I've borrowed the title of this article from Natalie Goldberg - a great writing guru from the 70s and 80s with much of use to say to writers. If you find her books in secondhand stores or garage sales, grab them with both fists - they're a treasure.
I mention the title above because it provides a trigger for some writing advice I want to give you. Let me start at the beginning...
You may remember that I've been trying my hand at drawing a graphic novel for kids recently - and reading around the subject. One of the 'mentors' I found to study was Steve Lieber - a great comic book artist famous for his work on Batman, Superman, Buffy, Star Trek and Oscar winning The Road to Perdition.
I liked Steve's take on characterization and plotting. He said that the reason why Hollywood - and by inference the public - loves comic book stories is that the characters are so well drawn - not as in pencil drawn so much as in drawn as distinctive, individual - and easily recognizable 'types' - so early on in the story telling process.
He says that the artist has to do this for the sake of the reader. Simply because if the characters all look the same, the comic reader will get confused over who is who!
I think the same is true for writers of any kind of fiction, screenplays or whatever. You need to clearly define your characters so that the reader can identify who is who (and why you should care) quickly.
Plus, Steve says, when illustrating a plot, you need to amplify certain moments to make sure the reader gets the emotional beats of the story. Literally, in pictures, you make the graphics more expressive and give them more space.
The same I think is true for writing fiction - you need to pull your reader into the emotional beats and make sure they're impressive enough to be effective and memorable.
Lieber also suggests that you use an 'action line' when drawing people. This is a drawn line from the feet of the character to the middle of the head. It should expressive enough to suggest dynamic movement before you begin drawing the person.
I think this acts as a great metaphor in a story telling sense too.
Before you go about describing a character, you need to have in your mind the 'action line' - that is the motivation and the agenda of the character. This is reminiscent of the 'show don't tell' aspect of writing.
Characters are more effective when you show them in action - acting or reacting - than when they are merely described in some static, read distant, way.
Some degree of pre-visualization is always a good idea when you're writing. The author has to be able to see the things she is describing before effectively committing what she sees to words.
Indeed, it's clear in more amateur writing that the author often does not fully 'see' what she is describing - or at least does not express her vision with total veracity. And when that happens, readers feel dissatisfied with the writing without knowing why...
Better to see the story with crystal clarity in your mind - and merely describe what you see. And when you write, lose touch with reality and be fully present in the scene, was Natalie Goldberg's best advice.
Don't just write because it's nice to see words on the page.
Thoroughly immerse yourself in the imaginary world you're describing. See the locations. Be the characters. Know them intimately and know their actions, reactions, foibles, hangups etc in detail as you experience them. Feel the tension in the air. Live the moment.
Writing is not about the words. It's about what the words can convey.
Similarly, comics and movies are not just about pretty - or indeed ugly - pictures. They're about the emotional impact on the viewer.
Writing is the same.
When you move a reader to experience an emotion - or at least a reaction, whether that is pleasure, revulsion, anticipation, enlightenment, satisfaction, whatever, then you move away from being a mere writer into the nebulous world of authorship.
In any art form, craftsmanship comes first. (Or should that be craftspersonship nowadays?)
Knowing your craft is about using your tools effectively.
When drawing, you need to know about shape and form, light and dark before you can create recognizable objects and people.
The same is true of writing. You need to study words, grammar, punctuation - the shape and form of words. You need to perfect your writing style - the light and dark of communicating ideas, before you can truly express what you want to say.
'The Bones' that Natalie refers to are the bits the reader doesn't see - and shouldn't see. Just like you usually don't see the preparatory marks an artist makes when constructing a drawing.
But without those marks, the bones, the person won't look real.
To summarize and conclude, the characters won't come alive in your story unless you know them, and draw them, from the inside out.
I hope this little analogy helps you.
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.”