

 

Fool’s Mate by Chris Friden – YA

Constance Yearly lashed out across the chessboard and stabbed an ice pick into the table beside her opponent’s king. She let it thrum. This pre-match ritual intimidated most foes, but Alastair “The Bellman” Brown didn’t flinch. He kept his focus on the black and white universe at their fingertips.

Constance sat back, concealing her pleasure in his brave resistance. Like so many boys, he was sure of his impending victory. Sure that everything in reach was his to take. Sure of his invulnerability, and that left him entirely vulnerable.

Constance watched him scan the playing pieces again while he tried to ignore the damnable space she’d left empty in the back row. She let that missing matriarch vex him and simmer his impatience as she waited for a sign of weakness.

And as reliably as a Caro-Kann defense, it came. Alastair’s left eye twitched.

Constance lowered her red-gloved hand into a Styrofoam cooler at her feet. She searched for her prize and an apropos expression. Revenge is best served cold? That expression didn’t do this justice.

“I’ll have the match before my Ice Queen melts,” she promised in a tone as chilled as the frozen figurine she dangled from the pinch of her fingers. She clinked her lady––clear except for the small drop of suspended red where a tiny heart might have been––onto the place beside her widower king. “Let’s begin.”

Here’s Alex: 

FOOL’S MATE

This opening sentence contains great action and violence. It’s captivating, original, and memorable. However, by introducing a universally known game like chess, prepare yourself for the reader’s intuitions. Sentences like, “missing matriarch,” confused me until I realized they were still setting up the game. Let that be clearer. Also, I am still left perplexed that Constance is able to stab the ice pick, “beside her opponent’s king,” leaving me wondering where Alastair’s queen is? The great reveal of her piece makes sense, but I’m still unsure of Alastair’s pieces. Overall, an interesting opening, with clear characters and mini-plot set to reveal itself. I like openings that feel they can stand on their own, as this does.

 

Mad Cow Science Club by Jennifer Swanson – Middle Grade

Nick Newton stepped on his shovel and pushed it deep into the dirt. Today was the day. He could feel it. He was going to find something amazing.

“Hey over, here!” Nick’s best friend Rudi Patel shouted excitedly. “Look at this.”

Nick’ heart beat fast as he raced to Rudi’s side. A treaure!

“Omph!” Nick tipped sideways as their other friend and fellow treasure hunter, Rebecca Raintree, elbowed him out of the way. “Take it easy, Beccs, this isn’t the lacrosse field.”

She snorted. “As if you could handle that.” Her dancing eyes and swift grin took the edge off the words. Nick flushed. Rebecca was right. He wasn’t good at sports. Especially lacrosse. Holding the stick while running, throwing, and catching a ball, required way more skill than his

awkward arms and legs could manage. Now science he could do. Nick was awesome at science.

“A skull!” Nick shouted. Yes, today was a good day.

“I thought we were supposed to be looking for dinosaur bones,” said Rebecca. “That doesn’t look like a dinosaur to me. It looks like a cow skull. What’s so special about finding that? This place used to be a farm.”

Nick thrust out his chin. “I think it’s great.” He wasn’t about to let Rebecca take the wind out of his sails. This was the first big discovery for their new science club. And it was going to have a place of honor in their garage clubhouse

“ This would make a great drawing.” Rudi pushed his glasses up on his nose, his brown eyes gleaming, and studied the rock intently.

“Who cares about a dumb ol’ skull, let’s go down to the river and see if we can clean up the shore. That’s what a real science club would do,” said Rebecca.

Nick sighed. Maybe Rebecca was right. This field was a bust. Nick was about to toss the skull aside when he stopped suddenly. His hand froze. Had the sightless skull just winked at him?

Here’s Alex: 

MAD COW SCIENCE CLUB

This first page sets up a fun premise that will seem to blend some fantasy and adventure elements, told with a light touch. I like Rebecca’s strong will, and especially Rudi’s contribution that the skull would make a “great drawing.” This subtle detail speaks volumes about Rudi’s character, and it works to allow the reader to discover Rudi on their own. I feel like more subtlety could be employed for Nick, rather than stopping the action with sentences like, “He wasn’t good at sports. Especially lacrosse.” I know these are essential lines to painting Nick’s character early on, but they stall the action for me in these important first paragraphs. I don’t care that Nick is more inclined towards science class right now – I already kind of understand that with the tension between he and Becca. What I care about is discovering, along with the characters, what they’ve dug up, so avoid characterization when your narrative is in the middle of plot-building.

 

Winter Hare By Laurie J. Edwards – MG

The wolves bared their teeth and slunk closer. Achen scrabbled for a foothold on a huge oak. Splinters bit into her hands and bare feet. Blood pounded in her head and made her ears throb.

A wolf lunged.

Achen yanked her foot upward, scraping it raw. The wolf’s teeth snapped shut, just shy of her foot. The damp breath from its nostrils heated her toes and sent tremors through her body.

Terror propelled her higher. Inch by inch, she dragged her shaking limbs above slavering tongues. Below her, the beasts fanned in a semicircle. Fangs glinted. Yellow eyes glowed, feral in the gloom of winter dusk.

Achen trembled. They waited only for her to tire and lose her grip.

A snarl pierced the air, followed by a high-pitched scream. Then a slab of meat, splattering blood as it flew, arced over the wolves’ heads. The beasts turned, growling, to fight over this chunk of flesh.

While they were occupied, a black-cloaked figure stepped from the trees, drew a bow, and with deadly accuracy sent arrows quivering into the wolves, one by one. When the last carcass lay twitching, the shrouded figure threw back its hood, revealing a mass of coppery curls.

“Mama!” Achen slid down the trunk, not caring that splinters embedded themselves in her palms. She flung herself into her mother’s outstretched arms. Drawing in a shuddery breath, she begged, “Please don’t leave me again, Mama.”

Her mother’s eyes shimmered with tears. “I must, dear heart. You know that.”

Here’s Alex: 

WINTER HARE

This is an action-filled opening that grabs the reader by the throat. I can see the scene, thanks to details like, “heated her toes,” “winter dusk,” and, “quivering into.” The use of fresh language, and spare details allows the reader to fill in the missing details, and that’s a rewarding experience. Trusting the reader always pays off. After re-reading, the only think I am concerned about is Achen’s age, or size. The feral request of not being left along feels rather young, while the ability to climb such a tree is difficult. I think providing the age in this opening would be a detail best kept for later, but again, a word about her size or ability might paint her clearer in my mind. Overall, compelling.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Agent, Editor & Agent Info, inspiration, revisions, writing Tagged: Agent Alex Slater, First Page Critiques, Improve Writing Skills, Trident Media Group

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12. Outlining Your Novel

outlining your novelI am a big believer in creating an outline of your story and keep telling other writers how much it will help them with writing their novel. They nod their head, when they really want to pat me on the head and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” So tonight read the beginning of K.M. Weiland’s “how to write book” titled, OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL, hoping to find someone else who could help persuade others to realize how much it will help them with their manuscripts. After reading the excerpt below, I bought the book and I hope you will check it out. She lays out some good reasons to outline.

Here it is:

Benefits of Outlining Your Story

 

  1. Ensures Balance and Cohesion

In an outline, you can see at a glance if the inciting even take place too late in the sotry, if the middle sags, or if the climax doesn’t resonate. Instead of having to diagnose and remedy these problems after the first draft, you can fix problems in the outline in only a few keystrokes.

  1. Prevents Dead-End Ideas

How many times have you started writing an exciting new plot twist, only to realize – 5,000 words later – that it’s led you to a cul-de-sac? You either have to spend valuable time bactracking and trying to write your way around the roadblock – or you have to cut the subplot altogether and start afresh. Outlines allow you to follow plot twists and subplots to their logical end (or lack thereof) in much less time. You can identify the dead-end ideas and cull them before they become annoying and embarrassing ploy holes.

  1. Provides Foreshadowing

It’s nearly impossible for an author to foreshadow and event of which he has no idea. As a pantser, when a startling plot twist occurs late in the book, you’ll have to go back and sow your foreshadowing into earlier scenes. Not only is this extra work, it can often be difficult to make the new hints of what’s yet to come flow effortlessly with your already constructed scenes. Because an outline give you inside knowledge about what’s going to happen in subsequent scenes, it provides you the opportunity to plant some organic foreshadowing.

  1. Smoothes Pacing

Like foreshadowing, pacing often requires inside knowledge. If the author doesn’t know the protagonist is about to be shot in the back, he can hardly adjust the pacing to introduce this shocking new event in the right manner. An outline shows you the places where your story is running too fast and the places where it is lagging and sagging.

  1. Indicates Preferable POVs

When working with multiple points of view it can often be challenging to know which scene should be written from which POV. Too often, we write a scene from one character’s POV, only to realize a different character’s narrative perspective would probably have offered a better experience for the reader. As a result, we’re forced to go back and rewrite the entire scene. Outlines allow us to make educated decisions about POV, thanks to insights regarding plot and character. Just as importantly, outlines permit us to look at the balance of you POVs over the course of the entire novel, so we can ensure each character is getting an appropriate amount of time at the mic.

  1. Maintains Consistent Character Voice

When writing without an outline, we’re often discovering the characters right along with the readers, and because our perception and understanding of our character often evolve over the course of the story, the result can be an uneven presentation of the character’s voice.

  1. Offers Motivation and Assurance

Writing a novel can be overwhelming. Typing thousands of words is an undertaking in itself – but when those words all have to hang together in a way that is sensible, entertaining, and resonant, that’s enough to make our knees start shaking beneath our desks. Outlines give us the assurance that we can craft a complete story; all we have to do now is fill in the blanks. And because those blanks are ones that fascinate us, outlines also motivate us to keep on writing through the tough spots, so we can get to the good stuff.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, How to, inspiration, reference, revisions, Writing Tips Tagged: Benefits of outlining Your Story, K.M. Weiland, Outlining your novel, Reason to outline

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13. Before the Sale – Book Appeal

Have you ever thought about how you decide to buy a book? In my case, unless it is written by a friend or someone has told me I must read a book, I first look at the cover. If the cover has a good title and the cover art grabs me, then I look inside. If the flap jacket pitch sounds interesting, then I flip through the pages.

I look to see if the book has good margins, short paragraphs, and good amount of white space. Long blocky paragraphs exposition, narrative, and description make me think… SKIP!

Studies show that using white space is important because it helps make a book look friendly. And, it is dialogue that provides the eye candy for a reader. As a potential buyer flips through your book, rapid back-and-forth dialogue will make your book more appealing before the reader even reads a word.

So paying attention to dialogue when you revise it is worth the time and effort. I would start by flipping through the manuscript for places that look dense and circle them. Later go back to read and analyze. Ask yourself, “Can I use dialogue to breakup this long paragraph? Would dialogue work better here than what I have now?”

Here are ten things that dialogue can do to help keep your reader reading.

  1. Dialogue draws a reader into your story.
  2. Dialogue adds immediacy, picks up the pace, and makes your text easier and more fun to read.
  3. Dialogue can give the writer a more effective way to provide information about emotional states and inner thoughts.
  4. Dialogue can reveal motive, insight into a character without overt telling.
  5. Dialogue can help set the mood of the scene. Example: “This doesn’t feel right… It’s too quiet.”
  6. Dialogue can intensify the conflict. A confrontation conversation between adversaries can ramp up the tension and remind readers what’s at stake.
  7. Good Dialogue moves the story forward.
  8. Dialogue is a useful tool to provide information the reader must know without slowing down the pacing.
  9. Dialogue is good to use to get out critical bits of information, back-story, and background.
  10. Dialogue can even be use to suggest a theme.

Of course, dialogue is only one thing to work on while you revise, but the above list can help you can see the many things it can help improve in your novel.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, inspiration, Marketing a book, revisions, Writing Tips Tagged: Book Appeal, Getting readers to buy your book

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14. Creative ways to think outside the box

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It’s easy to presume that your doodles, illustrations, paintings and creative thoughts should make their way straight to paper or canvas although just for a minute why not think outside the box.  Break the rules and do something creatively different that sets your doodles apart , not to abandon your sketchbook for to long but challenge yourself to something different. To help get you started heres just a few creative ways you can do that and truly think outside the box to show others just how creative you can be.

  • Remember that rather dull phone or tablet case you bought thats lacking a certain creative omph, well grab yourself some paint or a paint based marker and create your own custom case design.  Add your own style and choose your own theme to make a stylish creative case you’d want to show off and not hide.
  • Mugs are great because they often get filled with heart warming teas or beverages although a plain little old mug is some what sad and gloomy. However with some ceramic paint or markers you  could give it an unique handdrawn design of its own that is sure to make your tea breaks even better.
  • For fellow lovers of fabric the dream is no doubt to create your own and you can even without a huge fabric printer. With some acrylic paints and fabric medium you can paint your own designs onto calico, making reams of your own one of a kind design to embellish any type of project from home furnishings to wallart and more.
  • That little pair of converse you happen to have sitting in the hallway could use a splash of ink wouldn’t you say? Grab yourself some pens and markers ( ones that work well on canvas fabric and will not run) and create yourself a fashion piece that will set you apart from everyone else.

Image by artist  Jaco Haasbroek  you can find out more about their work here.

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15. Illustrator Saturday – Leeza Hernandez

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Leeza Hernandez is an award-winning illustrator and children’s book author, hails from the south of England, but has been living in New Jersey since 1999. In 2004 she switched from newspaper and magazine design to children’s books, and hasn’t looked back. With a few books now under her belt, she’s currently working on three new projects: a follow up to Dog Gone! called Cat Napped; a sequel to Eat Your Math Homework called Eat Your Science Homework, other released this year. In 2013 she illustrated a picture book written by acclaimed actor and author John Lithgow. Follow Leeza on Twitter @leezaworks. She also took over my place as the Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI chapter and is doing a great job.

Below is Leeza at six years old with her cat Minnie Weasle!

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Here is Leeza explaining her process:

The cover of Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo took a fair amount of working out—between not giving too much away and showing to little that it looked too vague. The images show a handful of the different covers that were sketched up, then the progression of the final color cover.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

These are the thumbnail sketches for the book layout.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Because there were so many animals in Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo, I kept all my research pictures organized in a jumbo ring binder.

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But, no matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t find an image of a yak playing a sax so had to use some creative license!

CreativeReference

Below you can see the process of the cover art.

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Below is an up close look at the final cover.

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What caused you to move from the UK to the US?

Work. I took an art director position at a newspaper in the late 90s which was the field I worked in back then.

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When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

It wasn’t a conscious decision really, but in the early 2000s I discovered Illustration Friday (www.illustrationfriday.com)—a great source of inspiration but also a way to help you create illustrations for yourself based upon a weekly word prompt. Browsing through the site, one link led to another and I eventually landed at SCBWI (www.scbwi.org) and that was that!

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This image was created for the Illustration Friday prompt “Wisdom” and received an American Illustration selection back in the early 2000s. I added it to my portfolio among a handful of painted images and it was what art directors responded to the most. I was encouraged to create more!

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What was the first picture book that you illustrated? And how did that contract come your way?

Eat Your Math Homework was the first trade picture book I was hired to illustrate, which came about after attending a Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference (ruccl.org). I met an editor at the luncheon who took my promo postcard away with her and about six months later the designer reached out to my agent asking if I was available-yay!

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How did you connect with John Lithgow to illustrate his book, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo ?

I was asked to do some samples (along with some other illustrators) for a book written by a ‘high-profile’ author but I didn’t know who it was until I found out I was picked for the project. It was all very mysterious and exciting!

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Have you met John Lithgow?

Yes, he’s lovely. We launched the book together in New York, it was so much fun. He sang his songs. I spared the audience and did not sing!

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How long did you have to illustrate Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo?

This was one of the quickest turnaround books I have worked on and it was 40 pages. From initial sketches, through revisions and to final art was a little less than eight months total.

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I see you illustrated a second book with Ann McCallum this year, titled Eat Your Science Homework. Did you sign a two-book deal when you illustrated Eat Your Math Homework in 2011?

No two-book deal. It was simply an organic progression. Ann had an idea and submitted her proposal for the science book and a few months after they acquired the manuscript, Charlesbridge asked if I’d
illustrate it.

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Will there be a third book with Ann?

Yes! Eat Your U.S. History Homework is due to release in late 2015.

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I am assuming that Cat Napped! published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons came about due to the previous book you wrote and illustrated titled, Dog Gone! Can you tell us the story behind these two books?

Back in 2009 I won the Tomie de Paola portfolio award at the New York SCBWI conference—which was amazing. As a result, I was invited in to the Penguin offices to meet with an editor, publisher and art director and they looked at my work as well as a sample and manuscript for Dog Gone! and they took it. I was beyond thrilled and so, so grateful for the opportunity.

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During the time I worked on Dog Gone! I had this idea that I wanted to create a cat book in the same vein and I already had the title Cat Napped! noodling around in my head, but it took a while to flesh out the story. I remember having submitted the story along with a couple of other ideas to the editor and right after Dog Gone! released they took it.

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Have any of the books you worked on won any awards?

Eat Your Science Homework was awarded a 2014 Junior Library Guild selection—awesomesauce!

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Do you have plans to write and illustrate another book?

Hahaha, yes of course! I hope I never stop.

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What do you consider your first big success?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I’m not sure I can measure one big success that easily. Having a book published is amazing, but I also consider the ever-evolving process as a series of successful stepping-
stones and I do a little happy dance each time I move to the next one—because they all teach me something about myself and/or my work. Creative folks are such sensitive creatures and it can be
intimidating to put our work out there in front of people, so each time we are brave and face our fears head on, that’s a success. Actually, when I attended a SCBWI conference for the first time, I was so overwhelmed I almost didn’t go back the next day—so I’d say not giving up right off the bat was my first big success!

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For pencil work, I use 2H, HB, 2B and 5 or 6B pencils on Arches hotpress 140lb paper.

PencilOnArches2What is on the drawing board now?

My schedule has been a little nuts lately so I am taking a rest-of-the-year break and finally getting around to updating my website, which has been somewhat neglected.

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Do you ever use Corel Painter or Photoshop when illustrating?

I ‘collage’ in Photoshop. I take all the pieces that I create by hand, scan them in, then slice ‘n’ dice them into a final illustration. I think of Photoshop as my digital scissors and glue, but I don’t actually illustrate with Photoshop if that makes sense, like, I’m not drawing or painting digitally using brushes and filters.

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Do you own a graphic tablet?

No. If you mean a Cintiq or Wacom, that is. I’ve seen them in action though, wow!

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Is there one thing that you did or happened that you feel really pushed your career to the next level?

I joined SCBWI. So far, this has been an amazing journey of education, connections, opportunities, projects and rewards, but it all started with this incredible organization that continues to play a role—LOVE SCBWI!

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Do you take pictures or other research before you start a project?

Before and during—yes. Having reference material gives me a much better understanding of what I am drawing than simply imagining. I like to begin by drawing realistically before I think about characterizing for a book because it gives me an accurate sense of anatomy, behavior, body language, etc., even though they’re very loose drawings. There were a number of animals in Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo that I hadn’t drawn before, so I filled a ring binder with reference just for that project.

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The original pick-up truck for Cat Napped! was a struggle, but after sharing with my editor, we realized it was too square and modern, so I went back and researched vintage trucks from the 40s and 50s. The end result was a bit of a hybrid but its softer, curvier edges suited the tone of the book far better than the angular truck I had originally drawn.

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The internet is a powerful tool—National Geographic (nationalgeographic.com), Nat Geo Kids (kids.nationalgeographic.com), NASA (nasa.gov), and Pinterest (pinterest.com) are some of my favorites but discipline is key. The amount of research I do depends upon the project but I have to be careful with the amount of time I spend researching versus creating the art.

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I use a timer to stay on top of it. And even if I am not researching for a particular project, I carry a sketchbook with me and either have my phone or camera for taking any pictures. Inspiration strikes when I least expect it so I like to be as prepared as possible.

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Have you found most art directors and editors give you a lot of freedom when illustrating a book? Do they want to be involved all the way through the process?

Once, I was given very specific art notes for an educational book but the turnaround time was tight, so the notes were helpful for me to jump right in. I’ve received minimal notes for nonfiction projects if there was a point that needed to be demonstrated visually for some specific text. For example: the Homework books sometimes have charts.

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For the fictional projects, I’m pretty much left to it for the first round of sketches, then the art director and/or editor and I discuss together. Sometimes, I’ll offer up additional sketch options for a handful of spreads if I have lots of ideas and can’t decide which direction to go. There can be a lot of back and forth on the cover, though.

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What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

My art materials—pencils, brushes, paper, inks, sketchbooks—I’d be kinda lost without them!

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Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Yes, even if it’s only for ten minutes, that’s my rule.

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Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

To travel, keep making art, and continue creating books for young readers—that would be lovely!

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Thank you Leeza haring your journey and process with us. Can’t wait to see your career go forward. You can visit Leeza at her website: http://www.leezaworks.com to see more of her work.

If you have a moment I am sure Leeza would love to read your comments. I enjoy them too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, How to, illustrating, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process Tagged: John Lithgow, Leeza Hernandez, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo

10 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Leeza Hernandez, last added: 11/24/2014
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16. Keeping the Flame Alive – Erika Wassall

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on…. 

Keeping the Flame Alive

The farther I dive into the world of writing, the busier I become. I have done small amounts of freelance writing for years, but about a year ago, in hopes of gaining experience and honing my craft, I dove deeper into the world of freelance. I wrote for a few online magazines like Honesty For Breakfast (aimed at girls in their 20s), I did some ghost web-copy writing for travel websites and a flower shop, am working on a project with RawSpiceBar.com , and do regular posts for Family Focus Blog with farm fresh recipes and family-friendly projects.

I learned a lot about my writing too. I learned that my instinctively conversational style makes me a natural fit for certain things and not others. I’ve found great success with product description writing and online course curriculum development, because I get to play with different styles of description and ways of engaging an audience. But grant or technical writing for things like computer software manuals… not for me.

So what’s my point? Well, between freelance writing and working on my manuscripts, I am doing hours of writing every single day. And while this has been great in many ways, forcing me to flex my writing and creativity muscles, working with deadlines and not being able to stop because I’m just not “feeling it”, it can also become cumbersome.

Bottom line: Writing is very hard work.

I needed a way to regularly stoke the fire, the furious passion that I’ve always had for the written word. A way to remind myself that writing is fun!

Once a week, I schedule two entire hours, where I sit down and write without a goal, and away from the computer. No deadlines, no projects, no one to tell me what’s wrong with it, just writing. It can be free association writing, prose, anything I want. I can use characters from my manuscripts, but I don’t allow myself to work on actual scenes. I write silly rhymes that follow absolutely no patterns, write sentences with horrible grammar, and break as many rules as I can in 120 minutes.

Sometimes I spend the whole two hours writing what turns into a sort of journal entry, and I am reminded of why I fell in love with writing in the first place… the hidden truths it has always seemed to bring forward.

Basically, I indulge myself.

For me, being away from the computer is an important aspect. I do my work from my computer as a writer and a business owner, so just sitting in the chair has innate associations with obligation. This is playtime not work time.

Curling up with a notebook, a pen and absolutely nothing but chaos to guide me connects with the teenager in me who found refuge in writing as words she was constantly scribbling in the margins seemed to bring her closer to understanding herself and the world around her.

Do I always look forward to it? Nope. Not at all. I’d say a solid 40-50 percent of the time, I’m going into this thinking, ech… this is dumb. I don’t have the time to waste just doing nothing. 

But (so far at least!) I have managed to convince myself to do it anyway.

The outcome?

Even when I didn’t FEEL like doing it, when the hours are up, I find myself unbelievably refreshed, both on a personal level, and as a writer. In fact, the times when I’ve wanted to do it the least have frequently been the times it’s had the most effect.

More often than not, I’ve sparked some new ideas for ways to handle scenes I was stuck on, or projects I wasn’t sure of. This means that these two hours actually end up SAVING me time, as I’m able to be more fluid in my work moving on.

And every single time, I renew that secret smile on my face that tells the story of how writing is a profoundly integral part of who I am.

So… do I think this strategy will work for everyone?

Well… sort of. (not exactly a deep meaningful answer there, I know. But bear with me!)  

I think finding a way to reconnect with the raw passion of your writing is essential for all of us. Will a two-hour scribble in a notebook once a week do that for you?

It just might. As writers, I’ve found that many of us have similar stories of falling in love with the written word. So I would highly suggest giving it a try. But if after a few times, you find yourself drawn to something else, don’t fight it. Let the wistful, playful side of you run this show, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

My two-hour decadent dive into the frivolous side of writing has become a stimulating catalyst for not only my writing but my own spirit and the spirit of my characters. And while I know it’s never always easy to find two hours of your time to put aside, I strongly believe that…

… you, and your manuscripts are worth it.

Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for another great post. I think everyone looks forward to your posts.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, inspiration, Tips, writing Tagged: Erika Wassall, Freelance writing, Keeping the Flame Alive, Manuscripts

7 Comments on Keeping the Flame Alive – Erika Wassall, last added: 11/20/2014
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17. Do you make time to draw?

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Do you make enough time to draw? Some of us doodle at any opportunity we get. Yet there are also times when we get so swept up in daily doings that we don’t quite draw as much as we’d like to for fun and enjoyment.  Taking more time to doodle will not only keep your creative idea’s flowing , fill your sketchbooks with beautiful things but also make drawing fun feeling less like work.  So here are afew places you can sketch with ease, seize the opportunity  pick up that pencil and draw!

Places you can draw:

  • On the bus
  • On the train
  • In the car
  • On a rainy day
  • On the phone
  • In bed
  • At the park
  • In the garden
  • On your lunch break

Remeber, you should draw because the more you do draw the more those amazing ideas in your creative mind will meet the page for all to see.

Image by Illustrator Chuck Groenink you can find out more about his work here .

0 Comments on Do you make time to draw? as of 11/16/2014 2:57:00 PM
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18. It’s Just as Easy to Fall in Love with a Rich Mag as a Poor Mag

money_freelancerI’ve been noticing something weird from aspiring writers lately.

And it’s not the fact that we’re always starting forum threads about their favorite type of pen, though that does weird me out a bit. I mean, who’s doing writing assignments and blog posts with a pen? It also seems like a stalling tactic…hey, let’s have a rousing conversation about writing tools instead of actually writing! :)

No, it’s that they’re always asking me (and Carol, the Den Mother at the Freelance Writers Den) how they can break into the Huffington Post.

Why, for the love of all that is good and holy…WHY?

So we ask these writers why they want to write for a market that doesn’t pay its writers, and they reply that it will be good exposure. They think if their writing appears on this particular site, editors of paying pubs will see it and burn up the keyboard to offer lucrative writing assignments.

When I hear this, I want to turn into your grandma. Women writers, has your grandmother ever told you, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man”? Well, the same philosophy applies to writing: It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich mag as a poor mag.

If you can break into the Huffington Post or some other market that pays in exposure only, then you have what it takes to land assignments from markets that pay actual money. The same amount of effort can bring you a poor mag…or a rich one. You still need to craft a killer query. You still need to write a kick-ass article. Why not do it for pay?

The whole idea of writing for free for a poor mag to eventually attract a rich mag doesn’t fly, anyway. Because, you know what? You can find a metric buttload of paying pubs that have as large a readership as the Huffington Post. So if your goal is to write for, say, health magazines, you could go after the poor mag with a big audience, like HuffPo — or you can pitch a rich mag with a big audience, like Health. (And which one do you think the editors of Fitness, and Women’s Health, and WebMD are more likely to be scoping out?)

The poor mag tries to entice you with exposure, hoping you don’t realize you can do the same writing for pay AND exposure. Don’t fall for it. [lf]

Also, a BIG announcement: Carol Tice and I will be running our Article Writing Masterclass again in January. This 10-week class includes five info-packed lessons on everything from nailing a mag’s style to dealing with revisions; plenty of free resources and extras; and assignment critiques by actual editors. (Last session, we had a Redbook editor and a former Entrepreneur editor.) Carol and I will be offering a special deal just to people on the class’s waiting list, so sign up for the waitlist now!

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19. 5 creative ways to fill your sketchbook

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If you’re ready to start a new project or just feel like taking a lazy sunday to doodle but aren’t quite sure how to best start filling those blank sketchbook pages with amazing things, here’s 5 ways to fill your sketchbook and have fun doing it.

  1. Take a fine liner and draw in one continuous line filling all spaces on your page without actually taking the pen off the surface until you’re finished.
  2. Using ink make a spontaneous splash, drip, or dribble on your page then leave it to dry and afterwards using a material of choice (pen or pencil etc.) create something from that drip whether an animal, flower , imaginative creature and more.
  3. Rip a hole in a middle section of your page and begin drawing an illustration or doodle in the middle of the hole. The idea is to grow the little illustration into something bigger out of that hole, could be anything in any shape or form you wish from typography, pattern to an imaginative story like concept .
  4. Take a piece of paper collage ( this could be a newspaper clipping, diary piece, parcel paper, map or magazine clipping) and stick it to the sketchbook page, then create an illustration on its surface. If you’re a lover of fashion illustration you could for example cut out models and create your own imaginative designs the potentials endless because so is your imagination.
  5. Find one thing where you are now (whether you’re outside, at home ,bedroom or office) and sketch that one thing in different ways, materials and perspectives on that one page creating a pattern of that one thing you chose.

Once you’re done you can then develop these initial sketchbook ideas into something bigger like a series of book illustrations, patterns, fashion pieces, paintings and more. So grab those materials, open up those sketchbooks and get started  having fun working on those big ideas.

Image by artist Aurelie you can find out more about her work here.

1 Comments on 5 creative ways to fill your sketchbook, last added: 11/4/2014
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20. Dealing with Rejection by Erika Wassall

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here with…

FULL DISCLOSURE – Dealing with a Rejecting Critique

This past Friday the 31st, on Halloween, I had a fright like no ghost or goblin costume could compare to.

My first page critique of Daddy, What’s A Redneck! (see it here)

The full manuscript is a touching story of a father who finds himself surprisingly stumped on how to explain the history and pride of an important piece of his family’s culture. He explains the actual origin of the term, the ingenuity, fun-loving and family-oriented traditions that mean so much to him. Little Lainey’s excitement grows as she learns not only about a term and a family, but about herself.

Suffice it to say: Liza was not a fan.

My first response was the famous kneejerk: “I’m NEVER writing ANYthing EVER again,” supported by the ever-popular: “What’s the point??” and the sister thought: “What does SHE know anyway?”

To be honest, I clicked off the site, without even reading the critique in full. Said nothing to anyone. Ignored it. Told myself it didn’t matter.

But, I am proud to say that it wasn’t long before I took a deep breath and tried to take a more realistic look at what was happening.

Okay. So an agent had read my work, and not liked it.

Ummm…. that’s NOT new!!! I’ve had agents turn my work down before. Even successful authors get rejected.

I decided I would go back to Kathy’s site and read Liza’s comments in full, THREE TIMES before the NJ SCBWI event the next day.

The first time I read them, they made me angry. I disagreed with EVERY word, and rolled my eyes at LEAST half a dozen times.

“She just doesn’t GET it.”

A few hours passed.

The second read, I saw where she coming from with. I shrugged a few times where I had previously crinkled my nose and shook my head. I reminded myself that while my usual writing is exceedingly kid-centric, this manuscript in particular is not mainstream-minded.

I reminded myself of three things: (1) writing is an art, not a science (2) her critique was for MY benefit, she got nothing out of this (3) as a successful agent, she knows much more than I, (and that’s a fact, not an insult).

The next morning, I read it a third time. This time, I saw real value in her comments. She mentions a lack of motivation. WHY is the little girl asking the question in the first place?

Huh…. I guess that could set the stage a bit better….

She mentions the title not properly representing the story itself, that people may even be insulted and not read it.

My “darling” cried out to me to be saved…. But I LOVE the title… I crafted it with certain connotations, liking the idea of that it was counter-balanced by a story of love and honor.

But … um… HELLO??!!! They have to READ the story to know that. If they see the title and turn away, the power of the irony is useless.

By the time I left for the SCBWI event, I no longer felt that dejected combination of anger and self-doubt. After all, as I’ve said myself, rejections are PROOF that I’m a writer!

I’ll be completely honest that I still do not agree with all of her comments. And that’s okay too. It is an earnest somewhat “issue” driven story, which while not something everyone is looking for, can have its place.

But even the comments I may not fully agree with have given me insight into my writing. Some of them I found may even apply to other manuscripts or projects I’m working on.

This week, when I sat down to write my post, fueled by amazing speakers, and an afternoon of great workshops at the SCBWI craft day, including a chance to see my dream editor Amy Cloud (I just genuinely enjoy her personality), I wrote the opening paragraph to three different articles. None of them worked.

I looked over my notes from the workshops. Nothing felt right.

I looked at Kathy’s site, as I often do, and it hit me. I had a chance to write about dealing with critique in a very unique, painfully honest way.

So a big thank you to Kathy for the opportunity. And a genuinely GIANT thank you to Liza for helping me grow as a writer, and realistically, probably also as a person.

And to you… I give a heart-felt thanks for indulging me by reading my story. It has immeasurably solidified for me the importance of not only accepting but also truly embracing critique in order to allow for growth.

Because you know what? Our manuscripts are worth it.

Erika, what can I say other than thank you for giving us another great post. I think we all have experienced this, so I hope others will take note of how you dealt with the angst of a negative critique and benefit from your reaction and journey.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Agent, Author, demystify, inspiration, Process, rejection, revisions Tagged: Dealing with Rejection, Erika Wassall, First Page Critique, Guest Blogger

7 Comments on Dealing with Rejection by Erika Wassall, last added: 11/7/2014
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21. SCBWI School Visit Webinar

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Webinar – School Visits with Suzanne Morgan Williams

Date/Time
Date(s) – 11/12/2014
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

COST: $25.00 For All SCBWI Members – $30.00 Non-Members

Suzanne-Portrait-2012300dpi-150x150The best school visits are age appropriate, energetic, engage the students, and add value to the school’s curriculum. How do you design amazing presentations? Gain confidence in your performance, teaching, and negotiations? How do you get schools (or more schools) to hire you? Author, former teacher, and school presenter, Suzanne Morgan Williams, uses handouts, exercises, and the online presentation to help you plan programs based on your strengths, your books, and students’ needs.

She’ll share her best tips for connecting with schools and negotiating fair deals. If you’re serious about giving presentations that leave schools buzzing tune in for this one. The webinar will end with an optional online question and answer time.  Homework and supplemental information will be forwarded to participants as they register. A link to the online classroom will be provided 24 hours prior to the event.

Click HERE to register for:

So You’re Not a Juggler: Planning Amazing School Visits with Suzanne Morgan Williams

Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the middle grade novel Bull Rider and eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, Wyoming, and Indiana, and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling Skeleton. The Inuit, Made in China, Nevada, and her latest book, China’s Daughters.

Suzanne has presented to adult and children’s audiences and taught writing workshops at dozens of schools, professional conferences, and literary events across the US and Canada. A former teacher, she has an M.Ed, teaching credentials, and a Montessori teacher certification. She’s been commissioned to create teacher’s guides for other writers as well as to write and support community cultural and literacy projects such as Nevada Hispanic Service’s/Nevada Humanities’ Great Latinos Biography Project. Visit www.suzannemorganwilliams.com

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Author, Events, inspiration, opportunity, organizations, Uncategorized Tagged: school visits, Suzy Morgan Williams, Webinar

4 Comments on SCBWI School Visit Webinar, last added: 11/6/2014
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22. Illustrator Saturday – Sholta Walker

MeSholta Walker was trained and graduated as a painter in 1988 and since 1995 he has worked professionally as a full-time artist and illustrator.

The great majority of his work has been for children, with clients across the World, including Harper Collins, Random House, Egmont, Annick Press, The BBC, Macmillan and Oxford University Press.

Most of the illustrations you see here combine digital techniques with more traditional skills and media. He uses vigourous ink line work, which is usually digitally coloured and enhanced. This has given him an opportunity to produce illustrations for my clients which give great scope for expressing ideas.

Some of the work shown here is also available as limited edition
prints.

His published books include Long Grey Norris, King Arthur, Bug Wars and The Beastly Beast.., a compendium of short stories by author Garth Nix. I have recently completed work for a book by Michal Kozlowski called Louis, the Tiger Who Came From the Sea.

Here is Sholta discussing his process:

Creating ‘Bug!’ and Brer Fox

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I made these drawings a few years ago. Both at the time were fairly experimental, but borrowed heavily from methods I was already regularly using. Brer Fox was a character I was asked to develop along with his nemesis Brer Rabbit, for a UK publisher. Bug! I made when I worked briefly with an animator-friend while he was working on his Masters Degree in animation.

Image 1b

 

The picture always begins with a drawing on paper. If I’m working on a character I always rough him or her out in pencil. It usually takes several attempts to create the character I’m after. It’s important to get this stage right. Any decisions made now will set the tone for the whole image and are likely to remain with you to the end of the project. The drawing process helps inform the image you have in your head, which then feeds back to your drawing. At its best this busy two-way street of drawing and imagining is a marvelously efficient creative process.

Image 2a

When I have the character I want, I either trace it through a lightbox or work directly over the top in Indian ink with a dip-pen. The type of commission will dictate how free and expressive I am with the pen. In the case of Brer Fox particularly, I was trying to work very freely. One way I do this is to create all the initial pencil sketches as quickly as I can. When I find the drawing I like I then reproduce it by drawing over the top with my pen at a similar speed. This gives the drawing energy and enables me to exploit the naturally temperamental nature of a traditional drawing nib when it’s loaded with ink.

Image 2b

While still fairly loose, Bug! was a little more considered. Also, I created the bug character and his background as two separate drawings and combined them in Photoshop later.

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Once the ink is completely dry, any pencil marks are erased and the drawing is scanned and opened in Photoshop. The ink line now has to be separated from the the paper surface. To help improve definition I usually increase the contrast before selecting out the black lines in one piece. The drawing part of the scan is then pasted into a new document, creating a new layer over a white background layer. The original scan is now discarded. At this stage I take the opportunity to have a good look at the image and to erase any dust specks and unwanted ink spots that were picked up in the selection. I may also make any adjustments or small additions to the drawing using Photoshop’s pencil and brush tools. Finally I ‘multiply’ the layer to prevent any whitening of the pixels in the final artwork. Because I like the honesty of a hand made ink drawing I make no further digital enhancements to it.

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Image 3b

In the case of Bug!, the character’s colour was created in Illustrator. I imported the line drawing (without the garden) into Illustrator, then, on a new layer, between the white background and the drawing layer, I put in the colour in a series of simple, fairly roughly drawn shapes. In more complex images I may create the colours on several layers, but on a simple image like this, one colour layer is sufficient. Brer Fox was slightly different. He stayed in Photoshop because in this case I didn’t want the flatter look that Illustrator tends to give my drawings. The layering technique however is identical, with the basic under-painting on the figure created using the lasso tool to make a shape into which I drop the colour. Further painting, shading and colour were then added with various brush tools. A basic background layer is also quickly rendered at this stage.

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Image 4b

To create the textures in Brer Fox I went back to paper and ink. All the effects in this image are made using either ink applied through a mouth diffuser, (a simple breath-powered spraying device) or from an old toothbrush. The results are then scanned and separated out as in the original drawings. They are then collaged into the artwork, each on a separate layer. For Brer Fox I also experimented with some scans of torn paper. With Bug!, only the garden received this treatment. Once colouring of the insect character was complete in Illustrator, I returned him to Photoshop and combined him with the garden scene that I had drawn and coloured separately in Photoshop using the textures I made in a similar way to those previously described.

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Image 5b

Finally, I added any extra bits and spent some time continuing to tweak the drawing. Some layers are switched off or discarded and occasionally some basic effects are added as in Brer Fox’s drop shadow. I’ll often go back at this stage and draw some new elements (extra flowers maybe) that I think might further improve the image. These will then be scanned and added to the drawing, colouring them up as necessary. A key feature of much of my work is that the process remains very fluid right up to its completion.

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How long have you been illustrating?

Full-time, around twenty years. I spent a few years before that working part time on occasional commissions that came my way.

 

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What made you choose to you study art at Cheltenham College of Art in London?

That’s Cheltenham College of Art in Cheltenham, England. Cheltenham is a large town about one hundred miles West of London. I had a bit of a shaky start in fact. In England, most visual arts degrees begin with a year-long Foundation Course, which most students are expected to complete, usually at a different college, before beginning their three-year degree proper. My foundation year was very enjoyable and successful, but I left still unsure in which direction I was going to take my art. Eventually I chose Fine Art with a painting specialism, but I think my lack of certainty was picked up during the several interviews I attended at various art colleges and found to the surprise of most people that knew me that I wasn’t offered a place at any of them on the first round. So I got a job and tried again a few months later. I was finally accepted at Cheltenham. I’d like to say this was the college I had my sights on all along; that I had studied the work of the tutors and lecturers there; that I was drawn to the verdant Cotswold Hills that rise majestically above the town, but none of that would be true. Nope. It turned out they were the only college that would have me.

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What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

I’m not too sure, but I think it was probably a tiny drawing for one of those classified small ads you see in the back of newspapers. It was around 1986.

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What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

When I graduated I had no idea what to do. Looking back I think plenty of ex-students, particularly with art degrees find themselves in a similar situation. I’m not sure how it is now, but there was absolutely zero consideration given by the colleges as to what their students would do when they left. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing because fine art courses should not be job-training courses. So when I left I discovered two things pretty quickly: first, I needed to earn some money and second, degrees in Painting do not make you very employable. I was no longer comfortable at home, so I moved to London where most British students seem to pitch up after graduating. I worked briefly at the famous Cornelissen and Son art shop near the British Museum. The shop’s been trading since 1855 and has and still does supply materials to some of the greatest names in British Art. Then I bought a bike and spent a year as a bicycle courier, risking life and limb on the London streets.

 

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How did you decide you wanted to go into the freelance art business?

After a year or two of struggling to pay my way in London, I thought I needed to make a decision. As a child, making pictures was always something I enjoyed doing and was good at. My degree had pointed me towards traditional oil painting but at that time I could see no way that I was going to be making oil paintings for a living. It was a very slow start. My dad was publishing a music magazine at the time and he managed to convince the editor (thanks Paul!) to ask me to try illustrating a few things. The jobs were very occasional and fairly straightforward, but it was these simple commissions that really got the ball rolling for me. I continued working in various low-paid jobs, but it was those occasional illustration commissions that gave me a sense of purpose. Doing something I enjoyed while being paid to do it. I decided fairly quickly that this was what I needed to pursue.

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When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I never decided, my work seems to lend itself to that. When I began as an illustrator I just drew stuff. I had no idea what the illustration business was like and never gave a thought to the idea that illustration could be classified into ‘types’. After my degree, my first portfolio consisted mainly of miniature versions of what I had been producing at art college. Many were very dark and introspective, typical art student stuff really. The colours were full of dark reds and blues. Lots of angst. I was still somewhere between a painter and an illustrator. All my techniques were from three years’ training as a painter working in oils on canvas, so as an illustrator I really had to start from scratch. That meant finding new materials and methods that suited my approach and were practical. As my work developed, much of it became brighter and I found I could express and develop in my work a kind of knowing humour and a sense of the absurd that I have always enjoyed and has always been a part of my character I think. Adults seem to like this at least as much as their children and it appears in most of my best work. I think that this has always been there in my work even during my student days, but as I’ve evolved as a working illustrator I’ve learned to refine it and make it more accessible.

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How did you get the job to illustrate Buzz and Bingo in the Starry Sky with HarperCollins?

Wow, that one was quite a while ago. It came through my agent. In fact, now I think of it, it was probably the first full book commission I had with Harper Collins. I think it was also the first book I illustrated digitally. It was actually part of a series for young readers and as far as I’m aware has been very popular in British schools. I have met several parents over the years that know me by name and then realize their son and daughter is learning to read with one of my books. It’s always nice when that happens. My sister lives in Spain and she called me one day to say that her daughter was reading a book I had illustrated as part of her reading program. That was perfect because I had included a dedication to her and her brothers on the title page. I think my sister cried.

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Have you done any other books with HarperCollins?

Yes several. At least four or five.

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What was the first picture book that you illustrated? And how did that contract come your way?

My first picture book was probably one of the Buzz and Bingo series. I had illustrated a few books before that, but they were more for slightly older readers, so they weren’t strictly speaking ‘picture books’. I had worked on other commissions for Harper Collins prior to Buzz and Bingo so I had built up a bit of a track record. I often think that is, at least in part, how it works. Once a client is happy you can make a deadline, you are professional and reliable and assuming they like what you do of course, you are likely to be asked to take on bigger projects.

 

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How many books have you illustrated?

Well, if you mean both part books and as full cover-to-cover commissions, then the answer’s probably hundreds. If you mean whole books, then probably around thirty.

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Before you had an Art Rep., what did you do to help connect with art directors and editors and find illustration work?

It was a long and painful process. Once I had set my mind to being a professional illustrator I knew I needed to start building a portfolio to show round. I put together about fifteen drawings that included several of the commissions I had been picking up as well as some of my own work. One idea I had was to buy a few magazines and find articles in them that I felt I could illustrate. If they were successful I would then include them in the portfolio. The next step was to travel to London from Bath where I was by then living and show my work around. In those days, before the internet and online portfolios, this was the only way to do it. I must have spent a fortune on fares, not to mention postage for all the mail shots I made. I picked up very little direct work from all this effort and expense, but I don’t regret it at all because I really got to see what it was I needed to do while showing me what the publishing, design and advertising world outside my studio really looked like. I also still remember to this day some of the dozens of busy art directors and designers I saw who, almost to a person, patiently leafed through my portfolio and usually sent me away with some valuable words of advice. Anyway, I did that for a year or so until I decided it was time to reassess the situation. It was then I turned my mind to getting an agent. I thought if I found the right one, they would do all that work for me.

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How did you connect to your artist agency, Illustrationsweb.com? How long have they been representing you?

Yet another trip to London in around 1995 with a list of illustrator’s agents in my pocket finally brought me together with Illustration, which is Illustration USA Inc’s parent company. At that time they lurked up a flight of stairs in a dusty old office in the heart of Soho, West London. They were called Garden Studio then and had been since 1929 when they were first established. It was there I met the excellent Harry Lyon-Smith who took my portfolio away and told me to come back after lunch. When I returned he offered to represent me and that was that.

The Tin Soldier

Tell us a little bit about the 200-year-old building in your backyard and the studio you have in there.

I think it was once just a simple stone outbuilding. It was converted to something reasonably habitable about twenty-five years ago and given an electricity and water supply. I’m in Somerset, England, so everything older than about a century is built from stone. The walls are two feet thick, which is normal in old buildings here, but it makes mobile (cell)-phone use next to impossible. If anyone needs to call me at work it’s landline only I’m afraid. Oh, and the roof leaks a bit. I sit beside a window that looks out onto our garden and an apple tree that produces a rare local apple called Ashmead’s Kernal. If you can ignore their gnarled and crusty appearance and take a bite you’ll find they’re incredibly juicy and sweet.

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Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

No, not so far.

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What is your favorite medium to use to do your illustrations?

Dip pen and Indian ink. Then Photoshop and Illustrator.

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Has that changed over time?

Yes. When I began as an illustrator I developed a way of working that had its beginnings in my pre-art college mid-teens. I would create a pencil drawing that I would render in water-colour and gouache. I would then work over the whole thing in coloured pencil, before putting an ink line drawing on top. This made for beautifully vibrant illustrations, but was hugely labour-intensive. It meant I would often be up all night for even the simplest commissions. I realized this wasn’t sustainable, so in around 2000 I bit the bullet and bought an Apple Mac. Over the next year I figured out a way of working that still retained plenty of me, but was just far more efficient.

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What do you consider is your first big success?

Probably Louis, the Tiger Who Came From the Sea. It’s a difficult question really because I’m very self-critical and I’m usually reluctant to pore over past work too long. I’m always thinking about the next opportunity to get it ‘right.’

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How did that come about?

Apparently out of the blue. It’s how all the best work comes. You’re sitting around one day trying to remember how you ended up doing what you do when the ‘phone rings. Or the email arrives, as it usually is these days. In the case of Louis the Tiger, Colleen Macmillan at Annick Press contacted Stacey at my agent’s New York office and offered me the commission. They had seen my portfolio and decided I was the one they wanted to illustrate Michal Kozlowski’s wonderful story. It’s great when that happens.

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Do you ever want to write and illustrate a picture book?

Yes

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Would you be open to working with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?

Absolutely. In fact I’ve illustrated a few of these already. Initially I was quite wary of working with self-publishing projects because commissions like these can lack structure and any real management process. I worried the job could really get out of hand. Before you commit I think it’s important to read the manuscript (don’t forget they’ve usually not been through any kind of editorial process) and also try to get a clear idea of what the client (author) is expecting from you and what if any experience they have of producing a book. The great thing about self-publishing commissions is they often give you great creative freedom because there are no sales departments controlling the process as so often happens with established publishers.

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Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Very rarely. If an illustration requires a certain animal for example I usually reach for one of several natural history or wildlife reference books I keep. I recently completed ‘How to Slay a Werewolf’, a new book for Conran Octopus here in the UK. The story’s set in early Twentieth Century England so I had to get the clothes more or less accurate and then there was the werewolf of course, which required a fair bit of preliminary work. The internet has changed everything. In the past research usually meant repeated trips to the local library and bookshops and owning shelves groaning with reference material. Now most research is a mouse click away.

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Have you done any work for educational publishers?

Yes, lots.

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Has all your work come from European publishers?

No. I have worked on projects from around the world. My agent has seen to that. As well as most of Europe, I’ve worked for clients in the USA, Australia, Canada, South Korea and South America.

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What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

My bicycle, hanging on the wall.

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Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I don’t usually need to make a conscious effort to because I’m usually busy. This was one of the reasons I was drawn to illustration in the first place. I knew if I was a working illustrator and I was getting regular work, the commissions would keep me busy – I wouldn’t have to risk being stricken too often with that dreaded lack of motivation so many artists can suffer from.

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Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely! Having my work on the web is like having a private art gallery in every home and office on the planet that has access to the internet.

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Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?

Photoshop.

160-82920Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

I couldn’t work without one. Working with a mouse is about the same as drawing with a bar of soap.

160-86961Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

One or two. I really need to write and illustrate a book.

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What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed the front and back cover art for a self-publishing project actually. Very imaginative. Very weird…

160-86754Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Yes: If you work digitally invest in the best and biggest display you can find. Preferably two. Don’t forget it’s your canvas. If you make your pictures on paper, remember, if you want your work to outlast you, use the best paper and media you can find.

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Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Whatever you do don’t follow fashions. Be you and keep being you.

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Thank you Sholta for sharing your journey and process with us. Please let us know all your future successes. We’d love to hear about them and cheer you on. You follow Sholta on Twitter @Sholtawalker
or visit his agency at: http://www.illustrationweb.us/artists/SholtoWalker/view

If you have a moment I am sure Sholta would like to read your comments. I enjoy reading them, too, even if I don’t always have time to reply. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, illustrating, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process, Tips Tagged: Cheltenham College of Art in Cheltenham, England, Ilustrationweb.com, Sholta Walker

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23. 5 ways to take your sketchbook ideas and turn them into finished pieces

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Last week we were spending a creative sunday discovering ways you can have fun filling the pages of your sketchbook.  No doubt by now those exact same pages are filled with the seeds of a great creative project , now all you have to do is take those initial sketchbook ideas and turn them into something creatively amazing and here’s ways following last week’s post you can do that.

1.  From a continuous fine liner doodle look at what you’ve created. Is there are character or motif on your page that you can trace on layout paper turning it into a developed illustration piece. Could you grow that initial idea; add extra aspects to it that weren’t there before and develop it into something new that might be a great addition to your portfolio.

2.  What was once a spontaneous splash on your page might now be an amazing initial illustration idea all dried up and ready for developing. You might have a series of quirky inky characters, imaginative creatures and more that you can now scan and turn into anything from a surface pattern to a series of illustrative prints.

3. Were you brave enough to rip a hole in your sketchbook page? If you were and grew a little illustration into a bigger one, growing a concept for a story or filling it with typography script, you could now scan and digitally colour your pieces turning them into a book or series of prints for an online shop.

4. If you dabbled in paper collage and created a sketched paper piece, you could take elements from your experimentation that worked and move them further in your project. So for example if a black fine line doodle contrasted better on graph paper collage, then use those elements that work along with your drawing theme of choice to develop further turning initial sketchbook ideas into a series of framed pieces maybe?

5. The last sketchbook filling idea was to find one thing where you were and sketch it in different ways, materials and perspectives on your pages to create a number of motifs. Once you’ve done this you could retrace your sketches onto tracing paper to tidy up the best designs you want to use. Then begin incorporating colour and combine shapes to make new pattern prints that could be for many different things from phone cases to notebook covers, fabric and more.

Image by artist Sarah Ahearn you can find out more about her work here.

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24. Managing Eagerness

I tell clients all the time that my job is to manage expectations. Part of working with a freelance editor is expecting to be pushed outside of your manuscript comfort zone a little bit. Most writers come to me with the thought, “I am excited by my idea but I know there are several things that aren’t working. I want to learn and grow and make it better.” Maybe that writer has gotten some early feedback from critique partners about things that need tweaking. Or they’ve already done an unsuccessful submission round with agents or editors and they didn’t get the response they expected. Or maybe their manuscript isn’t meeting their own internal expectations and they just don’t know what to do about it. Enter a second pair of eyes: an editor.

A small percentage of writers, however, and I’ve only had this experience twice in my editorial career, are so convinced of the merits of the manuscript that they’re not looking for an editor. They are looking, I’d imagine, to get on the radar of someone even tangentially connected to the industry, and get a booster to the top. Maybe they think I will recommend them personally to agents. Maybe they think I’ll start agenting again myself for the sake of scooping up a hot project. Or maybe they just want the gold star from someone who has made a career of saying, basically, “yes” or “no” to thousands of other writers.

I try very hard to generate constructive, actionable feedback. I’ve never sent a set of notes that says, “This sucks, it’s dead in the water, and you should probably stick with your day job.” One time, at a conference, I met with a writer who told me something shocking. “This,” she said, “is the first manuscript I’ve written in twenty-five years. I had a writing teacher in college tell me I was no good, and it hurt so much that I stopped writing altogether.”

This woman lost twenty-five years of her writing life. She clearly loved doing it, but because one voice (in a presumed position of authority) told her she wasn’t good enough, she gave up on her dream for a quarter of a decade (and almost all of her adult life up until that point). People perceive me as an authority, too. And so I have made it my goal to never wield that power in a way that hurts a writer.

Do I rave about every manuscript unequivocally, then? Absolutely not. Even excellent writers have some blind spots. So whether I’m helping a beginning writer cut fancy “said” synonyms out of their dialogue, or I’m helping an MFA-graduate with beautiful prose work on plot and overall sales hook, I try my best to do it with the dignity and respect that each writer and each manuscript deserves, for where they are in their individual journey.

All that said, I still run into writers who have expectations that perhaps outpace their current manuscripts. Whether those expectations are of the one-in-a-million runaway success, or their shot at being a multimedia mogul, perhaps even in the query letter, I see this happen with writers. They’ve created websites, maybe, or products, or they’ve already self-published. They have a lot to say about various awards they’ve won or endorsements they’ve gotten. There’s little talk about the manuscript, though, as if that was just an afterthought.

This sends a message to me that the writer isn’t as interested in rolling up their sleeves and working on the product itself. To me, everything but the manuscript is just noise. You can send me a t-shirt with your characters on it, or a list of testimonials from school appearances, and all that is fine and good. I’m a driven, type-A personality, too, and I have way more ideas than I have time to make them all a reality. I respect proactive people. But my only concern is the manuscript.

It’s what an agent or editor will respond to. It’s what will stand out among the noise if it’s, indeed, worthwhile. I saw excitement bubbling over for a perfectly lovely client last week, and I wrote to them: “The only way to get someone excited about your work is by presenting good work, and letting it speak for itself.” It’s easy to say but very hard to do. It’s also at the very core of what I do as an editor. Every writer has a different personality, and some are more eager than others. That’s okay. My job, however, is to help put the crucial piece of that manuscript into place, and help writers create good work so that they can then present it. It’s as simple and as difficult as that, but, man, do I love my job.

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25. Three Tricks For Showing Rather Than Telling

Three Tricks For Showing Rather Than Telling

 by Trish Wilkinson

trish20131226_D800_trishwilkinson_family_5447_trish_2x3-225x300For readers to become invested in a story, they need to “see” characters’ movement and action within a setting. Writers often hear, “Show don’t tell,” and sometimes we think, “But I did show – didn’t I? How do I fix this?”

Here are a few quick tips for showing rather than telling:

  1. Use ACTIVE VERBS rather than passive ones wherever possible.

Keep this list of passive verbs near your computer until you get in the habit of using them sparingly. (I tell my students: “If you must use passive verbs, limit them to no more than one or two on a page.”)

  • Forms of be to AVOID: is, are, was, were, be, being, and been
  • Auxiliary verbs: am, did, do, does, can, may, might, will, would, shall, should, must, has, have, had, could
  • Adjectives (describing words)
  • Adverbs (words used to modify verbs that tell us when, where, how, in what manner, or to what extent – words ending in –ly; other examples: yesterday, here, barefoot, fastest)

Telling/Passive: She was running quickly to the dilapidated shed because she needed a place to hide.

Showing/Active: She sprinted to the shed, slipped inside, and crouched under a sawhorse behind a stack of paint cans.

  1. Place your characters in a setting at the beginning of every scene, so your reader can “see” them.

Begin every scene with a few words of setting BEFORE a character shares thoughts or engages in conversation. Otherwise, fuzzy talking heads float in space until the writer gets around to putting the characters in a specific location.

Example:

I heard the T.V., so I went to the living room and found my dad on the couch rubbing his temples.

            “You got it wrong,” I said. “Someday these time-wasting doodles will make me rich.”

A quick aside: Forget all the fancy words you learned in middle school – replied, chortled, stuttered, etc. – and use SAID, which is considered the invisible dialogue tag.

  1. Write ACTION TAGS within conversations rather than dialogue tags wherever possible.

If your characters shove their hands in their pockets or tuck a curl behind an ear or move to the other side of the room, action tags can show details and movement, adding to the depth of the scene.

Example:

I heard the T.V., so I went to the living room and found my dad on the couch, rubbing his temples.

“You got it wrong.” I dropped my drawing in front of him on the coffee table. “Someday these time-wasting doodles will make me rich.”

These three things: active verbs, establishing the setting, and using action tags in dialogue, will transform your scenes from flat and fuzzy into mental motion pictures.

Trish Wilkinson is a writing coach, content and line editor. You can find her at: www.write-to-win.com

Thanks Trish for sharing your expertise with us. I am sure it will help many of the new writers who visit and also help remind the rest of us to always strive for an active voice.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, How to, Process, reference, Writing Tips Tagged: Action Tags, Active Verbs, Trish Wilkinson, Write to Win

6 Comments on Three Tricks For Showing Rather Than Telling, last added: 11/14/2014
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