Here’s where concept sketches really help. By watching your characters in your head and jotting down a few notes or sketches (as in this case) really helps bring them to life once you get around to plopping them into the novel.
Uncle Mordo is one of the main characters even though he vanishes in the first few chapters. But that brief appearance is critical to pulling the reader in emotionally. By spending some time with him before writing he pops to life in the book.
Today, some more concepts from the sketchbook. The first is of the Darsian Gates. Kind of a intermediate passageway into the Conjurian. It takes a leap of faith to get through (something central to the novel).
These gates are in the Novel. The sketch was a way for me to better picture the scene when writing. The second image is just a random idea. Right now it’s not in the book, but you never know. So many surprises along the way.
These are some new concept sketches for a creature called a Rag-o-Roc. Originally they were large, bulky things with armor skin. But when I reached the part of the book where the first Rag-o-Roc makes it’s appearance, I realized they needed to be scarier but also I needed them to move quick. I wanted something spider-like. Something that gives you the sense you can’t escape it. Much like the creature in Alien.
This is the magic shop from early in the story. Although not a focal point of the novel, it’s critical in setting up many things, including the tone. So when I got to this part I decided to jot down some quick notes and images.
The shop is based on a real magic store I used to visit every Saturday. It was small, secluded, quaint and seemed to be right out of a novel (kind of ironic now). I imagined those visits in order to bring a vibrant reality to the shop in the book. Every smell, site and sound.
But the real store was much more than a reference for my book. I discovered it shortly after college. Before that, I always went to the well known magic store in the city. The kind that ships internationally and does a ton of business on the web. But this store was different. It was special.
The building was plain brick. The kind of storefront your eye ignores when you drive by. A small, engraved wooden sign hung above the door. This store was something right out of that alley in that novel about that wizard kid with the glasses.
But this store reeked of magic. It was jam packed with magical treasures and knowledge. Anytime the biggest names in magic were in the area, this is where they came. Just thinking about the store floods my head with ideas and characters. And a renewed excitement about writing this book.
This is the first concept sketch I’ve done since starting the actual writing. The fun part of writing is the unexpected characters you run into. In my notes, this guy to the left, was just part of a group of shadowy figures gathering for a secret meeting. But once you start writing it certain people just pop out. As did this guy, Christopher Aggler.
The other fun part is watching him “act” while you write. You realize there’s a lot more to this character than meets the eye. I can’t wait to find out what.
Part of the fun of this book is creating the “secrets” behind well known magic tricks. This sketch shows the origins of the famous “Dancing Cane” effect. There have been several methods over the years (one of the best was Copperfield’s).
But in this Novel, those methods where created to hide the truth. And that truth is that dancing canes breed in the wilds of The Conjurian. The canes choose their own masters, which is why not every magician can perform the effect. They also have an excellent sense of direction, aiding many a travelling magician in the old days.
So that’s just one of the many trick/creatures you’ll meet in the Conjurers. Oh, and I have no idea who the guy on the bottom is…yet.
Here’s another initial character sketch I did early on. I’m not to this part of the book yet, so I’m not even sure if this character will show up. Although I’m fairly certain he will in one context or another.
The idea for him is that he is a kind of mayor-figure for the Conjurian. He’s a no frills, by the book leader who believes any deviation from the code of law will spiral the Conjurian into the dark ages. Needless to say he not thrilled when the two main characters show up in his town.
…sorta. This was my first thumbnail sketch for the world of the Conjurian. I’ve been working on a revised sketch and more detailed map. This kind of image really helps in writing the book. It gives you a visual reference of the world your writing about. That in turn helps focus your vision of what’s happening and what things look like.
I’ll post the revised sketch later.
If you couldn’t tell by the title slug, I’ll be discussing the sea of “How to write the next best selling, million dollar screenplay in one afternoon” book out there. First of all, I am by no means an expert on any of this. But this I do know: I’ve become a syndicated cartoonist, written four screenplays and optioned one, and this is my first book and they all have one thing in common. They all took hard work. No magic pills, no secret formulas. No shortcuts.
Now I’m not saying that all these books are useless. There are a few gems out there and even some of the snake-oil salesman books have a couple good tidbits in them. But what’s the difference? Well it’s pretty easy to tell the gems from the fiery bags of crapola: just check the author’s credentials. Simply put, if you haven’t written a bestseller or sold a script for a million dollars, how can you teach someone else to do it? Better yet, wouldn’t you be writing bestsellers and million dollar scripts instead of wasting your time writing about doing it?
So why do so many of these books sell? Simple. It’s the magic pill you see advertised on TV. Don’t like to exercise? No problem, there’s a pill for it. Hell, there’s a pill to replace any activity that might cause you to break a sweat or make you feel uncomfortable or might just take up time. Hand over your $100 or whatever and get your magic pill.
Now before you toss me off the negativity cliff, there are a lot of useful books out there on writing. Many have to do with organizational skills or time management. The real gems are the ones written by those who have done it. And the mother of all gems for writers is “On Writing” by Stephen King. I’m sure a lot of people were excited to get their hands on this one. All the secrets behind King’s success. And I’m sure many were disappointed to learn the secret was just good ol’ hard work. It’s that kind of epiphany that keeps the aspiring novelist herd sparse.
But if you’re really dedicated to writing and you know you have it in you, the book is a treasure. You realize that your not alone in the blazing fifth circle of hell (which technically is owned by lawyers but they sub-lease it as a writers’ co-op). You learn quickly that it doesn’t always come easy to the best of the best.
To sum up I’ve altered an old cliche: Those that can do, those that can’t teach. But there are a rare few who can, and do, and choose to teach. These are the ones you must seek out and learn from. Stephen King was just nice enough to chuck it all into one book for ya.
Enough ranting for now. More artwork tomorrow.
Here’s an older character sketch I did awhile ago. While browsing through some of my old sketchbooks, this one struck a chord for a character in The Conjurers.
The cool thing is that the character, up till seeing this drawing, was just floating around in the imaginative ether. I had jotted down some notes about him, but nothing concrete. This drawing sparked some life into the character and instantly told me so much more about him. Can’t wait till he shows up in the book.
I’m not 100% sure what this scene is right now. I think it happens towards the end of the book but I’ll have to wait and see. That’s not to say I haven’t outlined the end of the book. So many things can change on the way there.
All I do know is that this is obviously a very tall tower. It’s at the far end of the Conjurian. Oh that? The Conjurian is the world most of the book takes place in. It’s kinda of a retirement community for magicians created by magicians (technically created by Dedi, the first known magician in Egypt), but now where veering off into the plot. Let’s just say it’s a very eclectic world and explains a lot about what you see magicians perform and why. A fantasy conspiracy theory — sort of.
For tonights post I thought I’d share my favorite writing/warm up exercise. It’s called “free writing.” There are several variations, but briefly you select a few random words then use them to write for five or ten minutes. That’s how I still do it, but you could just as easily write about an object or scenario for a few minutes.
The basic Idea is to just write without thinking. When I first heard of the technique I thought it sounded silly. But dangit’ if it didn’t work gangbusters. How’s that for a corny sentence? I always use a timer. The short bursts are key. It forces you to just pour out some words without worrying if they’re crap. Nine times out of ten when you read it back it’s not half bad.
It’s great for warming up, just to get the fingers and the mind shifted into 5th gear. It’s also a great way to start off short stories. Try it, I’m sure you’ll like it. And just as an example, below is my free writing exercise from today. The words were “hallway”, “knife”, and “desk”.
The little girl headed down the hallway. No one gave her a second glance. She didn’t give anyone a look either. Her walk was steady and focused. She passed one desk, two desks. The clerks were occupied with their customers — annuities, bonds, blah blah.
The little girl had no interest in money. Her one goal was ahead, three desks away. A woman in a black and white dress sat very suggestively across from the bank president. He was more than happy to spend as much time as she needed.
The little girl was two desks away. The woman spurted a whimsical line for the President. It wasn’t funny. Didn’t matter. He laughed.
The little girl was one desk away. She smiled. her walk slowed. The Woman tossed her hair, looking over her shoulder. She didn’t see the little girl three feet away.
She didn’t see the knife either. The little girl reached the desk.
I should also mention a little about the plot of the novel. If the title didn’t give it away, it’s about magicians. I know, I know, magicians and magic stories are under every rock these days. The difference is that for me, magic is part of my life.
In second grade I learned my first tricks from my Uncle. I’ve been performing ever since. So this book is a culmination of all those mispent years in a way. I’ve combined my passion and knowledge of magic into a fantasy about magicians.
But you won’t find any wizards or dragons in this book. My inspiration is drawn from past and present conjurers. From Thurston to Derren Brown. Without knowing it, I’ve researched this book almost my whole life.
I’ll post some more about the story later. For now back to writing. But here’s one more look behind the scenes before I go:
Before I jump into chronicling the process of writing this novel, I think it best or at least of interest to give a little background info on myself.
I am a syndicated cartoonist (www.dogeatdoug.com) and screenwriter living just outside of Boston. The comic strip launched last November, so between that and my last screenplay, I’ve been pushing back on this novel thingy. But now that I’ve got my rhythm down on the whole strip a day gig, and my screenplay is safely floating in development limbo in L.A., I thought it was the perfect time to start “The Conjurers.” Plus, what better time to start than NaNoWriMo.
So that’s a smidge of what I do. Now onto writing a novel. As you can tell, I won’t be “blogging” the actual book here. It’s more a scratch-space where I’ll run through my methods and quirks for writing. It’s always fun to see how others write. Sometimes you can even pick up some nifty tips (that’s right, I used “nifty”, and I’ll use it every damn chance I get) that you might make your own. I’ll always try something once. Worst that can happen is you don’t do it again.