Monday, 22 July 2013

WRI: Draw Your Story

Are you a writer? Then you should be drawing. Don't have art skill? Don't worry, neither do I. More to the point, no one else ever has to see what you sketch. So why bother? Because it helps. It helps with mental blocks, it helps visualize things from the characters' point of view, and it helps with consistency.

You can draw for fanfiction too.

Ever been stuck on where your protagonists can meet? Sketch the town, look for options. Ever wondered which of your secondary characters is the tallest? (Without her heels?) Sketch the group side by side. Ever had the villain's eye colour change between chapters? Unintentionally? Oops. Sketch. And colour, and keep it nearby.

If the only reason you have for not drawing is that "I can't draw", that's NOT a valid reason. In desperation, there's online programs that can help you to do it, no pencil required. Let me now debunk some other popular excuses:


It's more likely that you see bits and pieces of it in your head. Your heroine likes the colour blue, and is more inclined to wear dresses instead of jeans. But with stockings, or without? (A run in one's nylons could become a plot point.) Would she look good in a hat, or with large earrings? (Maybe someone's shopping for a gift.) How tall is she compared to the male lead? (Going up on tiptoes for a kiss?) How well endowed are we talking? (Perhaps she's insecure - or makes others insecure.)

Wait, what else is in this room?
There's a lot you might envision in your head, but details WILL be missed. Draw it out on paper. Setting-wise, in my web serial, I had a vague idea of what Logan's Bridge looked like (central easy chair, ladder in back, viewscreen front, Dr. Who style navigation console) but until I actually drew it, it remained sort of nebulous. Drawing it forced me to consider other aspects, like what order the consoles were in, and what the overall colour scheme was supposed to be.

I think the only legitimate reason for keeping elements in your head is if you're basing the character on someone you know, or the location on a place where you've been. Still, this only gets you so far, and even then, do you really know every detail?


Better than nothing, but you can aim higher. Text files should be for tracking plot points, birthdays, and dorm room assignments, not hair colour. If Julie returns from vacation, and you have to check your file for her weight, you're doing it wrong. (Or maybe all your characters are the same weight - in which case you might also be doing it wrong.) Sketch her, colour her, stick her up on your wall. Maybe she's a stick figure. Who cares? List vitals underneath if it's not apparent enough.

This way, you're less likely to forget about character features or insecurities - and if you happen to be a serial writer, that can be all too easy. Granted, if you end up with a LOT of characters, as is the case with me, you may have to move them off the wall, into a file folder. Still, perhaps post up a group shot instead - maybe even of that dorm room assignment! - which is additionally helpful for seeing relative heights, plus who's happy to be in the picture versus who's less thrilled.

Fringe benefit: You'll have actual characters staring at you, telling you to write, as opposed to that closed journal or directory on your computer, which you can effectively ignore.


Chartreuse cares!
I've got a plot! I've got the basics down! Does it matter how far away the soda shop is from the hero's house? Do we care if the heroine has split ends? Maybe not. However:
1) Other characters in the story might care, and this could dictate their actions. (Haha, the arch rival knows he's got ten whole minutes to foil the soda meeting, by using hair care products!)
2) The richer you make your world, the more it will come through in the writing, even if certain details never directly impact the plot.

The related excuse to this is I DON'T HAVE TIME, but usually making the time up front pays off in the end. Because you'll spend less time blocked, trying to work out this stuff after already including partial details. My "Time Trippers" story necessitated a sketch of the town for plot purposes. Later, when I realized someone had to walk from the train station to a house, I barely had to think about it, and could focus my efforts elsewhere. Alternatively, if you don't do this, and DO find yourself blocked - maybe a drawing can get you out.

Basically, there's a difference between being irrelevant, and being unimportant.


I'll admit it. This is the excuse I use. So it's the hardest for me to refute. There's even two flavours to it: 1) You want the reader to fill in the blanks, or 2) You want to leave an opening for yourself.

I've done the first case, with James, the first person narrator for my JulNoWriMo "Virga Mystery". He had a backstory and a personality, but no description to speak of. I think there's even a point when he outright says that he's not going to describe himself. Does it work? Honestly, I don't know - read this short and let me know. Upon reflection, what I DON'T think works is making a character or setting TOO generic, merely in the hopes that everyone can relate. (Oh, 'One Direction'! How did you KNOW that I don't know I'm beautiful?? Only you see the real me! Gag.)

Drawn in an airport waiting for a
flight, if memory serves.
I've done the second case too. I didn't draw my Trig Inverse characters right away, so when I started in on their story arc a year later, it was very easy to put them in blue outfits and make them the Science Department, synching up with the theme I had going. Alternatively, perhaps your villain character has a need to keep their identity hidden (even from you) until the right moment... or you can't know where to put the hospital in town until you've determined the site for the climactic battle... So again, there might be some legitimacy behind the excuse.

That said, I think you need a certain degree of self (story?) awareness to properly pull off ambiguity. In other words, you practically have to be excluding the details on purpose, as opposed to never thinking about them at all. Like a fall-back plan, that you never reveal, but can use in case a better opportunity never presents itself.


In closing then, back to the "But I CAN'T DRAW!" excuse. If you really, desperately feel like you can't BEAR to look at your own work? Sketch out a reference, then go commission some artwork from one of the many talented people out there on the 'net. They'll get a boost to their sales and ego, and you'll get a boost to your vision and inspiration. Win-Win.
Couldn't do this if I tried.

You got any other excuses? Let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I'll assume you're busy drawing. (Oh, but you can tell me about that too!)


  1. I can't draw! At least, not consistently. However, I found other, similar methods to help out, including the commissioning idea. (I need to do that more often.)

    To make up for my lack of art skill (really - stick figures look misshapen), I've found other means. If I use a real world setting, I pull up maps of the area to get an idea of how the roads work, then take a look at the area in Google Street View. I've created Sim versions of characters to test out looks and fashions. For a so-far-unstarted work, I've made reference to the look from a TV show for the rival school while still trying to figure out what the protagonists' uniform looks like (colours, though, have been worked out). Worse comes to worse, find an actor/actress who you'd cast for the role. Their photos are all over the Internet.

    For locations, again, the Sims allows for building design and the game allows you to take photos of what you've created. (Good luck finding the shot, but the files will exist.) Or, take a look around where you live and bring a camera or a cell phone and take photos. Again, online, you can find any number of buildings, inside and out, just for the googling. I also have a number of books with interior maps and floor plans; handy when working out where rooms are relative to each other. Google Maps helped me out when writing Crossover - who knew Main and Washington in Cleveland would be so close to where I needed them?

    So, yeah, I can't draw. But I've figured out a work around that'll let me do similar.

    (And I wish I had a pic of Nasty as Peregrine. Somewhere between the issues and Crossover, her costume changed from blue with white stars and red gloves to a forest green. Oops...)

    1. Good additional tips, thanks! I dare say everyone's pictures are all over the Internet too, you could cast a pop idol or news anchor...

      (As to Peregrine - upgrades?)

    2. And Google Street View helps for finding and casting houses when needed, though a fictional town may need to be mapped out on graph paper at the minimum. (Or, ask a tabletop gamer. They have all sorts of maps.)

      Peregrine, possibly an upgrade. May have to work it in during the series prior to Crossover. It's just a colour change, so it's simple enough.