Good Stories Always Have “Deleted Scenes” – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk about editing today. In particular, why good stories always have “deleted scenes”.

This is mostly because, after a lot of angst about the quality of a longer short story project I was writing (but probably won’t post here) and worries about whether it would become another failed project, I suddenly realised that the only way to salvage the story was to trim a 1000-word segment of comedic dialogue I’d spent the past two evenings writing.

They were a thousand words that included some fiercely cynical satire, a few cool 1980s music references and lots of character-based humour. I had a lot of fun writing these thousand words, but I realised that they did nothing to contribute to the plot of the story. They literally just involved the main characters sitting around, listening to the radio and talking to each other.

They were a thousand words that I’d written because I had no clue what else to write. They were the literary equivalent of stalling for time. So, I removed them from the story.

As soon as I did this, the story not only seemed more focused and engaging, but I also suddenly thought of a much better direction to take the story in. The story seemed worth writing again 🙂

This made me think about the value of “deleted scenes” and how good stories always include them, even if the reader never actually gets to see them. In other words, it reminded me how taking stuff out of your story can not only result in a better story but can also be a great way to revitalise your story if it has fallen into a rut.

When you’re writing a story, it can be easy to get sidetracked. It can be easy to think about your story as something you are writing rather than something that people will read. As such, it can be fun to include all sorts of irrelevant stuff, to add long descriptions or to just spend time hanging out with your characters. However, all of this stuff can quickly weigh a story down.

When your story becomes less about the reader and more about your own amusement, it can seem like fun at first. But, after a while, you’ll probably start to notice that your story is becoming too slow-paced or is turning into the kind of thing that you probably wouldn’t read if someone else had written it. That you’ve spent so long focusing on trivial stuff that you can’t work out where the story is going to go. All of this can reduce your motivation.

When this happen, you need to trim these parts of the story (don’t actually delete them, just move them somewhere else) and start writing from the last point that your story seemed really good. The last point where your story seemed like a focused story and less like a fun character study or descriptive writing exercise.

Yes, this can be difficult. But, by getting rid of part of the story that doesn’t work, the whole story will be better.

The important thing here is to think about things from the reader’s perspective. This is also why reading regularly is such an important part of being a writer. If you read regularly, then you’ll know what readers look for in a story because you are a reader too.

Reading regularly gives you the ability to take a step back and think “This part of the story was really fun to write, but it is probably really boring to read.” It makes you think about things like pacing and how compelling your story is. If you read regularly, then it will be a lot easier to know what to trim from your story.

So, yes, good stories will always have deleted scenes. The readers will probably never see them, but they will be there. After all, improving a story and keeping it interesting to both read and write is as much about what the writer doesn’t include as what they do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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When A Short Story Turns Out Badly- A Ramble

Well, once again, I thought that I’d talk about last year’s “retro sci-fi” Halloween short stories. In particular, I’ll be talking about the eighth story and what to do when a short story doesn’t turn out that well.

In short, I had writer’s block before I wrote the eighth story… and I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote the first draft too. As such, it ended up being a somewhat badly-written “film noir”-style detective story (with a 1950s horror comic-style twist) that contained barely any sci-fi elements. In addition to this, the story didn’t really fit in that well with the fictional “world” that I’d been trying to set all of the stories in. It was a failed story.

So, my first thought was to edit it a bit. Basically, I removed some of the more superfluous descriptions (that made the story sound so amateurish).

For example, I changed the opening sentence from “By the time the neptune blue neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day” to just “By the time the neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day“.

By removing some of the extraneous descriptions, I was at least able to make the story sound a little bit more focused. However, this also caused a few continuity problems that I didn’t spot until a while later (eg: I’d removed a description of a character having brown hair, only for the narrator to refer to her as “the brunette” later in the story). So, I had to think about the story in more logical terms and rewrite a few sentences that referred to parts of the story that no longer existed.

Surprisingly, I didn’t embellish or change the dialogue too much whilst editing. Although the dialogue sounded a little bit formal and generic in many parts of the story, it was at least functional.

In short, the most important part of writing dialogue is to convey story information. So, even if it’s a bit generic, then “functional” dialogue can still work. Plus, since it was meant to be a “film noir” story, this minimalist approach to the dialogue hopefully wouldn’t stand out that much.

Luckily, one thing that mitigated all of the story’s problems slightly was the ending. Since I’d added a melodramatic plot twist and some dark comedy to the last few paragraphs, there was at least some “payoff” for any reader who slogged through the rest of the story. So, at least the story didn’t feel like a complete and utter failure. So, a good ending (or, even better, a good beginning too) can be a way to mitigate the problem of a failed story.

In addition to all of this, I also put a bit more effort into the story’s title illustration. Since this was the first thing that the reader would see, I wanted it to look spectacularly dramatic. In part, to distract from the slightly lower quality of the writing and in part to make up for the slightly lower quality of the writing. It was probably the coolest thing about the story, but at least it was something cool:

This is the title graphic for the failed film noir story.

But, most of all, I actually posted the story on here. Although you shouldn’t do this if you’re publishing stories commercially – if you’re writing non-commercial fiction, then actually putting something out there, however crappy, can at least be a way to keep up momentum.

If you’re worried about what your audience might think, then just remember that a finished story – regardless of quality – that actually appears online is still better than posting nothing.

If you are writing a series of stories, or you post short fiction online regularly, then your audience is more likely to forgive a badly-written story. Why? Because it shows that you are still sticking to your writing schedule.

In other words, although your audience might not be that impressed by the story you posted today, they will at least feel reassured that a better story might appear tomorrow, or in a couple of days’ time or whenever. So, posting a bad or mediocre story is better than posting nothing (when your audience expects you to post something).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Sneaky Ways To Cram More Stuff Into A Webcomic Update

2017-artwork-cram-more-stuff-into-a-webcomic-update-article-sketch

Well, although it won’t be posted here until late June, I finished making a short webcomic mini series a few hours before writing this article (which tells a short detective story in just six comic updates). So, I thought that I’d talk about compact storytelling in webcomics today. But, first, here’s another preview of the upcoming mini series:

The full mini series will start appearing here on the 25th June, but stay tuned for more mini series in the meantime

The full mini series will start appearing here on the 25th June, but stay tuned for more mini series in the meantime

1) Plan it first!: One of the best ways to tell a lot of story in a relatively small space is to make a full plan of the comic first (eg: make very rough sketches of each update, including dialogue). If you plan out your comic before you make it, then it’s easier to see what can be changed, cut or moved around in order to free up more space.

For example, with the upcoming mini series, my original plans ended up looking fairly different from the finished comic. Some of this was because I’d come up with a better idea for the ending whilst making the comic but, mostly, it was because I was looking for ways to save space.

One example of this was that, in my original plan, one of the updates would have consisted of four dialogue-based panels. But, when I was making the comic, I realised that I could reduce the dialogue slightly and cram four small panels into the top half of one of my comic updates. This essentially allowed me to squeeze two comics into just one comic. Here’s a shrunken preview of the finished update, which shows the panel layout:

Thanks to looking at my plan and revising it, I was able to reduce the size of one planned update by half whilst only losing a minimal amount of dialogue.

Thanks to looking at my plan and revising it, I was able to reduce the size of one planned update by half whilst only losing a minimal amount of dialogue.

If you can get a general overview of your comic before you start making it, then these kinds of changes are both considerably easier to make and easier to think of.

2) Panel size, formatting and layout: One of the easiest ways to cram more story into the same amount of comic space is to use a larger number of smaller panels. However, if you do this in the wrong way, it can ruin the look of your comic.

Generally, you should also try to include some larger panels too in order to avoid visual monotony (and to show off some interesting art too). For example, my current format for webcomic updates is to use an 18 x 18cm square that is divided into two horizontal “rows”. Usually, there are two panels on the top row and two on the bottom – like this:

"Damania Repressed - Analytical Engine" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

But, when I was trying to cram an entire detective story into just six of these “standard” comic updates, I followed slightly different rules. In order to avoid the comic updates looking too “squashed”, most of them have three panels in one row and two in the other. Like this:

This is how to sneakily add an extra panel to your updates, whilst keeping them the same physical size.

This is how to sneakily add an extra panel to your updates, whilst keeping them the same physical size.

This also made them look fairly similar to a “standard” comic update, whilst also allowing me to add an extra panel. These extra panels can add up fairly quickly too 🙂

3) Know what not to show: This one can take a bit of practice and research (eg: read lots of comics, look at the editing in scripted TV shows etc..) to get right, but you can increase the amount of story in each webcomic update by knowing what not to show. In other words, you need to know when to let the audience’s imaginations “fill in the gaps” and when to actually show something to the audience.

For example, in the penultimate update of my detective comic, I included a small panel showing a police car driving towards the house that the comic is set in. In the final update, there’s another small panel showing a policeman arresting the culprit (after Harvey, the detective, has concluded the case). Yet, there are no pictures of the policeman entering the house or introducing himself to everyone.

Because the audience has seen the police car driving towards the house, the sudden appearance of a policeman several “minutes” later isn’t too surprising. And, yet, this whole part of the plot only takes up two small panels.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Does The Expression “Kill Your Darlings” Mean ? (Plus, An Exclusive “Deleted Scene” From One Of My Short Stories!)

2017 Artwork What does 'kill your darlings' actually mean

When I was writing one of the short horror stories that appeared here last Halloween, I was reminded of a very famous writerly saying – “kill your darlings”. So, I thought that I’d explain what it meant – in case you’re puzzled by it.

All the expression basically means is that you have to look at your story, comic etc… as a whole and trim out any parts, no matter how much you like them, that either slow it down or don’t fit in with the rest of the story.

It means that, for the good of your story, you have to edit everything ruthlessly – especially your favourite parts of the story (these are the proverbial “darlings” that you have to kill).

The main reason for this is that it can be very easy to get caught up in the “cool” or “fun” parts of your story. If you aren’t careful, you can waste hundreds of words on inventive, but needless, metaphors and similes without even realising it.

Likewise, you might want to show your characters just hanging out because it seems like a cool idea – but, if it doesn’t do anything to advance the plot, it has to go!

Plus, if you’re written a really cool part of the story, but you find that it either conflicts with the rest of the story (or can only be included with the addition of lots of convoluted connecting narration), then it probably has to go too.

Remembering that you have to “kill your darlings” is a way to remind yourself to look at the story as a whole. It’s a way to remind yourself that even a really cool sentence can often damage the pacing or the style of your story. It’s a way to remind yourself that every scene should be relevant and streamlined.

And, yes, it can be difficult to do, but it will improve your story.

For example, the short story I linked to earlier originally had a totally different introduction.

A couple of sentences from it survived into the final story, but – despite spending a while writing it – I realised that having 300-400 words of plot-irrelevant introductory dialogue and descriptions (in a location that wasn’t even a major location in the story) would ruin the pacing of the story. So, it had to go.

Still, I kept a copy of it for posterity. Yes, the dialogue includes a bit more characterisation and slightly more humour. Yes, in a longer story, it might have been an interesting scene to include in the middle of the story. But for the very first 300-400 words of a 1000-1100 word story, it was just impossibly slow and stagnant. See for yourself:
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“Festivals Are Grim” By C. A. Brown – Deleted Scene (unfinished):

Three things are certain in life. Death, taxes and rain at festivals.‘ Gemma grinned at me, as she reached into the chest pocket of her oh-so-retro neon green and bleeding-eye pink cagoule.

The rain rattled on the roof of the tent like tommygun fire in an old movie. Through the gap in the entrance, there was nothing but white static and blurry people. Over the noise, Gemma’s phone quietly plinked into life.

Shit! No wi-fi. Have you got any?‘ She muttered.

I reached into my bag and pulled out my battered old phone. ‘Only if you’ve got a modem.‘ Gemma rolled her eyes and looked out at the rain again. We’d expected rain, but this was really taking the piss. Even Glastonbury didn’t get this much rain!

Tapping her phone uselessly, Gemma said ‘Is there anyone good on? Or should we just spend the day here, bored out of our fricking skulls?

Got any green?

I’m out. Shared the last of it with that cute emo guy last night. Yes, I know, emo! It’s ironic though – I mean, the guy is totally into good music. He just looks like an emo because, well…‘ Gemma smiled.

It’s hot?‘ I sighed. Gemma chuckled. She was probably right.

Anyway, how the hell are we going to see the setlist without any wi-fi? You’d think that they’d put in an extra server or whatever.

They gave out a brochure.‘ I said, scrambling through my bag. Once I’d found the brochure, I smoothed it out and we examined the setlist. The main stage was an absolute no-go area. It was all daytime filler- bands that no-one had really heard of. The headliners wouldn’t be on for hours. The alt stage seemed a bit better – at least the bands actually had vaguely cool-sounding names.

The alt stage?‘ Gemma rolled her eyes.

It’s in a giant tent. The main stage isn’t. This rain isn’t going to stop any time soon and we’ve almost run out of booze here.‘ I shrugged.

Gemma looked at the half-empty water bottle of vodka in the corner, before turning her phone off and dropping it into her cagoule pocket. I put my jacket on and we stepped out into the rain.

The alt tent wasn’t too far away

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Is It Possible To Make A “Director’s Cut” Of A Webcomic?

2017 Artwork Webcomic directors cut article

Whilst editing part of a webcomic update from a mini series that will appear here in mid-May, I ended up thinking about whether you can have a “Director’s Cut” of a webcomic in the same way that you can have in a film.

Basically, the last two panels of this comic update originally contained about 20% more dialogue than they did when I’d finished editing. Some of this dialogue was removed for pacing reasons, some of it seemed slightly out of character and one joke accidentally gave away a plot twist. Yet, there was a version of that comic update that contained more dialogue than the finished update did.

Since most webcomics are made by just one or two people, there’s no large studio to interfere with the webcomic before it is published. So, the people making the webcomic are often free to choose what to include and what not to include (and, yes, it’s possible to have “deleted scenes” in a webcomic).

As such, most webcomics already are a ‘director’s cut’ in the strictest sense of the word, since the people making them have the final say on what’s included in the comic.

But, it could be argued that there’s often a lot of material that is left out of webcomics – lines of dialogue trimmed for pacing/plot reasons, unused comic strip ideas, alternate artwork etc… So, it’s certainly possible to have an extended version of a webcomic, but not a traditional “director’s cut”.

Still, the closest thing to a “director’s cut” that can probably be done in a webcomic is when an artist and/or writer revisits some of their old webcomic updates and remakes them in something closer to their modern style. Still, this is more of a “remake” than a “director’s cut”, even if it can involve changes to a webcomic update’s dialogue and art.

Plus, one thing that often prevents webcomics from having “director’s cut” versions is the very format of a webcomic itself. Whilst many webcomics (mine included) are divided up into several segments, traditional webcomics are often continuous things.

But, if there’s one word that can be associated with making a webcomic, then it’s “fast”. Webcomics are often expected to be published in regular instalments and this often means that the creators have to work on them continuously and/or make a large number of comics in advance.

This often means that webcomic makers often don’t have the time to revisit old comic updates in the way that a film-maker might be able to revisit one of their films in order to make a “director’s cut”.

In a way, the only way that a webcomic maker could possibly make a director’s cut is if they went back and removed comic updates that were mostly made to fill the schedule or to bulk up an otherwise short comic. I mean, there are at least two webcomic mini series of mine which would have probably been better with fewer comics (eg: “Damania Resolute” would have been better if it was half as long and “Damania Retrofuturistic” could probably be improved by removing 2-4 comics).

But, for the most part, it’s pretty much impossible to make a “director’s cut” of a webcomic because, most of the time, this is what a webcomic already is.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Very Basic Ways To Salvage A Failed Painting With Digital Editing

2016 Artwork Salvaging failed paintings digitally

If you’re an artist, then you’ll know that failure happens sometimes.

But, as long as you’ve got a digital camera and/or a scanner, and an image editing program (if you don’t have one, you can download a freeware open source image editing program called “GIMP” here), then you can at least have a better digital copy of your failed painting if you’re prepared to edit it.

Just remember that, if you’re planning to sell your art, then the digital image of it that you post online should be an accurate representation of the original painting or drawing. But, if you’re not selling it, then feel free to edit away to your heart’s content.

Although I use a combination of an ancient 1990s version of Paint Shop Pro, GIMP 2.6 and/or MS Paint 5.1 for my image editing, most image editing programs share a few basic features.

So, it doesn’t really matter which programs you use. I’ll try to write these instructions as generally as possible, so that they’ll be useful regardless of which image editing program you use.

I should probably also point out that the three tips in this article are extremely basic. So, if you already know a little bit about image editing, then you probably won’t learn anything new here.

1) Your picture looks too faded: One problem with scanned or digitally photographed paintings or drawings is that they often look slightly faded.

An easy way to remedy this in pretty much any image editing program is to look for an option (it’s probably in the “colours” menu) labelled “Brightness/ Contrast”. Once you’ve found it, all you have to do is to lower the brightness level slightly and raise the contrast level until your picture looks right.

Personally, I usually tend to use a fairly low brightness level and a fairly high contrast level, because it gives my art a “vivid” look – but just experiment until your picture looks right.

Once you’ve done this, then just cut the image to the proper size (eg: if there’s other stuff in the background of your digital photo etc..) using the cropping tool in your program ( In GIMP 2.6, the icon for this tool looks a bit like a scalpel. In other programs, it often looks like a square made from two overlapping “L” shapes).

2) You’ve messed up the colour scheme: If you’ve messed up the colour scheme in part of or all of your painting, then all is not lost. In fact, there are several things that you can do to create a better digital copy of your artwork:

– Hue/Saturation: Select the parts of your picture that are the wrong colour (or don’t select anything, if you have problems with the whole image), then look for this option in your image editing program (it’ll probably be in the “colours” menu).

Once you’ve found it, just move the “hue” slider until the selected area is the right colour. This will probably require a bit of trial and error, but you can change the colour of pretty much anything (except for solid black and white areas) using this.

– RGB values: Another way to change the colour of a selected area of your artwork is to look for the “RGB” options in the colour menu of your image editing program. This allows you to alter the amount of red, green and blue in the selected area. This is less precise than altering the hue levels, but it can be useful if you need to add colour to a solid white area of your artwork.

– The Nuclear Option: If your problem can’t be solved with either of these two things, then you can remove all colour from your picture by either looking for a “greyscale”/”desaturate” option in the colour menu of your editing program, or by opening the “Hue/ Saturation” menu and reducing the saturation to zero.

Once you’ve done this, then you can mess around with the RGB options (or look for a “colourise” option) to give your artwork a tint if you want to.

In fact, I actually did this with one of my failed paintings from late April (in addition to using a “blur” effect too) after I messed up the colours in it fairly significantly. This is what the final picture looked like:

"Let The Rain Fall" By C. A. Brown

“Let The Rain Fall” By C. A. Brown

3) Correcting small mistakes (in a less noticeable way): I usually tend to do this in a fairly basic program like MS Paint, but you can do this in any image editing program.

The main thing to remember when correcting small mistakes is that the exact colours in your painting are different from the basic stock colours that are available in the menu of your image editing program.

If you use the stock colours (or try to create a similar colour using a custom colour menu), then your corrections will stand out from a mile away.

So, before you correct small mistakes, look for a colour selection tool first.

In MS Paint 5.1 this is called the “Pick Color” tool and the icon for it looks like a pipette/ dropper. In GIMP 2.6, it’s called the “Colour Picker Tool” and the icon also looks like a pipette/ dropper. Virtually all image editing programs contain this tool, so you should be able to find it.

So, what does this tool do? Well, once you’ve selected it, just click on any part of your painting and the brush/ airbrush/ pencil colour will change to the exact colour of the area that you’ve just clicked on. This means that you can seamlessly alter a part of your painting using the exact colours that are in this part of your painting.

Yes, your corrections will still be noticeable if people know what to look for, but they won’t be extremely obvious at first glance.

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Anyway. I hope that this was useful 🙂

Some Rambling Thoughts On Art Series And Consistency (Plus An Exclusive “Never Seen Before” Painting!)

2016 Artwork art series and consistency sketch

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m busy working on my “awesome stuff” art series at the time of writing. This is series of paintings where I try to cram as many things that I consider to be “awesome” into each painting. Or, more accurately, to allude to everything that I consider to be “awesome”.

Since I tend to be further ahead with these articles than I am with my art, this series will probably have been posted on here in it’s entirety well before this article goes out (although I’m still not certain how long the series will be).

Anyway, I had a rather usual and – almost unprecedented – experience when I was working on this art series. If you were reading this site back in February, you might have noticed that I mentioned that I’d actually left a painting out of the series. This was the digitally-edited painting that was posted online on that day:

"Survival Horror Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“Survival Horror Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the “never seen before” painting that was originally supposed to be posted instead:

"Heavy Metal Awesomeness " By C.A. Brown (After Derek Riggs)

“Heavy Metal Awesomeness ” By C.A. Brown (After Derek Riggs)

There were several reasons why this painting ended up being dropped from my art series. The main reason was that I wasn’t really in the right mood when I painted it (eg: not a particularly “awesome” mood) and this affected the quality of the painting.

Plus, although this series alludes to a lot of things, I was worried that the lack of other details in the background would turn this painting from an imaginative and original pastiche into something that was slightly too similar to Derek Riggs’ awesome cover art for this old Iron Maiden video.

But, most of all, it was because it didn’t really fit in with the style of the rest of the series. Most of the time, I don’t usually worry about this kind of thing – but the contrast between my minimalist “heavy metal” painting and the rather “crowded” paintings in the rest of the series just seemed too big to ignore. Just compare it to this small selection of other paintings from the series and you’ll see what I mean:

"All Kinds Of Awesome" By C. A. Brown

“All Kinds Of Awesome” By C. A. Brown

"Scarily Awesome" By C. A. Brown

“Scarily Awesome” By C. A. Brown

Artistic inspiration can be a strange and fickle thing. If you’re in the middle of an art series and you have a great idea for a painting or drawing, but find that it doesn’t fit into your series then this can be quite a dilemma. But, what do you do?

Well, as I’ve demonstrated here, it’s usually a good idea to actually make the painting or drawing in question (if it’s possible to do this). If you get a great idea or a moment of inspiration, then you probably shouldn’t waste it.

But, in many cases, it’s usually best to leave this painting or drawing out of your art series if it clashes with everything else that’s already there. If it’s a great painting or a great drawing, then you can always release it as a stand-alone picture after you’ve finished your series.

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Sorry for such a rambling and basic article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂