Obscurity And The Written Word – A Ramble

A few days before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of the major differences between film/TV/videogames and novels. The novel that I’m (still) re-reading at the moment is a spin-off novel based on the “Final Destination” horror movie series. This was a novel that I first read in 2005/6 and, when I first found my old copy of it, I thought “I remember this! I’ll look online for other books in the series“.

It was quite an eye-opener. Whilst DVDs of the films from this series were reasonably cheap, most of the spin-off novels (all less than two decades old!) were surprisingly expensive out-of-print copies. Whilst I was pretty amazed that I unwittingly owned a book that had become a collector’s item, it also crystallised one of the major differences between prose fiction and other mediums.

Namely that it is much easier for books to be obscure than it is for stuff in other genres. After all, if you see an interesting film or play an interesting game, then there’s a good chance that quite a few people have heard of it. There will be Youtube videos about it, fan art about it and maybe even mainstream press coverage too. On the other hand, if you find a really interesting novel, then there’s a fairly good chance that most people haven’t even heard of it.

There are, of course, a lot of reasons for this. Books take more time and effort to enjoy than other mediums. Publishers’ advertising budgets are lower, so only a few big name authors tend to get promoted. The experience of reading a book is slightly different for every reader. It costs less to produce a book, so there are many more of them. Reading is an inherently solitary activity. I could go on for quite a while, but there are a lot of reasons why books will often be more obscure than things in other mediums.

And, yes, this can be somewhat off-putting at times. I mean, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I soon felt the familiar feeling of disconnection that comes from enjoying a medium that really doesn’t have a mainstream fan culture in the way that games, films, TV shows etc.. do. Or, rather, one that has a very limited mainstream fan culture. Seriously, aside from classic literature and a few big name authors, books really don’t get the kind of press that games, films etc.. do.

And, yes, this can make being a reader, rather than a gamer or a film/TV buff, feel somewhat lonely. But, it isn’t all bad news. For starters, the obscurity of most novels means that there is a whole culture that is “hiding in plain sight” in the modern world. Whilst film franchises might be well-known about, there are loads of even better book franchises that no-one has heard of. And discovering one of these is like finding hidden treasure or joining a secret society or something like that.

Likewise, this obscurity also gives books a level of freedom that other mediums can only dream of. After all, the more mainstream something is, the more it has to appeal to a mainstream audience. Because most novels won’t become well-known, this gives authors a lot more creative freedom. This includes everything from the choice of main characters to the types of stories told to things like censorship-related issues (seriously, read a 1980s splatterpunk horror novel. It’ll make even the most gruesome modern horror movies look tame by comparison.)

Plus, because books don’t require things like special effects, teams of programmers etc… books can do things that films, TV shows and games can’t do. Or, to put it another way, even the cheesiest and most “low budget” novel can be considerably more impressive than even a mid-budget film, game or TV show.

This obscurity also means that books can be years ahead of other mediums too. For example, this horror novel from the mid-2000s actually seems like it’s from the mid-2000s, rather than the “1990s in disguise” that films from the time often inhabited. This sci-fi novel from 1992 reminded me a bit of a sci-fi movie from 1995-99 (like “The Matrix” or “Ghost In The Shell”). I could go on, but because books don’t have to fit into mainstream expectations, they can often be years ahead of more popular storytelling mediums.

The obscurity of books also means that, if a genre that you aren’t a fan of becomes popular, then there are still loads of other good books out there. I mean, whilst superhero films and online multiplayer games might be all the rage these days, lots of new books in all genres are still being published all the time.

So, yes, books being the most overlooked and obscure storytelling medium out there these days isn’t an entirely bad thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Why It’s Ok To Be Less Well-Known – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about writing fiction, making art and making webcomics, I’m going to have to start by talking enthusiastically about classic heavy metal bands for a little while. There’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later in the article.

The day before I wrote this article, I ended up listening to a “greatest hits” CD by an awesome old-school heavy metal band (who I saw perform live in 2009) called Saxon. I’m seriously surprised that it has taken me this long to add something by this band to my CD collection.

Anyway, although Saxon are a part of the heavy metal “canon”, they often tend to get overlooked slightly when compared to other legendary metal bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Black Sabbath etc..

Still, being slightly less well-known has it’s advantages. In fact, these days, the entire heavy metal genre is a good example of this (when compared to other musical genres).

Heavy metal music is one of the most varied, creative, complex and intelligent genres out there. Because it doesn’t have to appeal to a “mainstream” audience, because it virtually never gets played on the radio and because it hardly ever appears on television, the bands are free to do their own thing a lot more. Because metal is a less “famous” genre, it isn’t as over-commercialised as manufactured pop music is. So, it has much more creative freedom.

Another good example of this can probably be seen with comics. When most people in the media talk about “comics”, they’re usually talking about whatever generic, tightly-controlled superhero rubbish DC and Marvel are churning out these days. Yet, if you want to see real creativity in comics, then there are literally thousands or millions of less famous independent comics and webcomics out there. And I haven’t even mentioned manga (which, in terms of sales, is probably more popular than superhero comics are – yet is often overlooked in media coverage of “comics”).

Being slightly less well-known also usually means that the people who will seek out your works will usually be fairly dedicated fans of the genre that you write or make art in. They’ll have got bored of all of the famous stuff and be looking for more. What this generally means is that your audience might be smaller, but – if you’re any good- they’re a lot more likely to really love the things you create.

Plus, being less well-known means that you’ll also have a more evangelical fanbase too. Since most people won’t have heard of your stuff, this generally means that your fans will probably want to enthusiastically tell people about it.

So, don’t worry if your creative works aren’t world-famous. It’s actually a good thing. It means that you have more creative freedom and it means that your fans will be more dedicated.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

Four Logical Reasons Why Other People Seem To Like Our “Failed” Paintings (Or Drawings)

2017 Artwork Why Do Other People Like Our Failed Paintings

It’s a long-standing clichΓ© that artists are their own worst critics. There’s a lot of truth to this, if my own pessimistic thoughts are to be believed about a digitally-edited painting that I made a few hours before writing this article (and consider to be a “failure”).

The full-size painting will be posted here in early February, but here’s a reduced-size preview:

Ironically, it actually looks mildly better at a lower resolution. But, the proportions are wrong and my attempts to make the background look more interesting (via digital editing) have actually made it even more boring!

Ironically, it actually looks mildly better at a lower resolution. But, the proportions are wrong and my attempts to make the background look more interesting (via digital editing) have actually made it even more boring!

Still, if experience has taught me anything, there’s a significant chance that other people will actually like it. Every artist has probably experienced something like this once or twice. We make what we think is a failed painting, only for other people to really like it (either online or in real life). In fact, our failures can sometimes prove to be more popular than our successes.

So, what are the reasons for this strange phenomenon? Here are a few possible explanations:

1) We judge our art relatively, the audience doesn’t: Generally, when you make a terrible painting, you don’t plan to make a terrible painting. You plan to make a really cool/interesting/detailed/dramatic painting. But, somewhere along the way, something goes wrong and the painting ends up being a massive disappointment.

However, it’s important to remember that the only person who knows what the painting should have looked like is you. To you, the painting is a disappointment because it failed to meet your expectations. To everyone else, it’s just a painting.

No-one else sees what we imagined that our paintings “should” look like. As such, they judge the painting on it’s own merits. Since they don’t have another imagined version of it to compare it with, then they are slightly more likely to think of it as a “good” painting if you’ve had a bit of art practice….

2) You’ve had practice: Many people who look at art online aren’t artists. As such, if you’ve had a bit of art practice, then you’ll probably still end up producing something that looks like “art” even when you fail miserably.

What, to you, seems like the depressing product of 1-2 wasted hours (or more) might also look like something that has been produced by someone with more art skills than some members of the audience have. As such, they are just as likely to be impressed by one of your “failures” as they are by one of your “successes”.

In addition to this, try comparing one of your current “failures” to one of your “successes” from a couple of years ago. Because of all of the additional practice you’ve had during those years, there’s a very good chance that your new “failure” will actually look significantly better than your old “successful” painting does. If people liked that old painting, then there’s a good chance that they’ll also like your new painting.

3) There are worse failures out there:
Regardless of how bad you think that your painting looks, there is almost certainly a worse one out there on the internet. There’s a 100% chance that your audience have also seen worse paintings than yours at one point in their lives. It’s a universal truth that, whatever you do, there will always be both someone better at it than you and someone worse at it than you. Everyone is somewhere in the middle.

We often judge our “failed” paintings in comparison to the “good” paintings that we’ve seen and/or made. The audience judges it compared to every other painting that they’ve ever seen. As such, because the standards are different, they’re more likely to have a positive opinion about your “failed” painting than you will. They’ve almost certainly seen far worse.

4) Different people have different tastes: Back in 2014, I’d planned to make a bold and vibrant high-contrast picture of an underpass near the train station in Brighton. Due to my lack of understanding about colour theory, and a catalogue of other failures, the final painting ended up being a drab confusing mess (with terrible perspective too!)…

"Brighton - Sunset Station " By C. A. Brown [2014]

“Brighton – Sunset Station ” By C. A. Brown [2014]

And, yet, when I posted it online, it quickly racked up more “likes” than many of my “good” paintings do. Whilst my own preferences are for bold high-contrast art, I guess that a lot of people either like more muted art or art that has a vaguely abstract look to it.

At the end of the day, different people have different tastes. So, whilst you might consider one of your paintings to be a “failure” because it somehow didn’t end up fitting into your own idea of what a “good” painting should look like, it might accidentally fit into someone else’s definition of a “good painting”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

This Is Why You Can’t Predict Your Audience

2014 Artwork Why You Can't Predict Your Audience Sketch

If you put your art and/or writing on the internet, then I’m sure that you’ve probably experienced something like this before. In fact, you’ll probably laugh knowingly when you read the next three paragraphs.

Yes, I’m talking about the times when you’ve had a brilliant moment of inspiration and then poured a lot of time and energy into making something amazing. It’s your best work yet and you can’t wait to put it out there on the internet.

You can’t wait to see lots of people gasping with astonishment at how fantastic it is and not only eagerly sharing it with everyone that they know, but also leaving comments below it saying how you are one of the greatest artists or writers of this century.

But, of course, it actually only gets something like three views. Not only that, as if to add insult to injury, that embarrassingly badly-written piece of slash fiction you wrote six years ago or that badly-drawn piece of fan art you made four years ago pulls in literally hundreds of views – it’s your most popular piece of work. It’s the piece of work that, statistically, is the greatest thing that you’ve made.

It is a sad, but universal, truth that you can’t second-guess your audience. This is especially true on the internet.

In one way, this is because everyone is a unique individual with their own unique tastes and you can’t know in advance what the tastes of hundreds of complete strangers on the internet will be. But, I think that there’s another reason for this too.

When we write, draw or paint what we consider to be our best work – we put a lot of ourselves into it. We mine the depths of our imaginations for the best treasures that we can find and then we put them onto paper or onto our computer and then we broadcast them to the world.

Because the best things we create come from the best parts of our imaginations, they mean a lot to us. They seem almost divinely-inspired, beautiful and profound – and they are. But only to us.

Yes, your best story might be technically well-written or your best piece of art might contain an astonishing level of detail, but it will only feel truly beautiful or profound if the audience has a similar imagination or similar experiences to you. And, since there are only six or seven billion people on the planet, the chances of that are slim.

But, when we’re feeling uninspired or uncreative, we just tend to create things which are inspired by “cool” things that have been made by other people. We tend to go for general things (eg: painting natural or urban landscapes) that we think will appeal to other people in order to stave off that creeping feeling that we’re “failures” because we aren’t feeling highly creative at that particular moment in time.

Because we make more general and/or generic things when we feel uninspired, they tend to appeal to a wider audience. Yes, we might think that they’re the most boring and pointless things that we’ve ever made, but lots of other people will think “Wow! That’s cool! It reminds me of…” because there are lots of other similar things out there that they can use as a point of reference.

Yes, it’s a huge paradox. I know.

Does this mean that you should never create profoundly amazing things that really amaze you? No. It doesn’t.

Does this mean that you should only ever create generic and derivative things? NO!

The best way to think of this is as a cycle of some kind or another. Once you understand how this cycle works, creativity will be a lot less stressful for you.

So, here it is:

You produce amazing stuff to fulfil yourself and you put it out there – very few people are interested. This lack of interest shakes your confidence as a writer and/or artist, so you feel less inspired. Since you feel less inspired, you can only produce generic stuff that more people can relate to.

This generic stuff is wildly popular and this popularity makes you feel better about yourself as an artist or writer. So, feeling better, you start producing amazing stuff again and the whole cycle begins again….

It’s that simple.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚