The colour for writing

Books. Books need those classic creamy white pages, with dark text and maybe embellishments of colour here and there. I have plenty of plans for my page layouts, including the delightful little swirls and highlights I would love to see. The reading experience will not be infringed upon, but the page itself should be considered through the eyes of an artist. Some of my favourite books contain unique designs, often around the page number, or across the chapter name.

I’ve been hunting down some new blogs to read*, and it occurred to me with shocking suddenness: I hadn’t been paying any attention to the colours most people are using. I only realised this when one of the blogs had a header with the same colour scheme as my own blog, and I consciously acknowledged that it caught my eye and made me loiter at the page longer than usual. I admit, I sometimes have a very short attention span.

So I cycled through my most-read blogs. White, white, white, white. Some of them have a coloured background, which displays as a tidy little border around the large, white text table. Most have a coloured header, or a nice, full header image, but the main content is black and white.

There’s nothing wrong with that! Goodness knows, it made no difference until I was intentionally looking for it. There are the small selection of blogs I read which have other colour themes. Black, red, purple and grey feature predominantly, though that just shows the kinds of people I hang out with – we’re a grim, brooding and dark kind of bunch, often enough. Horror and dark fantasy, eh?

When I decided I was going to actually write a blog, and be serious about it, I spent a very long time finding a layout I was happy with. This was to become my online “home”, one which reflected upon me personally. The green tones, and the gear-like, yet nature-inspired designs on my current layout are kind of perfect. A melding of ideas, something graceful without being overly feminine, compact, subtly textured, with a left-oriented side bar (which I have always preferred), plus the Theme is named “Thirteen”, and I kind of like that.

*If you have a favourite read, please recommend the blog to me!

~A

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Family influences

Something I came across recently had the opinion that people get a lot of their passions in life from family influences. For instance, if you attend sports games as a child with a parent, you will associate fond memories and excitement with that sport. The love for that game is passed down to the next generation, and then when that person has children, they will repeat the process: take the kids to the ballgame, because they have great memories, and they want to share those experiences with their own offspring.

As with most subjects, I immediately twisted the concept and wondered just how much our family impacts our writing. I know that I got a lot of my love for reading from my parents and other extended family members. I have those kinds of great memories of my grandparents taking me to the library and being allowed to choose any book I wanted to borrow. Of reading the same story every night with my mother. Of my father taking me to buy books from the second hand bookstore every time I ran out of new things to read in his house. Those are important parts of my childhood, and if I had children, I would want to do those things with them as well.

Some people didn’t have the same exposure to books and reading through their family as I did. There are plenty of folks out there who came across their love of literature from a friend, a teacher, or just happenstance as they went through their lives.

And then I wonder if the genre we write is an extension of these influences. I can definitely say that I was exposed pretty early to horror (dad-approved reading of Stephen King before I was a teen), and I was raised on fantasy in ways I can’t even begin to describe. Was I set up to become exactly what I am, or did my taste and talent coincide from such an early age? There’s no definite answer to that, but it sure makes me curious about the experiences of other writers and how much correlation they can see between their upbringing and their stories.

A final note: I’m sorry this is a couple of days late! I’ve been busy with jewellery stuff over at The Dragon’s Hoard.

~A

Most obvious observation ever

There isn’t actually a “right” way to write. Even spelling, grammar and punctuation can be massacred for the appropriate reasons. Half of the characters in the Redwall series speak with an accent so heavy, Brian Jacques just made up his own spelling. Stephen King has a short story in Nightmares and Dreamscapes where the mental and physical capacity of a character degenerates to the point that his retelling of events becomes indecipherable gibberish. It’s my favourite story in the collection and never fails to make me cry.

Then there is slang and invented language, which doesn’t have any fair rules to break. It’s true that using slang or modern language will “date” a story, but so does proper terminology. I have been accused far too many times of writing, and also speaking, with archaic words, like they can somehow lose their meaning given enough time? I suppose so, but communication is all shaky ground anyway.

Things like this are the reason why so many people say rules were made to be broken. Because there’s always at least one instance of where a cardinal rule has been so completely disregarded with such amazing skill that you can’t imagine that work being written any other way. If there’s no clearly defined “right” way to throw words at a page, how do we know when we’re doing a good job?

Different people want different things from their reading. Some people like ongoing description that tells you every last thing about a place. I once counted twelve consecutive pages in a book solely of description regarding the landscape and farming in the locale, and absolutely nothing happened in all that time except a lot of info-dumping. This was in a very popular and successful author’s book, too. So some people like it when you’re wordy and droning. Others like sharp, fast-paced writing, where the sentences are short and punchy and there’s no real downtime in the story.

Each genre also has quirks that make a story “suit” the general target audience. Where you might be able to get away with a rushed description of a character in one genre because other things are more important to the story, you could find another genre that practically requires lengthy, gushing language about the people in the book.

So I come back to the question, how do we know when we’re doing it right? Take a look at any top selling books list and you’ll find titles such as The Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gone With the Wind, The Chronicles of Narnia, And Then There Were None, Black Beauty, Twilight, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Wheel of Time, Lolita, Discworld, it goes on and on. What do these stories have in common, beside being written works? They are vastly different books with varying degrees of appeal to every individual. They all did something right, but that right thing for each story (or series) was almost unique to itself.

~A

How late is too late?

We all have old, half-finished manuscripts lying around. Some of them are even a full first draft that we never finished editing. I’m currently sitting on two significantly aged stories, ones which I wrote quite a handful of years ago. Their levels of completion mean that I’m not totally open to abandoning them entirely, but time has been cruel to these two, and I can see just how damn young I was when I wrote them.

Growth as a person will give anyone a new perspective on life, and make us create new situations, new characters in our work. Expansion in knowledge means that years down the track, you start wondering, “How did I ever think this was a good idea?”, or, “How didn’t I see that plot hole when I wrote this?”. And the dreaded knowledge that the work isn’t marketable until it has had a total overhaul, potentially to the point of changing genre (you never were a sci-fi writer, after all).

When do we decide that a project has served its purpose and it is better to leave it in the fond depths of our memory? How much work is too much to revive an old story?

The way I see it, as long as you have ideas, there’s always something salvageable in a piece. Maybe not any of the words you wrote before. Maybe that entire draft has to be scrapped. But a draft isn’t the story; it’s just the things you scrabble at until you’ve carved something beautiful. If you still have passion for the story all this time later, then it’s worth it. It’s not really any more work than a new story. You already know where you went wrong the first time!

One day, I’d like to bring out the old works and make them into something amazing. With new knowledge, with greater understanding, with entirely new ideas and a whole reason to write. If you know where the story can go, and you know what the characters will do, you can remake the manuscript.

~A

Full moon darkness

I notice that we get to see the moon a lot during the day around here. There is something haunting and beautiful about it sitting in the sky, the pale grey of clouds, but round and still where it waits for the planetary kind of spin that pushes it to other skies. And of course, when night falls, the brightness! How it reflects the sunlight lets the darkness become its own kind of beauty. The contrast is all it takes to change the moon from a gentle addition, to the centre of your attention.

I think that most feelings, emotions, are at their peak when something is there to contrast them. When writing horror, the scary bits need to fall inside reassuring moments. Romance comes with a helping of distrust and heartache. Dark fantasy is contrasted when there is a bright, vivid moon shining down upon it, the beautiful moments that show you just how twisted everything else really is.

Even in shorter fiction, there has to be particular contrast, so the readers, and indeed even the writer can see just how poignant the central theme is. And sometimes that theme can blend into its surroundings first, waiting for the moment of contrast to truly show how important it is.

These thoughts come to me when I feel like I’ve perhaps deviated too far from course. When the scene runs on into characters sharing love and laughter in the lead-up to a challenging moment, I stop and realise that without these moments of brightness, the dark would not seem so expansive.

~A