Feedback on a Comic Idea

Hello all you lovely readers and writers, I’ve got an idea for a semi-regular comic strip and I’d really like some feedback.  I like doing draft covers and showing them here but my artistic history has always been in comic style and I’m wondering if I can combine writing humor with some art.

SWB1.4s

I’ve got some fun ideas for some future strips but I’d like to know if this is something that interests people before I put in too much time and effort.  Let me know what you think!

**Update: it was suggested that the format might be confusing so I changed it up to a more traditional panel layout.  I mangled it a bit but it should be good enough to get the idea across.  You can click on it to make it bigger.  Better or worse?

SWB1.6s

First person, present tense

Today I spent a couple hours going through pages on Ellen Brock’s blog, Workshop pages.  Writers each submitted a piece for critiques, separated by genre.  Originally, I planned on just peeking at one or two but quickly got sucked into the whole thing.  I ended up reading all of them and commenting on most with (hopefully) helpful feedback.

If you have some time I would highly encourage you to go check out the submissions.  It’s always fun to see what other people are doing and getting feedback is one of the most important steps for writers.  There’s some good stuff over there.

A couple of the pieces got me thinking about a subject that’s been rolling around in my head for a while.  Recently, I’ve seen a lot of writing done in the first person POV using present tense.

Here’s some examples for those that aren’t familiar with the terms:

First person, present tense: I walk into the bar and look around.

First person, past tense: I walked into the bar and looked around.

Third person, past tense: He walked into the bar and looked around.

There are plenty of other options but those three are the most common I see so I’m going to stick with those for this post.

Each option has it’s pros and cons.  I’ve seen it argued that first person, present tense (FPPT for simplicity) is more immediate and gripping than the others.  And in some cases it probably is.  The Hunger Games is a good example, I really enjoyed those books.

However, in my opinion, FPPT seems to have more risk than other variations.  It’s easy to use it poorly, if that makes sense.  And when it isn’t done really well it can be choppy and awkward, like a character narrating their own life.  Who does that?

‘I walk into a bar and look around.  I don’t see anyone I recognize.  There’s a faint smell of stale beer and urine.  I find a seat at the counter and motion to the bar tender.’

It’s almost robotic at times.

I mean, it’s okay, but does it work as well as other options?  Most recent FPPT stories I’ve read might have been better as third person, past tense.  Being inside a character’s head can give you a really in depth perspective but it can also be really limiting.  To describe people, scenes, and details well enough to move the story, and keeping that authentic voice, is not as easy as it seems.  Whereas, taking a step back, third person, past tense gives the writer more wiggle room, with the con of being further removed from the specific character.

‘Eric walked into the bar and looked around.  The big red-head didn’t see anyone he recognized.  There was a faint smell of stale beer and urine.  He found a seat at the counter and motioned to the bar tender.’

Again, this is all personal opinion, but I’m a big fan of third person, past tense.  To me, it’s more ‘invisible’ to the reader and flows better.  I’m sure other people think the opposite, otherwise I wouldn’t be seeing it so often.  And maybe for some projects one makes more sense than the other, but either way it’s something that should be a conscious decision by the writer on a piece to piece basis.

Choices, choices

This morning I asked for some feedback about a cover I’d been playing with.  I had some time today so I made up a second one.  I’m not sure if I like it better or not.  Huh.  So, I figured I’d put them up side by side and see if anyone has a preference, or different ideas I could try.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2             The apocalypse gazette 4.2

I think the reason I’m having trouble with these is that it’s like the camera is zoomed back too far, there’s too much to look at, not enough focus.  They’ll be even worse when shrunk down to thumbnail size.  Probably the simplest thing to do would just have the cover be the front page of the paper but that almost seems like a cop out.  So, feedback or ideas would be awesome.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2The apocalypse gazette 4.2

Something simple that sizes down well would probably be better.  Something like this, that is far less interesting -or complex.

cover_sepai_3

Even more choices.

Cover Advice

Those of you that have been reading for a bit know how much fun I have coming up with covers.  Yesterday, I spent about eight hours coming up with something for my next project (I’m thinking ahead to Camp NaNo in July).  I had a lot of fun but I’m not satisfied with the result.  I showed it to a friend and she liked it a lot but there’s something off about it.  I think it might be too busy, not focused enough, but I’m not sure if that’s what’s bugging me.

A quick plot summary: A young man survives a myriad of apocalyptic situations and finds himself the sole survivor in a remote small town.  He soon starts going a little crazy and decides to write an Onion-style, end of the world newspaper call The Apocalypse Gazette.  It will hopefully be a funny story.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2It’s a fairly simple premise that shouldn’t be too difficult to get across.  My idea for the above image was a guy selling papers in an empty, post-apocalyptic town… but if you don’t already know that’s what the story’s about, I don’t think that’s obvious from the image.  I like it, I wouldn’t have spent eight hours on it otherwise, but I’m not sure if it works.  Maybe it doesn’t need to change, maybe it’s amusing enough to make people curious and click… or maybe I need to start over again.  I’m not sure.

So, I’m putting it to all of you.  What do you think?  Is it good enough as is (for now anyway)?  If not, should I start over or is there something that could be done to improve it?  Any feedback would be appreciated.

Trying out this Wattpad thing

When I first started this blog I was looking for ways to network with other writers.  One of the sites that was recommended to me was Wattpad.  I checked it out but the possibilities of the site didn’t immediately occur to me.  Why publish work for free if you’re trying to make any money being a writer?

A couple months ago I decided to take another look at the site.  This time, I saw things a little differently.

First, it seems like an interesting way to get readers to take a look at your work.  You can post a few short stories, or sample chapters, the first part of a series, whatever you want to try and get your name out there.  The more people who see your work, the more will check out your books, hopefully.  It makes more sense than most social media to me because readers would actually see your work and, if it’s good enough, they’ll be encouraged to visit your blog or buy your books because they have some idea what they’re getting into.

Second, it occurred to me that I had a story that would be perfect for Wattpad.  It was an experimental piece, something I wasn’t sure anyone would have any interest in reading.  The story is only maybe a third of the way done and I wasn’t sure whether to work on it or move on to something I had more confidence in.  That’s where Wattpad comes in.  If I put it up and people like it, then I will invest more time and energy into it.  If people hate it then I haven’t risked much, have I?  I’m letting the readers decide early on rather than investing hundreds of hours into something that they might hate.

So, I’m experimenting.  I put up the first couple chapters, we’ll see how it goes.

If you’re curious, you can check it out.  I posted it under a pen name I’ve been developing for experimentation with these kinds of things.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/34847967-the-lake-diary

Author Interview Posts: Quick Advice

In my WordPress reader it’s extremely common to see at least half a dozen author interviews a day.  Every day.  It’s also extremely common for me to scroll right past them and onto something else.  With so many interviews it takes something special to stand out and make me click the link.

And you know what the biggest factor is for me?  The photo of the author.

That might sound superficial but that’s the world we live in these days.  There are thousands of new books published each day, thousands of new authors and every one of them is fighting for the same number of eyes.  That’s a lot of noise.  With so much selection your work and you have to stand out.

As much as many of us don’t like it, if we’re going to market our work we also have to market ourselves.   If your images don’t catch a reader’s eye, you’re going to have a very hard time gaining any interest.  We have to have the complete package: a professional cover, photos, and website.  You have to have it all, if you miss one of those aspects it could be a weak link that leads to lost sales.

What blows me away is how many authors shell out money from their meager budget for a good cover illustrator and then post unprofessional photos of themselves.

author pic 1

(I’m an author, you should read my interview and buy my book.)

If you represent yourself in an unprofessional manner I assume that will be reflected in your writing.

These authors take the time, energy, and effort to put themselves out there by doing author interviews and blog tours yet are hampering themselves by not having an impressive, eye catching photo.  It’s not about whether you look attractive or not (though attractive helps, unfortunately), it’s about quality.  Every day I see photos that are too small, too big, too candid, blurry, low resolution, a selfie, taken with a webcam, wearing jeans and t-shirts… the list of mistakes is almost endless and I see them over and over again.  Every single day.  You don’t have to shell out big bucks for professional or studio photos, they just need to look professional.

I probably skip 9 out of 10 author interviews specifically because of the photo.

Don’t make that mistake, have the complete package.  Stand out from the crowd in the right ways.

Bad words in fiction

On a recent bout with WriteClubFightClub a comment was left about how a good story doesn’t need profanity.  My story used two swear words, the s-word (once) and the f-word (twice), probably the reason why someone chose “neither” instead of voting for a story.

I was really tempted to write a response justifying my language but I decided that would be a bad idea.  Everyone has an opinion and that reader was simply mentioning theirs.  I don’t necessarily agree but that’s just my opinion.

I could probably find a list of the classic novels that include some form of profanity but honestly that wouldn’t change anyone’s mind or even necessarily make my point.  To me, swear words are just words, which means there’s a use for them just like any other word.  Also, just like any other word, they can be overused or misused.  I either use them or avoid them depending on the type of writing I’m doing and the potential audience.

In my story, Closing Time, the main character is a nurse who is at the end of a long, arduous, 16-hour day.  I wanted her to come across as worn, annoyed, exhausted, even petty at times.  She’d been in the trenches, probably been covered in blood and other bodily fluids all day, dealing with “emergencies” around every corner, at the end of her proverbial rope when she’s given just one more little job.  To me, the occasional swear word was appropriate for her.  I could have easily left those three swear words out but I thought they were more authentic than softer alternatives and I liked that edge they gave her voice.  They weren’t used that often either, there were three swear words in five pages of text, just enough to add a little spice without being overwhelming.

But, of course, that’s a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs.

So, speaking of opinions, I would love to get some more on swear words, or specifically on the word choice for Closing Time.  Were the “bad” words overused, misused, do they distract from the story?  Were they acceptable but it could have been better without them?  Good, bad, something in between?  I would really appreciate honest feedback.  Follow the links, let me know what you think, good or bad.

Interesting conversation with my Mom

I haven’t been good at posting over the last two months, as I’m sure happens with everyone life tends to get in the way, especially over the holidays.  Hiccups and roller coasters, it’s life.

Anyway, this morning I got a text from my mother.  It was a picture of her kindle, blown up far enough that I could read the text.

At first I was confused, what was she showing me?  I read the page and was amazed at how poor the writing was.  It was grammatically correct but stylistically a mess.

“He walked to the table.  He picked up the items, a book and two bowls.  He placed them on the counter.  He picked up a rag and wiped off the table top.  He took a yard of butcher paper off the role in the corner and gently placed it on the table.”

At first I thought the author was using this style deliberately but it just kept going.  Almost every sentence on the page started with “He”, it was really difficult to read more than a paragraph.

Then my mom sent a second text.  She explained that this was a book that a friend of hers had just put out and she suspected it was “self published”.  She’d wanted to support him, paid four dollars for her copy and wasn’t very happy with the quality.  I couldn’t blame her.  I’m certainly not an expert writer, or without my own issues, but I felt like I could have done a better editing job than whoever he hired, if he hired anyone.

Now, I could go on about how these kinds of books tend to give self published authors a bad name but we’ve all heard that before and, honestly, whether his book sells doesn’t really matter to me.  He wrote it, he was happy with it, and he published it.  Good for him.

What I can take away from this situation is that I don’t want anything I publish to turn off readers like that.  Is she going to be excited to buy his next book?  I doubt it.  I told my mom that that’s exactly why I’m not rushing to publish anything, I never want someone to pay good money and come away feeling like it wasn’t worth it.

Writing Group Blues

I just got home from one of the writing groups I’ve joined.  A couple are based around getting together and just writing, this is the only one that is based on critiquing.

Now, I take critiquing very seriously.  When I was in school I was very fortunate to have a series of really good english and creative writing teachers.  They really pushed me to become a better writer, and almost more importantly to be better at giving and receiving constructive criticism.  There’s almost an art to being able to read through someone’s writing, good or bad, and providing an opinion and suggestions.

When I’m doing a critique I’m reading really slowly, carefully, making notes along the way.  I always come up with a few good points and a few suggestions.  Even if I really like the piece, I always try to come up with at least a couple suggestions.  Whether the writer uses them or not doesn’t matter, it’s about giving them a different perspective.  We have to push each other if we’re going to improve.

Today, I handed out the first five pages of my NaNo project.  It’s rough, I haven’t even given it a second look since writing it I told them all that as a disclaimer.  I sat back and waited for the list of issues to roll in.

Their response, “It’s good.”

I asked if the descriptions were too heaver or too light.  “No, they’re good.”

I asked if it flowed well.  “Flow is good.”

I asked them for any suggestions.  I got one, the transition from the first chapter to the second could be a little better.

That’s it.

Now, I know I’ve improved as a writer but there’s no way I’m that “good”.  No, I think it says a lot more about the quality of the criticism than about the quality of the writing.  That’s disappointing.