06 March 2015

Flashback Friday: Watercolour

Yes, sorry, it's another elf, and this time I pretty much re-drew it directly from a page of ElfQuest (I didn't trace, it though, but re-drew it freehand). What's significant about this picture, though (at least for me, is that it's one of the earliest examples I have of the pen & ink with watercolour combination I still use.


I obviously hadn't really got the hang of shading yet, except in a tentative way with the linework, but I can see the beginnings of more developed work than I had been doing. This is also the first piece of mine that my junior high art teacher thought was good enough to put in the display case outside the school office.

04 March 2015

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Character Opinion

Note: This exercise was originally written for About's (now defunct) Creative Writing for Teens website. Although it was aimed at teens wanting to get better at writing, I hope it will be useful for all writers.

Character Opinion: A Character Development Exercise

Instructions: If all your characters think exactly the same way you do, then they're not very well-rounded. Characters should appear to the reader to be real people, with their own histories, thoughts and opinions. In this exercise, we'll explore characters through their opinions of current events.

1. Choose a current event about which you have a strong opinion, or about which you've spent a lot of thinking.

2. Choose one of your characters. You might find it easiest to first do this exercise with a character whose opinion is very like your own, or with one whose opinion is very different. Or start with the character you know best.

3. Write a monologue or essay from that character's point of view, about your chosen current event. Write for as long as it takes for your character to express their opinion. Remember to write as if you were that character, or as if they were writing through you.

If they would be very straightforward about stating their thoughts, then be straightforward. If they would try to hide their real opinions, then do that. Let the character's voice take over.

4. Set what you've written aside for a few days (or longer, if you want). Read over it later. You should learn some interesting things about your character, which you may be able to use in a story.

5. Repeat the exercise as often as you like, with other characters. You could write one character each evening for a week, say, then read over them all when you've finished.

Notes: Even if your characters are in a fantasy world of your own construction, they can still have opinions on "real world" events. Write as if these characters were able to see into the real world--you can try pretending that our world is a television show, or play, or series of novels in their world, if you have trouble imagining them as aware of the real world as well as their own. In fact, you can even try this exercise if you are using real-life historical characters by imagining what they would have thought of life today.

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27 February 2015

Flashback Friday: And Again...

Yes, another elf. By the time I drew this one, I was starting to do less copying and more trying to draw based on how I remembered faces/bodies/things fitting together. And I was getting a bit better at using colour. This is probably still junior-high era work. For some reason I seem to have more of that to hand than of high school or early university stuff.


There is still a lot of ElfQuest influence--as there probably will be for the rest of my life. Which reminds me, I think it's time I re-read the whole series and got caught up on the new books...

25 February 2015

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Creating Aliens and Fantastic Beings

Note: This exercise was originally written for About's (now defunct) Creative Writing for Teens website. Although it was aimed at teens wanting to get better at writing, I hope it will be useful for all writers.

Creating Aliens and Fantastic Beings: A Creature/Worldbuilding Exercise

Instructions: Try to do the entire exercise in one sitting. You may find this helps your thought processes or you may find it overwhelming; if the latter, take breaks between numbered sections, but don't let too much time pass before going on to the next. There are notes at the end that may help you better understand the focus and point of the exercise.

1. Write an essay about your alien/creature as if it really did exist. Make it the point of the essay to describe the being to someone who has perhaps heard of it, but does not know what it is. Hint: analogy is useful for description and perhaps also for some of the "how it works" stuff. Don't go into too much detail -- just enough to let the reader get a decent idea of the creature.

2. Make notes as if you were a scientist studying the creature. Point-form scientific observations on biology, habits, culture and so on work well. These are notes you are making for yourself -- other people don't need to comprehend them, but make sure you will later. Sketches and diagrams may be useful. Begin by ordering things logically or by category (physiology, appearance, etc.), but don't be too strict. New ideas will come to you later; just add them at the end.

3. Think about how this creature might fit into a story. Jot down some plot ideas. Is it a creature that will be discovered during the novel/story? Is it already an integral part of the setting that is well-known to your characters? Will your being be a main character? A secondary character? Just part of the scenery? Answering these questions will help you decide how detailed you must be in your creation.

4. Write down some thoughts/notes/descriptions on how this creature may have evolved (or been created). This can be just as useful for fantasy creatures as for science fictional aliens. How does the being interact with its environment today?

5. If the creature will play any kind of significant role in your story/novel, try writing a first-person passage -- perhaps a full scene (not necessarily one that will appear in the finished story/novel) -- from the point of view of a member of that species. Get inside your alien's head, see how it thinks as an individual, how its species thinks, how its perceptions differ from human ones and also how they are the same. Try to keep writing in character for a few pages.

Notes: One thing this exercise should do is get you thinking about your alien/creature in context rather than in isolation. Creatures exist in environments and co-exist with other creatures. So should yours. Different creatures think and act and live in different ways. Explore this and see how what you discover can affect your thinking about plot, setting and other characters.

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20 February 2015

Flashback Friday: You Guessed It

Um, yes, it's another elf. Also very Elfquest-influenced, right down to the character's name. I'm not sure why I thought a lavender leather bikini would be good forest wear, though.


Pencil and pencil crayon, probably from sometime in the ... mid to late 80s, maybe.

11 February 2015

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Big Idea

Note: This exercise was originally written for About's (now defunct) Creative Writing for Teens website. Although it was aimed at teens wanting to get better at writing, I hope it will be useful for all writers.

The Big Idea: An Exercise in What It’s All About 

Instructions: This is a fairly straightforward exercise, but one which requires much thought. You can do the whole thing in one sitting, but it might be better to work on it a little at a time. If you get inspired, keep going; if you need to stop and think, then take a break. You may even find that you have better results letting this stretch out over several days. Figure out as you go along what will work best. This exercise works best for novels, but it is possible to use it for short stories as well. Try it and see what happens. See the notes for an alternate way to use this exercise.

1. Assume you have decided "I want to write a novel," but you don't yet know what your novel is going to be about. Think about some of the ideas and problems that intrigue you and make a list, summarizing each idea in a sentence or two.

2. Take your favourites from the list and think about how each one could play out in a novel. You don't need to know all the details, just the overall idea, the big picture. What you are trying to get at is the essence of what the story is about, plus a few things that make your story unique. Make some notes, if you find it helps organize your thoughts.

3. Take the one idea that seems to have the most promise (though you can certainly do this exercise with as many of your ideas as you like) and write a one-paragraph description of the essence of the story. This may, as yet, be a bit vague about what will actually happen in the story.

For example (this is from my own work):
In a semi-nomadic barrenlands culture that accepts a magical landscape and ancient shapechanging beings as natural, if rare, a young woman strives to discover herself and her place in life. She loves the traditional culture of her people, but at the same time she chafes at its restraints. As she struggles for the freedom to be whoever she decides she must be, she also learns about duty -- to her family, her friends, her people and her land -- and about how she can balance that duty with her personal freedom. 

4. Expand this idea further, perhaps using your paragraph from #3 as an introductory paragraph. Incorporate more plot and character elements so someone reading your description would get some idea about whether or not they would want to read your novel. If you've come up with a title by now, use it. If you haven't got a title, it's a good idea to come up with a temporary or working title, in order to have something to call the novel. Remember that writing things down doesn't mean you have to do them, so if you haven't got things quite right, don't worry. You can always change things later.

For example:
In a semi-nomadic barrenlands culture that accepts a magical landscape and ancient shapechanging beings as natural, if rare, a young woman strives to discover herself and her place in life. She loves the traditional culture of her people, but at the same time she chafes at its restraints. As she struggles for the freedom to be whoever she decides she must be, she also learns about duty -- to her family, her friends, her people and her land -- and about how she can balance that duty with her personal freedom.  
White Foxes, Full Moon is the story of Maring Darkberry, one of the reindeer-herding people of the barrens. One night Maring, her brother Seri, and her friend Del spy on a group of Folk, ancient shapechanging beings. Both Maring and Seri also have a small amount of magic -- Seri can take the shape of a reindeer whenever he wishes, while Maring's shapechanging ability is confined to the three days of the full moon. Seri surrenders to the call of the Folk's magic and is stolen away. Now Maring and Del must find a way to get him back without violating the tenuous peace between the Herders and the Folk.  
In the process of rescuing Seri, Maring gains the gift of another shape from the Folk -- the shape of a red fox that she can take whenever she wishes by putting on a red fox skin. This gift gives her a freedom she has longed for, but, like many gifts from the Folk, it also carries a curse. The skin must be worn on a certain number of days in every month or the Folk will take Seri back again. Maring has gained freedom from the cycles of the moon, but she also has an added duty -- to her brother, that he may keep his freedom, and to her people, that they may continue to have peace with the Folk. In the end, Maring will learn who she is, what she wants, and where she fits in. 

5. Now you've got a good basic direction for a novel. If you're happy with what you've come up with, go ahead and write the whole thing. If it isn't something you really want to work on, set it aside and try again, or edit it further. Chances are, many of the details will change as you write the novel based on your "Big Idea," but the core thing that it is about will probably stay much the same (though you may find even that changes by the end). I'm currently half-way through the novel summarized in #3 and #4, and the plot has expanded twice -- the second time by about ten chapters worth of material -- but the Big Idea is still pretty much the same.

Notes: This exercise was based on one I did in a third-year university writing workshop with instructor Peter Such. It's intended to get you thinking about stories and the kinds of things you might want to write about, but it is possible to do the exercise in reverse. In that case, you'd take a novel already written and write a paragraph about it. Take the essential characteristics and plot elements and perhaps some of the thematic elements to write your summary. This is the kind of thing you might come up with if you had to answer the question "What is this novel about?" Try this with novels by other authors to see how well (or not) a story can be described in a short blurb. Genre stories tend to be easier to summarize.

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04 February 2015

Wednesday Writing Exercise: 5 Senses

Note: This exercise was originally written for About's (now defunct) Creative Writing for Teens website. Although it was aimed at teens wanting to get better at writing, I hope it will be useful for all writers.

Writing the 5 Senses: A Description Exercise

Instructions: Writers, especially those with less experience, often concentrate on visual detail when writing descriptions. The following exercise is cumulative, adding a new kind of sensory detail with each step.

1. Write a paragraph or so describing a place (either one you know well, or one you've made up). Use only visual details. In other words, describe only what a person would see if they went to that place. Include enough information for a reader to be able to visualize the setting.

2. Rewrite or revise your description from step 1, inserting details of sound. You should end up with a description that allows a reader to both visualize the setting, and imagine what it sounds like there.

3. Rewrite or revise your description from step 2, inserting details of smell. Consider what the objects in the setting might smell like, as well as the air in general. Your result should be a passage allowing a reader to visualize the setting, and imagine the sounds and smells there.

4. Rewrite or revise your description from step 3, inserting details of taste. This can be as simple as the taste of the air in an open mouth, or as complex as your narrator sitting down to a feast. Aim for a piece that allows the reader to imagine the place in terms of visual detail, plus sound, smell and taste.

5. Rewrite or revise your description from step 4, inserting details of touch. These can include what things actually feel like to the touch (in which case you'll need to add in some action to allow your narrator to touch things), what things look like they'd feel like, and other details such as the feeling of a breeze on the skin. Remember that touch can include sensations like temperature, texture, pressure and more. Give your reader some sense of what it is like to be physically present in that setting in addition to the visual, sound, smell and taste details.

6. When you've finished step 5, you'll probably have much more detail that you'd ever need in a descriptive passage. Set aside your description for a moment and decide what you want to convey. Is your piece intended to set a mood? To give a deep sense of place? To serve merely as a background? Assume, for now, that you are trying to build a sense of place that will make your setting really come alive for the reader. Make a list of all the essential details of that place, the things that make it unique--that place rather than any place. Add to your list the details that give flavour to the place, even if they don't make it completely unique; and add those details that you just really like, for whatever reason.

7. Go back to your description from step 5 and use your list of important details from step 6 to edit your passage. Concentrate on using the right details and removing the ones that don't really matter.

Notes: The aim of this exercise is to remind you that you have five senses you can use in your descriptive passages. If you're not making use of them all (or at least most of them), then you're neglecting a potentially useful tool. Try this exercise every now and then as a reminder, and do it with different settings. The detail you decide to keep in step 7 will likely be different for different settings, or even for the same setting when you're trying to create a different mood. Play around in step 7 and see how changing the details you keep or cut changes the whole feel of the piece.

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