Writers are Artists, Too

A few years ago — five years ago now, I guess — I was very active on the deviantART website.

If you don’t know — and why would you, really, unless you’re an artist? — deviantART is MySpace or Facebook for artists. It provides a community and showplace for artists to display their work and, if they get lucky enough, receive feedback on their displays. Comments, however, can’t be moderated or controlled — anyone can say anything they’d like, not only to the artist, but to any commentator as well. (This is an issue, in my opinion, and something dA needs to look at modifying.)

Now, dA allows almost anything to be posted as "art" — things which could be considered masterpieces, or at least the work of modern masters — to borderline pornography, to children’s drawings (or worse) can all be uploaded. The medium isn’t very limited either. Raw Photoshop files can’t be uploaded, but they can when converted to PNG or JPG images. SWF files can be uploaded, too, and so can film clips (!) and short films in various movie formats. It’s wide open.

Among the many visual art pieces out there, of course, are photography and photo-manipulation pieces. Paintings done traditionally can be photographed and uploaded, or pieces created digitally can be converted and uploaded. And writers have their own creations there too.

There’s no problem with providing artists a way to get their stuff seen. But until recently, writers were treated as second class citizens in the art community.

I wrote about this extensively before. I don’t remember whether here or elsewhere, but for the most part, attention isn’t evenly divided among artists on art communities. The priority seemed to be hand-created artwork (whether traditional or digital), then photography and photo manipulations, and then any other visual art remaining. When all is said and done, writing and literature is at the bottom of the list.

Before I stopped actively posting on deviantART, things were being done to help level the playing field, but honestly, not much inroad has been made in that regard. For one thing, a lot of writing is ignored on art sites because people go there for…well, artwork. The problem lies, in my humble opinion, with the definition of "art" as a base.

Words are the most abstract form of art there is. Think about it. If I write the word "hand", your mind can visualize an actual hand. But that’s because you’ve been taught to associate that particular word with that particular object. It took training, practice, and a lot of positive encouragement for you to learn the letters H-A-N-D mean the five-digit appendage at the end of your arm. But the letters H-A-N-D don’t look anything like the thing they describe, and therefore, it’s not considered "art" — despite the fact it’s a series of lines which describe an object. Just like a drawing would, or a painting would, or a series of pixels might.

The art of language is so abstract, it might take several thousand words to describe what a single drawing, painting or photograph might render. It is, to borrow an analogy from the immortal Mr. Spock, akin to building sophisticated electronics with stone knives and bear skins. Yet, when the discussion of artists comes up, the writer is left out in general. Oh, great writers are discussed with similar tones, but honestly, they’re not often considered in discussions of art.

I suspect this is due to "art" being defined as visual creations of a less abstract nature. In general, we admire most images which closely represent the objects of which they are representative. That is, in Homer Simpson speak, things which "look like the things they look like." The more true the image is to the object it represents, the more we (typically) like it. But, even more abstract "visual art" — you know, paint blotches and swooshes all over a canvas and hung in the MOM in most major cities — finds more favor than the abstraction of words.

Literature, as a result, is classified on it’s own, separately from visual media.

Should it be?

Your voice matters to me. Tell me what YOU think.

-jdt-

Breakthroughs

Well. I haven’t written a line – not a single word – since my last blog post. This represents the first bit of writing I’ve done since then. I’ll try to provide some updates on what I’ve been doing.

Work

The move is done. DONE. And, everything works. There was a single macro which needed to be updated. I guess I didn’t crawl through it far enough, but there, down in the code lines near the bottom, I found references to our old IP address for the server. Changed them in a single, simple maneuver, and re-ran the macros. They’re fine. Just fine.

Next came the website. It’s fine. Now I have to go about updating the heck out of it. On that front, I’ve also made progress.

Programming

I started a new module from the video series my boss paid for. As you may recall, I paid for one set of programming video training, and my boss paid for another. When I first started taking them, I learned a lot, but didn’t feel I was “getting” it. I was worried the value from those videos wouldn’t be there and the money was wasted.

But.

Today – actually, last night as you read this – I launched a new module which spoke about the exact problem I’ve been wrestling with for more than five months.

I can’t tell you how my jaw hit my chest. I can’t tell you how stunned I was. I sat in stupor for something like ten minutes watching as the exact problem I’ve been wrestling with got point-by-point deconstruction and walk-through. I almost fainted with relief.

The first thing I did was give thanks to God, and glory to His name. The second thing I did was eat dinner. The third thing I did was watch the video again and take a second set of notes on it. I’m likely going to do that again – and even again if necessary – until I feel I can implement that solution on the problem which has plagued me, vexed me, taunted me since May. Now, I’m going to end this. I have the tools. I just need to gain the skill in using them.

I will win. And I am so glad.

Writing

While I’ve not written anything, I have done a lot of reading about writing. (Which just seems strange, doesn’t it?) I have a new favorite book on craft, which shows so much about subtext, structure, how to construct scenes, build subplots… good, good stuff all over. Fantastic.

I’ll be sharing some of what I learn over on my fiction blog, but for now, I want to continue to absorb and learn. For the first time in my life, I felt the need to take notes and highlight in a book on writing craft. I’ve learned that much.

I also learned a new method of outlining, using what’s called the step outline. It’s amazing and while I’m not much of a non-digital guy, I believe this is the method for me. I’ll be describing it in some depth as I struggle to get the hang of it.

I’m ready for a weekend. How ‘bout you?

See ya on the other side.

-jdt-

Bad Advice for Writers

question-markI have a book on my tablet which is all about how to write the opening of your novel or story. The goal, of course, is to produce a hook which draws the reader in and gets them excited about your story right away.

It’s good advice. Except…it’s not.

See, the problem with a great hook is, you have to somehow follow that up with lots of other great hooks. You need a hook to get them into the story, then another to get them to the next act, and you need a great story question which is brought on by the inciting incident and/or first plot point, and you have to have a great hook halfway through the second act’s first half to hurl the reader on to the midpoint, which has to have a great hook to keep them going to the next hook…

One problem with advice like this is, in my not-so-expert view, that it causes writers to focus on a single aspect of their work. The author starts by decrying calling one’s manuscript a “piece” because the body of the work is a whole, not sections…and then proceeds to try and teach (as the writer has taught myriad students, so the claim states) writers to perfect…what?

The opening of the story, novel, book, story. A piece of it. Ironic, no? Of course, the author makes this point in the book, but the point is the same. The idea of focusing so intently on a single aspect of the story is a disastrous one, in my opinion. So many writers are still clawing like mewling piglets for the teat of the great Industry of Publishing and to lick the boots of the gatekeepers, this book finds broad audience still, even in our age of digital publishing and elimination of Gatekeepers and the Great Industry.

And that’s the second thing wrong with advice like this. It’s directed dead-on at the legacy publishing industry and their archaic “guidelines” and “rules” which, if you’ve paid any attention to the industry in the last 60 years, are completely subjective, capricious, arbitrary, and changing all the time. Just not as fast as the screw-job contracts they continue to trot out.

But for me, the same effort must go into each of the sections of the book, not just the opening. Yes, the opening is critical. The reader is going to stick with or toss aside the book based on what they initially see (provided, of course, you’ve enticed them to buy the thing in the first place with your description, cover, price point, and sample – which includes the beginning). The first few paragraphs or pages are critical. They can make or break the deal, I’m sure.

But the fact remains, if you write an outstanding opening, and the reader is hooked and buys the book, they will  discard it if the rest of the writing isn’t up to snuff. I’ve tossed aside physical and digital books because of lousy writing well into the work. I’m not unique. The problem of poor writing can’t – and I think shouldn’t – be masked by a great opening. If anything, that’s an even bigger betrayal of the reader’s trust.

But I am but one man with an opinion. What’s yours?

-jdt-

Lazy Days

My vacation is slipping through my fingers and part of me just doesn’t care. Isn’t that what vacations are for?

I’ve not written much. I posted something to my fiction blog as an entry to the weekly Tuesday Serial Twitter feed collector. No comments on it, and it was very short. I have the second part written and ready for next Tuesday (I might have to post on Monday night if they’ll let me). But the gag is, I wrote those a while back.

I lamented not feeling the urge, the need, to work on my current book. It feels…dead. Like I ran out of steam. An acquaintance I’ve known online for a while keeps trying to tell me it’s a structural problem. If I just put the structure in place, he keeps telling me, writing will be fun again! Yeah, thanks. He doesn’t know me very well, and we only keep the slightest contact through Facebook so he’s unaware of how I’ve been spending my time since 2009. He means well anyway.

Fact is, I’m not sure what’s wrong, honestly. My beloved suggested I’ve possibly lost interest in the characters. Could be. Or maybe it is a structural problem.

(Aside: My online acquaintance later adjusted and said “theme”, which is NOT structure, but a different core element of what Larry Brooks calls “the Six Core Competencies of Writing”: Concept, Character, Theme, Structure, Scene Execution, and Voice. Since my online bud is hammering about this, I’m guessing he’s recently discovered Mr. Brooks’s website, or has recently gotten some formal instruction on writing and how important structure is to good storytelling. But that’s just a guess – maybe he always knew.)

Regardless of what the problem is, it’s there and it’s stopping me from doing work in my WIP, and that’s becoming annoying. I had high fantasies of adding tens of thousands of words to it, but it seems I can’t get away from Angry Birds long enough to care to do it.

(Another aside: Holy CRAP, what a time suck Angry Birds is!)

instead, I while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain. Meanwhile my head is scratching while my thoughts are hatching, and none of them are about my current WIP. Or any other story, for that matter.

If I only had a brain. 😉

-JDT-