Confessions of a Digital Novelist

Archive for May, 2012

Progression of Evermore Cover Art – Update

by on May.28, 2012, under Books, Digital Publishing, Tools of the Trade

For those of you who have been following the progression of the cover art for Evermore: Call of the Nocturne, you’ll be happy to know that Kevin Bae has been hard at work on developing the illustrations with my feedback. I have great sympathy for Kevin for he’s had to endure me changing my mind so many times. Thanks to his patience, the cover art has really come a long way and looks more and more impressive by the day. If you remember from the previous post, Kevin had arrived at the general design of the front cover following a great deal of back and forth.

The first one is Kevin’s first attempt at the back cover. In short, I was pretty happy with it. The white dress is consistent with the themes and symbolism present in the manuscript and is a nice contrast with the violent front cover as you will see later. Kevin later put it aside to focus on getting the front cover right. Once that was done, he will return to finish the back cover. All in all, it looks really cool. I can wait to see more of this now that we’ve establish the basic fundamentals of the front cover.

The next image is Kevin’s first major attempt at the front cover. If you compare it to the previous front cover, you’ll see that a lot has changed. Blue has moved from a profile posture to a more angled and dramatic pose. Her hair is more maniac and she appears to be gripping her duster overcoat. While I understand what Kevin was doing, I didn’t really like this image. There was something in the previous image, the sense of Blue glaring at the audience that I loved and that is missing here. I was a little worried to tell Kevin to go back to an older design because I knew how hard he had worked on it. However, I knew how much better the final product would look. Thankfully Kevin quickly made some adjustments and returned the image to the previous framing. It is quite extraordinary how quickly he works.

The next image returns to the posture of the earlier drafts and adds a lot more details. This is just spectacular. Blue is glaring at the audience with her visage divided by two different colours: a raging red and a sickly green. The hair is distinctive yet still wild and the scar comes through very clearly. You can also see a hint of the duster overcoat which is a nice touch. The facial expression says it all. Blue glares at the audience with joyful malevolence, a characteristic that is pretty close to her actual character in the novel.

I told Kevin that this was exactly what I was looking for. Earlier, we had discussed how her face could disintegrate into polygons to symbolize her losing her mind to the virtual world of Evermore. I was really excited to see how the concept would look in practice.

Kevin went to work and produced the next draft. As you can see, he’s add the “polygon wave” that connects the front and back covers. The image is really strong and you can see that the left side of Blue’s face is disappearing into the “polygon wave”. It’s a neat effect but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I was looking to her face fall apart into polygons, not to gently transition into a waveform. I also noted that her mouth had a little bit too much grin to it. It reminded me somewhat of the Joker and I realized that it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Blue is a violent sociopath who rarely smiles. She would glare at the audience but never sneer or adopt a psychopath grin. She’s more a violent force of nature. She gets pleasure from violence as it makes her feel more alive but it never rises into joy. I let Kevin know my thoughts and included some photos from the Internet to visually demonstrated the polygon disintegration effect that I was going for. Kevin promptly sent me three images: all iterations of the same theme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the curl in Blue’s lip has been toned down, giving her the searing rage look that I was going for. In each of the three images, the polygon disintegration of Blue’s face has been implemented but each in a different way. The first has the face disintegrating into large polygons that merge into the blue “polygon wave”. The second is the same but with the addition of much smaller fragments. The third removes the blue “polygon wave” grid, leaving just the polygon splinters.

Kevin preferred the first image as he thought the second was too busy. I found the third to missing that synthetic effect that the blue “polygon wave” suggests. Its presence is a reminder that Blue is connected to a virtual space and that the disintegration of her face suggests that she is losing her mind to the virtual world. So the third is out.

I took the weekend to decide between the first and second image. Ultimately, I found that I preferred the second image. Like Kevin said, it is “busy”, but it is also chaotic. It seems more violent and dangerous than the neater first image. It made me think that Blue had been shot by a shotgun. The violence of the image fits in well with the character while also suggesting that her violent approach to life will be her undoing. “Live by the sword, die by the sword”, so to speak. It is also very eye-catching, an necessary trait when most people will decide to buy your book based on the cover art (especially in an Amazon e-book world). In short, I simply found the second image more intriguing and an excellent fit for the story.

So there you have it. After many months of work by poor Kevin, the front cover is ready to go. Now he’ll return to work on the back cover and integrate it into the final version of the front cover. This project, though expensive and time-consuming, is really starting to pay dividends. Thanks to Kevin Bae, Evermore: Call of the Nocturne will have a provocative, eye-catching cover that fits in well with the themes and elements of the story. The next stop will be to take the cover art illustrations and get them to Jordan Knoll to design the final cover. I’ll get back to you when I have the final versions.

 

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A Game of Thrones Book Review

by on May.22, 2012, under Books, Storytelling Theory

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Spook Country by William Gibson

After hearing so much about the Game of Thrones television show and the numerous media (such as Skyrim) that cite it as a reference, I decided to finally tackle the massive A Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin. After plowing my way through the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, it is pretty clear that I am hooked on the series. By what really struck me was the similarities between it and the recent book I reviewed, Spook Country by William Gibson.

Even though they both use multiple perspectives to tell their stories, I found that my enjoyment of the two books was completely different. Spook Country left me flat while A Game of Thrones drew me in and seduced me into reading further. But why were they so different? What did George R.R. Martin do right that William Gibson did wrong. Because of this conundrum, I decided to do a comparison of the two books rather than a straight-forward review of A Game of Thrones. I hope that by doing so, we might identify some of the general storytelling fundamentals in play.

Let’s start with their one major similarity: multiple perspectives.

Multiple perspectives

Both A Game of Thrones and Spook Country tell their stories through a third person limited narrative. In short, the narrative focuses on the perspective of a single character, but does not take the voice of this character. The reader is limited to the viewpoint of a single character but the text is written in the third person. This is a fairly standard narrative style, especially in mysteries, as the reader is limited to the knowledge of the protagonist, and thus must follow him or her as they unravel the plot, enhancing the tension. However, what makes both A Game of Thrones and Spook Country so unique in this narrative structure is that the story follows a different character in each chapter. To use the example of A Game of Thrones, the story may follow the perspective of Tyrion Lannister in one chapter and Eddard Stark in the next. Spook Country limits this perspective to three characters while A Game of Thrones changes to whichever character strikes Martin’s fancy. The end result is quite different. Whereas Spook Country is relatively dull with stilted, uninteresting characters (with the possible exception of Tito), A Game of Thrones sucks you into the characters lives and involves you intensely with the life and death struggles. Does this mean that the characters of A Game of Thrones are more or distinctively. No, not really. I don’t think its the characters themselves that make them so compelling. It’s how Martin sets up their stories, creating a sense of ….

… Anticipation

Let’s take a look at some of the characters in A Game of Thrones. WARNING: This section does contain stories.

Bran Stark
Formerly a strong climber, Bran is crippled when he thrown off a tower by Jaime Lannister for spotting him cavorting with his sister, and Queen, Cersei Lannister. Now a paraplegic, Bran try to find a way to make himself useful to a world that worships men of war. To get around, Bran gets around by riding on the back of Hordor, a slow-witted half-giant. Will he ride Hodor into battle and turn the tide?

Tyrion Lannister
A dwarf disrespected by everyone, especially his own snooty family, Tyrion gets by on his wits while holding fast to a personal code of honour that far exceeds those of the rest of his family. Will he overcome society’s prejudices to find the glory and victory he so rightly deserves?

Daenerys Targaryen
Along with her brother, the only two surviving offspring of the former King of the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys sacrifices greatly for survival, including being married of by her brother, losing her husband and daughter, and her place in Dothraki society. Isolated and alone, she takes her three dragon (which have extinct for centuries) eggs into a pyre and watches as they hatch and bond to her as their mother. Will she lead her dragon children into an assault on the Seven Kingdoms to retake Iron Throne?

Eddard Stark
Reluctantly taking on the responsibility of the King’s Hand, Eddard must unravel the mysteries of the attack on his son Bran and the death of the former Hand, Jon Arryn. Will he unravel the mystery or will he fall in the game of thrones.

Jon Snow
The bastard son of Eddard Stark, Jon Snow volunteers to serve on the wall to find some place of honour in a world that has none for bastards. Amongst his rag-tag group of ruffians, will he overcome his station to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the unknown threats to the north?

Arya Stark
A tomboy, Arya is more interested in learning to fight with a sword than the courtly manners of her sister Sansa.  Reluctantly, her failure allows her to be trained by a cunning, yet eccentric sword master. Will she one day grow up to command respect as a warrior, not just as a prospective bride?

As you can see in each of the cases, I am filling in the story far off into the future while Martin is still introducing me to them. By setting up most of the characters as weak, unloved, ignored or disrespected, he is giving me an opportunity to fill in the story with how I want things to turn out. We all love underdog characters. We want to see them overcome their challenges and find the respect of their peers because we face these same sorts of struggles day in and day. George R.R. Martin fills A Game of Thrones with underdogs and that is why I have to keep reading. I have to find out what happens to them.

In Spook Country, we have a former rock star, a drug addict and a superhuman parkour specialist. They’re unique but they’re not really underdogs. They don’t feel overwhelmed or at risk in the world in which they find themselves. Even at the end when Hollis is captures, the tension is immediately diffused by the secret underworld character asking her to be a witness to their operations. There is simply little sense of danger and even less sense of overcoming the odds.

Sympathy

Another way in which Martin uses the multiple perspectives well is building sympathy for characters who later perish. When you are in close promixity  in someone’s shoes, you feel greater sense of loss when they are gone. It’s the reasons that we mourn for family and friends but not for complete strangers. We can react with horror and sadness but its far more abstract then when it’s someone you know personally. In the case of A Game of Thrones, we are introduced to a couple of characters who later perish. Walking in their faces, we gain a measure of sympathy for them that makes their later deaths, seen from another character’s perspective, that much more powerful. It also makes the world feel like a far more dangerous place. In Spook Country, nobody dies. It brings me to my final point when comparing the two novels.

Raising the Stakes

In A Game of Thrones, the stakes are huge and growing with each passing chapter. People die, the land is plagued by war and atrocities, and new threats can be sensed over the horizon, across the war and beyond the sea. In Martin’s opening book, characters are fighting for their future, Kings are fighting for kingdoms, and humanity in general is fighting for its survival. The growing sense of threat and danger ramp up the tension, pulling us forward and deeper into the book anxious to see what happens next. In the case of Spook Country, danger is muted. Nobody really seems in trouble. Nobody is killed and threats go unfilled. Even the central mystery falls flat, rather than the MacGuffan threatening humanity or even an individual, it comes off instead as post-modern joke. It may be clever or interesting but as a storytelling device, it falls flat. In A Game of Thrones, stakes are simpler, more menacing and easier to feel. The story greater benefits as a result.

In short, A Game of Thrones is an excellent fantasy novel that I can’t recommend highly enough. It will grab you and never let you go. I hope that by comparing it to Spook Country I’ve been able to show why it’s so effective and how it can serve as a template for aspiring authors. I’m well into the second book of the series, A Clash of Kings, and it’s still going strong.

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