Cover Art for Shadows of Autumn

Shadows of Autumn CoverArt

This is the lovely new cover mocked up for me by my very talented lesser half. I’m exceedingly happy with it. Whether or not it remains my cover if/when I publish/self-publish is another matter, but certainly as a placeholder/working cover/mock up, it is absolutely gorgeous. Granted, it has, in no way, met with my initial ‘brief’, but due to some compositional issues, we eventually settled on the above. I love it. The two characters up there perfectly reflect the quietly introspective protagonists, as well as hinting at the themes.

The ‘shadows’ in the title refers to several elements, notably the looming coming-of-age ceremonies from the beginning of the story, the long shadow of the main character’s brother and mother, and the oppressive, over-arching spectre of the White King to name but a few. There are parallels to the concept of Yin and Yang, but Good and Evil is not necessarily presented as expected. At least, I am striving to avoid those pitfalls. Conscious of good and evil being concepts created by Man, I am trying to treat them as extremes with those myriad shades of grey existing in between. Ultimately though, in the shadow of Pandemonium, good vs evil means nothing. Friends will become enemies, and enemies will become friends. Alliances will be tested, broken and forged anew in the fires of the Calamity.

Shadows of Autumn will be, I very much hope, a sort of ‘ornate fantasy’, along the lines of Den Patrick, Miles Cameron, Guy Gavriel Kay, Scott Lynch. I’m not entirely sure ‘ornate fantasy’ is officially a label, but if it’s not, I declare it so! It’s hard to exactly classify what I *hope* this novel will be, since I’m not entirely sure I have the ‘chops’ to get it done. You all know what ornate means, I’m sure. And anybody who’s read any of those authors should get an idea of what I mean. I’m aiming towards a grandiose, polished narrative, drawing heavily upon specific cultural elements and drawing my own world out of it. I hope to explore the old avenues of sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, dragons and knights in a much less traditional setting drawing upon Japan and the Sengoku Period.

I hope to explore themes of companionship, love, hate, betrayal, loyalty, but most importantly, courage and courage in the face of adversity. One of the primary guiding tenets of my main characters, and their philosophy is ‘courage first, and through it, be guided to other virtues’. I hope to explore this, and the things we can achieve by believing in ourselves, and refusing to let our limitations define us.

I realise these are lofty aims. I’m not sure if I have the skillset to achieve everything I want to, but at the very least, I intend to finish it. Once the first draft is done, I can work on making it all the things I had hoped it would be.

Please, feel free to follow me on twitter @kplanyon, and Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/kplanyon There’s nothing I would like more than to exchange support and encouragement with anybody else out there embarking on a path that scares the living shit out of them.

Oh, also, if anybody is interesting. The ‘text’ through the center of the picture reads ‘Tangem’, and is the Itsuban translation for ‘Courage’, depicting using the characters of the Oppidan, an ancient precursor civilisation.

Facial Reactions & Feelings Through Dialogue

Today, I faced a conundrum. I was writing a hefty amount of dialogue in my current chapter. When I write dialogue, I tend to script the conversation first, and then go back through it to ‘illustrate’ it with tags, descriptions, emotional cues, and so on. It’s a good approach that works well for me, but it can be counter-productive.

For instance, whilst I was going back and forth, dissecting the dialogue, chopping and changing and rearranging, I was becoming painfully aware of my limited ability with describing facial expressions. What I mean is expressions like the following, and all the variations thereof.

‘…clenched jaw’, ‘grinding teeth’, ‘…narrowed eyes’, ‘…furrowed/knotted/creased brow’, ‘…nostrils twitching/flaring,’ ‘…cocking an eyebrow’, ‘…puffing cheeks’, ‘…pursing lips.’

I pursued some advice on possible options, resources, solutions and what not, and I was told that I should try conveying emotion indirectly or through dialogue. Now, to me, this seems like exceptionally bad advice, and certainly very limiting. I understand that dialogue can express feelings and emotions, of course, especially through an exchange or conversation. But we’re talking fiction here, creative writing, showing not telling.

Without description, without facial reactions, or interactions with the second person, or the environment, it means nothing. There is no context, no feeling.

Character A: “I hate you.”

Nothing. It’s just a statement. But is it infuriated? Hateful? Ambivalent? Sarcastic? Ironic? Bemused?

Character A: “I hate you.”
Character B: “No, you don’t.”

Yes, these are largely simplified examples, and by no means ‘compelling dialogue’. In the second example there’s more to the picture, but there’s still no context.

Character A: “I hate you,” his eyes narrowed, nostrils flaring.
Character B: “No, you don’t,” her smile froze.

Again, maybe not the meatiest exchange ever, but you begin to see my point, surely? At least, I feel like I’m beginning to make my point, or perhaps I’m just missing the point of ‘try to convey emotion indirectly or through dialogue’. It’s such a restrictive attitude in my mind. I must be missing something, surely?

What if Character A is ‘a man of few words’? What if he never really talks except to say something that needs to be said? Yes, this conveys a measure of import. The act of speaking carries significance just by virtue of the fact that he’s saying anything at all. But again, there’s no feeling. Unless he’s a robot, then whatever he’s saying has to register somewhere on his emotional spectrum.

Then you come to simply using adjectives and adverbs.

Character A: “I hate you,” he said darkly.
Character B: “No, you don’t,” she replied, dejected.

Adverbs themselves are a discussion for another time. (I’m pro, for the record. In moderation.) But the plain and simple adjectives just don’t have that punch. Everything in it’s place, and all that. I understand that all of these techniques need to be used together. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, is another thing to bear in mind. Isn’t that the point? To use all of these techniques. If someone tells me to use physical, facial reactions AFTER these other things have failed, then aren’t they missing the point? Or am I just misinterpreting their meaning?

The Blank Page Is Staring At Me.

I was reading over some of the last few entries, and I was unsurprised to see that they all more or less follow the same pattern; hiatus > return > vague/flimsy hope > vague/flimsy idea > optimistic > disappearance.

On the face of it, I’m inclined to be concerned. It has happened a few times over the past year or two. There’s no getting around it, I’m not here to mope or whinge about the difficulties of being a ‘tortured artist’. I don’t need to feel like a cliché, but however I look at it, I’ve struggled these past few years. Even the last ten years, I’ve tried and failed to deal with depression and anxiety and I’m not sure if it’s getting better. The last few weeks seem to have shown an improvement, so I’m going to keep working with that.

I’ve started reading again, (albeit stopped for a moment due to the new D3 season), I’ve started writing again, I have a decent idea of the plot, or at least the first half of it. Granted, it goes Part 1 – Strong, Part 2 – Less Strong, Part 3 – Very Not Strong and Part 4 – Opposite of Strong, but the details will come with some thought and some chat when I need them to.

This idea is inspired by Japan, Shinto, Feudal Japan and the Warring States period, I’ve mixed in some Portuguese elements just to spice up the names and the folklore a bit. I have a pretty clear picture of the main characters and the main themes but I find that my anxieties and my confidence issues are causing me to doubt the legitimacy of these ideas. I am conscious of making my characters three dimensional, I want them to be interesting and realistic, and I hope that these ideas will allow me to do that.

I have concerns, but what writer doesn’t? The fact of the matter is, my writing seems bland because I’m staring at it for 5 hours a day. It seems stunted and amateur because I’m pausing every 2 minutes to construct the next sentence, or the next line of dialogue. I need to remember these things are universal matters that all writers deal with.

I was quite surprised, actually, when I was getting started with this idea. I was using Japanese conventions to name my characters and locations, basing the magic on Shinto, and all I could think was ‘I’m just ripping off Japanese culture’. And, at the heart of it, I guess I am. I’ve never been able to create ‘pure Fantasy settings’ like the Malazan books. I’ve always been rooted in the real world. How many fantasy novels incorporate Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Chinese mythology into their stories? Or European castles? I’m doing the same thing, but with Japan. This is just an illustration of the legitimately inane and idiotic concerns that dig their hooks into me.

I’ve learned that not writing because I don’t feel like my story is unique is one of the greatest mistakes I can make.

At the end of the day though, dealing with these concerns is the trick. I heartily intend to keep posting on this blog. Not every day, because I don’t have that much to say, but regularly, interspersed with Twitter, Facebook and WattPad, once I get that started. I am studying English Literature & Creative Writing with the Open Uni, which I hope will also pad out my skillset, gain me some more technical insights and allow me to meet like-minded authors. Generally, I’m happy with where I’m at right now, and that’s not something I get to say very often.

Prolonged Absences And Unexpected Returns

It may or may not be clear to some, that I’ve not posted in many moons. This is for a number of reasons, but primarily due to a crippling, bottomless, despairing self-doubt and a resurgence of my depression. I’m still battling the depressed moods, but that’s a story for another time. The reason I decided to post again is simple; I need to get into routine. I need to get back into positive habits, and I suddenly found the motivation to do something useful today. I decided to draw a map.

Anybody who knows me will know that I am not an artist. My creativity lies in the realm of words. It is at this point that I notice the self-doubt reappear. Automatically, I find myself thinking ‘creativity? What creativity?’ or other things like ‘hah! Yeah right.’ Sometimes the doubt is more pronounced, more rounded, but by and large it’s merely an encompassing sense of things not being good enough. Anyway, I thought I’d do a map, because I like to sellotape half a dozen pieces of A4 together, and stitch together whole continents. This time, I thought it would be fun to do it for a city instead.

I’ve struggled through this ‘sketch’, noticing with every line that I am truly not an artist. The lines are uneven, the circles squashed, the shading patchy and scratchy, the buildings are to scale but the paths/trees/gardens aren’t, so they’re ‘representative’. I found myself thinking, with all the maps I’ve done, how is it that I’ve not improved at all? This is foolish, of course. I have improved. And this is where I caught myself out again, this is the moment where I realised that depression is truly a senseless, pointless state of mind. I thought to myself; ‘the maps I did when I was 18 are worse than these ones’, not ‘these maps are better than those I did when I was 18.’ The devil really is in the details.

That, in my eyes, is depression at its very core. It is a senseless, irrational state, that twists and corrodes the way you think until it becomes almost a parody of good sense. It’s in the details. Things are better now, they weren’t worse back in the day. Be positive, and move forward. Tomorrow will be better still.

So I’ll push on with my map, and stitch together a great big city full of uneven paths and squashed buildings, lines that aren’t perpendicular or parallel at both ends and so on. I will persevere, because I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.

Easy as 3.14159265359.

See what I did there?

I’m not going to bother talking about what ideas I’m working on just now, or what I want/hope/plan to do. I have 691 words under my belt so far today, and I need to focus on that. 

For too long now, ever since I completed Long May Men Have Voices, I’ve been struggling. I’ve not focused on any ideas. I’ve written 30k, 40k, 60k words on numerous things and they each end up losing their merits or their appeal. This, I’m sure, is not a problem unique to me, but it’s fecking frustrating all the same. The most important thing is that I work on something, I push through, despite my doubts and my concerns, until I have a finished product. Then, and only then, can I be free to doubt and criticise things, because I can edit it! I hate getting caught up in editing whilst I’m writing, the two processes are diametrically opposed. It’s absolutely vital, I believe, that we write, and then edit. There’s nothing more damaging than breaking up that creative flow for any reason, let alone to focus on picking it apart with a fine-tooth comb. It’s not productive, or conducive to healthy routines.

I’ve caught myself saying things like ‘I’ve been doubting my writing’ and ‘I just don’t see any quality in there.’ This seems like, if nothing else, a pretty solid foundation for a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the treatments for depression these days, is to consider automatic thoughts, and talk to them, reason out why they are invalid. These thoughts I mentioned, they are automatic for me, I do it without thinking, without consideration and for no reason other than a problem with self-esteem. It’s important here that I don’t give them any stock, that I don’t let them rule my thinking.

Self-doubt is natural I wager, at least in this line of work. I sure as hell can’t let it get in my way. Neither should any of you. If you can push through self-doubt, I think you’re all set for the long haul. There is nothing harder for me than defeating the doubt that resides in my head and my heart. 

A friend of mine has observed that I might be trying to produce non-authentic ideas, and I think there is some merit in this idea. She has said that stories produce their own energy, and you become wholly involved in telling them. I think there is some merit in this idea, too. Looking back, I think that I’ve tried to write so many of these stories simply because I had an idea with some meat on its bones. I honestly can’t think of any story that resonated with me except for Long May Men Have Voices, and that didn’t turn out anything like I had hoped for, so I wonder if there’s some kind of fear in there. A fear of commitment, maybe, or a fear of disappointment. Either way, if I prepare for both, then I can overcome both, should the need arise.

As far as finding a resonating idea goes, all I can do on that front is keep searching. I’m Nathan Drake, I’m on the adventure of a life time, and the treasure at the end of this journey could be everything I have dreamed of achieving. That seems like something to work towards. Failure only occurs when I stop writing.