Monday, October 29, 2012

Writing vs. Painting

I've been writing over the past week, trying to finish my novel, a short novel, The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death. I'm finding it rather fun and much more enjoyable than expected. Comparing it with painting and music is fun too.

There are as many ways to write as paint, and I find I write like I paint. Since the start I had a plan, an outline of the story that, in paragraphs, gave the plot direction. This is like the basic composition, preparation before you paint. The story and characters are as imaginative as anything I paint too! One character, 2me, is a gaseous cloud of glowing colour, a child of infinite empathy who experiences everything emotionally.

Some writers write roughly and then refine more and more with each draft, just as some painters paint roughly, adding more layers to pin down the fine edges. I tend to write pretty finely from the outset, placing each word as carefully as possible like the delicate strokes of a brush, although I often dart back and forth, refining old work as I write new, trying to ensure that the pace and colour are uniform.

However, I've not stuck totally to the plan. The overall plot is simple, a man is dying and decides to use his transportation machine, a portal, a magic door, to search for a cure. In Chapter 4 George, the moribund protagonist, decides to visit the wisest man in the universe. Originally this was a mad hermit who advised that he should be content in his lot. This was unsatisfactory for many reasons, firstly, nothing much is conveyed either emotionally or practically; the chapter didn't really affect the rest of the story. It was also rather telling rather than showing because much of the information was conveyed by conversion rather than metaphor.

Show don't tell is true in all art forms but most obvious in writing. There are different degrees to this, and it's a problem because it's frustrating and even rude to tell people what to think. Art should be a dialogue. For example:

"Fred saw a meek woman huddled on the edge of the sofa. Her name was Sandy." is a blatant telling, just blurting out that her name was Sandy like that, as though we are to just accept it from the God-author!

"Fred saw a meek woman huddled on the edge of the sofa. A badge on her lapel said 'Sandy'" is much better because it informs the reader in a less commanding way. However, there's no indication whether Fred read the badge so this is still written from a privileged third-party position.

"Fred saw a meek woman huddled on the edge of the sofa. "What's you're name?" He enquired. "Sandy," she replied in a trembling voice." Is better still because it's written from Fred's point of view. This character empathy can extend to other elements in the scene too. Perhaps Fred would see the sofa as a settee, or he might use the word furniture, or describe the woman differently from meek. There are many degrees to showing and some information must be told. A relationship between the writer and the reader must be built, and the reader must grow to trust the writer. At one point I wrote, as a sentence. "Maria Andrade was a genius." An almost inexcusable sentence in any work. However, the preceding paragraph explained why, and more crucially it was written as another character saw her, therefore excusability crept slowly back. However, the sentence was extremely judgemental and gave the reader no room, which I don't like, so I changed it to "She was undoubtedly a genius." which was much more polite and gave the reader room for an opinion of their own.

All of this potential complexity makes the process of character writing complex, and as most stories are character driven and involve relationships it makes writing a skill that demands empathy and understanding of relationships. In fact it's that process that makes writing more enjoyable than other artforms. Imaginary statements on philosophy are less fun than imaginary people.

In my new Chapter 4, the hermit is a hedonist hippie, who lives in ragged chaotic conditions with a clutch of wives and a gaggle of urchin children. The chapter shows, or tries to show, the consequences of a hedonistic lifestyle and why the old saying of "live each day as though it were your last" can't really work... well that was the plan.

The first draft is complete. I'm excited about the whole thing and am now convinced that Terry Gilliam will want to make this into a film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. And why not?

The picture is a quick illustration of George looking through the portal.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mork Calling Orson

And really that title is little to do with anything. Sorry I've not been blogging much these days. I've become more of a Facebooker but sometimes one needs to put down more than a brief idiom.

I've not painted much this year but have five or six paintings in progress. That will end the ones I had planned for definite competitions etc. plus a few for arts sake. It's ironic that the art's sake ones often turned out as good as the ones that I put a lot more time and thought and work into. Predictably, pictures like the Octopus Attacking a Lighthouse Before Being Assumpted into an Angel painting which I didn't much rate before I painted it, turned out rather well.

It's an idea from a few years ago at a time when I was painting lost of pictures about isolation and sexual frustration. I got bored with those so decided to paint the opposite thing.

Now I'm getting back into writing and have written a flash fiction entry for Salt Publishing, just for fun but I enjoyed the experience. I've finished reading Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, a book that was only moderately good. It was very good at conveying an exact mood of frustrated anger at being romantically rejected when obsessed. The whole book suffered for being too embittered at times, and not brilliant in language, often repeating the same words and rambling. It reads as though the author was an embittered drunk at the time of writing but it's mastery is that fluidity, reading like one stream of feeling which is not easy to maintain for the length of a novel.

I'm working on a new short story about an artist whose works remain unseen, an author whose words are unread, a musician whose music is unheard, every frustration of mine of the last few days. In this way, it is like that story, but no bitterness here, only inspiration. I think I'll love this tale already.

It's been my busiest year ever. I've released The Love Symphony, composed and produced another pop album, Black and White (frustrated that I can't find a singer to sing it with me, but when I do it will be waiting, I won't become Orson Welles and wait forever for one project when I can write new things so easily). I've updated my game Flatspace IIk and released that, then in March painted over 200 watercolours for my poetry book 365 Universes (the poems are mediocre, but I'm pleased with the illustrations) and then published it, founding Pentangel Books. I've painted over 20 oil paintings, made the Bedlam cabinet (post below) and the elaborate God Being Killed frame (perhaps my best oil painting to date), entered about fifteen competitions and exhibited lots including at Crewe Hall, Jobling Gowler, and two solo exhibitions, given three radio interviews for the first time, organised a poetry night, illustrated all of William Blake's "Songs" at my first trade show (the Tyger pictured below), designed some fantastic objects including several (wonderful) brass and marble letter racks and a robot donation box, and lots more mundane stuff such as recording lots of sound effects and writing music for IndieSFX, and created a few music videos.

Yet I find I'm penniless and have no hope of owning a house or car, my art seems to be terminally and frustratingly unfashionable to juries so few people are seeing my work except in local shows I organise myself. I haven't sold any music all year which made me sad because I know how good some of it is (although Celestial Radio honours me by broadcasting some - thank you to Parveen). Still, at times it seems that the more I try the more the world seems to push back!

Fortunately I can easily overcome such difficulties with a mental switch. The rest of this year will be at least as productive, starting with the completion of my first novel, composing a new first movement for The Love Symphony and then writing all of The Death Symphony. I also have lots of oil paintings to complete, a major solo exhibition in Shrewsbury (my largest of the year and my first in that great town - poster below) and, well, lots more than a normal human could possibly achieve. Or me.

In preparation for future literary glory I've decided to attend the Cheshire Prize for Literature Awards ceremony.

I expect to win this, and then find a publisher to publish my novel... but if I don't I'll invent some other expectations. I like coming up with ideas.

Keep well. If you want to enter the Salt Publishing writing competition I had a go via their website.