Why First Novels Aren’t Publishable – A Ramble

Well, although I’d planned to write about the horror genre, I thought that I’d talk about first novels today.

This is mostly because, during the 2-3 months before preparing this article, I tried to write my first proper full-length novel ( apart from this old thing. Although that was technically a novella, still it felt like a novel at the time. But, I digress…).

And, yes, the full-length novel project was a horror novel. Well, technically, it was a post-apocalyptic alternate history dark comedy heavy metal zombie thriller with romance elements. But, “horror novel” is shorter.

Anyway, I ended up with a finished 63-chapter, 54,800-word second draft. But, after trying to improve the first draft for a couple of weeks, I realised that it wasn’t even close to publishable quality.

It was a hell of a lot of fun to write, but after looking over it for a couple of weeks, I noticed so many faults and flaws (eg: unresolved plot points, crappy pacing, cardboard characters, bland dialogue, a confusingly non-linear timeline, very bland/repetitive narration in some parts etc..) that even the most extensive editing probably wouldn’t salvage the thing.

Or, to put it another way, it wasn’t something I thought was worth splashing out on a proper editor for or spending time trying to get published. Yes, I was amazed that I actually wrote the thing, but I didn’t have the confidence in it that I’d expected.

This, of course, made me think of the classic writing advice about first novels. You know, the one about how they are never publishable. Of course, like I did, you’ll think that you’re the exception to the rule. That the manuscript that you’ve spent months on will break this gloomy, miserable rule. Well, after testing this rule out for myself, I thought that I’d offer some explanation for why people say this about first novels.

But, let me say this right now, your first novel isn’t a “waste of time”. Even if you are the only person to ever read the whole thing, it isn’t a waste of time!

Your first novel is a way to practice writing a full-length novel. It is there to show you that you can write a novel (seriously, actually finishing it is a real confidence boost 🙂 ) and, more importantly, to show you what you need to improve for your second novel.

I cannot stress the importance of this second point enough! Your first novel is a way of revealing things about your writing that you might not have known before you wrote it. It is there to teach you what you need to do differently in your second novel. It is a dry run, a test, a practice project. When it fails, that failure shows you how not to fail the next time.

After all, if you were trying to learn any other skill, then you wouldn’t expect instant perfection. You wouldn’t expect your first cookery project, musical performance, online multiplayer match, craft project etc… to be the pinnacle of perfection. So, why is it any different with novels? With all of these things, you need to fail and learn from it before you become good at it.

You also need to do your research in order to know how and why you’ve failed. In the case of writing, this mostly involves reading lots of other novels. When you read a lot, you’ll compare your first novel to the books you’re reading and, chances are, you’ll think “It isn’t as good as them“. The trick is to ask yourself why. Is it the characterisation? The writing style? The pacing? The structure?

If you do this, rather than just thinking “I’ll never be as good as these other writers“, then your unpublishable first novel won’t be a waste of time. It will be an important step on the path towards your second novel. After all, you can’t write a better second novel without writing a bad first novel beforehand.

So, yes, your first novel is important. It is very, very important. Because it won’t be good enough to publish, not despite it. If you’ve actually finished your first novel, you are already better at writing novels than most so-called writers. If you think “I can do better next time”, then you probably will.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Things To Do When You Worry That Your Short Story Is “Badly Written”

At the time of writing, I’m in the middle of a longer short story project (that I probably won’t post here) that is a hell of a lot of fun to write. However, I’ve found myself racked with worries that it is badly-written in all sorts of ways.

Whether it is worries about repetitive descriptions, about whether the satire in the story is too heavy-handed or about whether the balance between several genres is right, it is one of those stories that seems to have provoked a lot of worries about quality.

Of course, I’m probably not the first person to experience something like this. So, I thought that I’d offer a few quick tips about what to do if you worry that your short story is “badly written”.

1) Finish the story: When you’re actually writing a story, the most important thing is to actually finish it. If you still feel inspired or enthusiastic about the story, then put all of that enthusiasm into finishing the story. Remember, you can always edit or improve it later.

In other words, a finished badly-written story is better than an unfinished masterpiece. Once you’ve finished a story, you can go back and rewrite, trim and just generally improve what you have written. But, if your story is unfinished, then you won’t be able to do this.

The important thing here is not to let worries about quality stop you from finishing your first draft. First drafts can often be slightly badly-written and this is just part of the creative process. So, don’t worry if your first draft isn’t perfect. The important thing is to actually finish it.

2) Remember, there is worse fiction out there: No matter how “badly written” your short story may or may not be, it is always important to remember that there is worse fiction out there. Some of it even gets published and becomes quite popular.

So, even though you should look at your story from the perspective of a potential reader and try to improve it based on this, don’t let worries about negative reactions to your story put you off from actually finishing the first draft.

The thing to remember here is that readers are a rather varied bunch, with a wide range of opinons. If you need proof of this, just look at the “reviews” segment of a popular online bookshop for reviews of novels that you’ve read. You’ll usually find people who really love and people who really hate exactly the same book. These reviews will often seem like descriptions of totally different books. So, remember, whilst you may not please all of your readers, there will probably be people who will enjoy your story.

3) Remember, you’re a better writer than you think: Simply put, if you are worrying about whether your story is “badly-written”, then you are a better writer than you might think. In short, truly terrible writers usually don’t know that their fiction is badly-written.

So, if you have the self-awareness to worry about whether your readers will think that your story is badly-written, you are a better writer than you think. After all, you’ve probably read enough fiction to be able to think about things from a reader’s perspective and you’ve practiced and studied writing enough to spot potential issues with your story.

Yes, you will probably still need to edit or improve your story after you have finished it but the fact that you’ve actually noticed that some people might think your story is badly-written means that you are a better writer than you think.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things To Do If You Worry That Your Art Is Getting Worse

Well, a while before I wrote the first draft of this article, I started to worry that my art was getting worse. This has mostly been because some of my recent and upcoming art has been somewhat uninspired and/or undetailed, like in this painting that will be posted here in a few days’ time.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 10th August.

Not only hadn’t I been feeling the same drive and enthusiasm as I often do when I make art, but my art was decidedly less detailed than some of the art I posted here last year, like this painting:

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

So, what should you do if you are worrying that your art is getting worse?

1) Remember, you aren’t getting worse: Generally speaking, if you’ve made good art in the past, then you’re still capable of making art like this. You still have all of the skills that you had back then and you’ve also probably had more practice too. So, it’s very unlikely that your art skills are actually getting worse.

No, it’s probably due to something else. For example, I’d been been busy with other stuff at the time that I made some of these lower-quality paintings, so the amount of painting time I had was one reason for the quality drop. Likewise, I hadn’t found anything that really inspired me in the way that had happened with some of my past paintings. Plus, I’d sometimes ended up making paintings when I was tired (which resulted in lower quality art).

I could go on, but usually the reasons why you might feel that your art is getting worse are often time-based reasons, emotional reasons and/or practical reasons. You almost certainly still have the same skills that you used to, but there’s probably some obstacle that prevents you from putting them into practice in the way that you used to.

Sometimes, trying to work around the causes of these problems can sometimes help you to produce better art. For example, a few hours after I wrote the first draft of this article, I ended up preparing another painting and – thanks to being more awake, finding an inspiration (eg: mid-2000s nostalgia, mixed with the cyberpunk genre) and finding more time to paint – it ended up being somewhat more detailed.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 11th August.

2) Look at your really old art: Although it can be easy to compare your current art to art that you’ve made relatively recently and feel that your art is getting worse, it is extremely likely that your art is still improving in the grand scheme of things.

If you don’t believe me, then look at a “good” piece of art that you made three years ago or earlier. Compare it to one of your current “mediocre” pieces. There’s a very good chance that even today’s lacklustre art will still look at least marginally better than the distant past’s “good” art. For example, here’s a “good” painting of mine from 2014:

“Green Palace” By C. A. Brown [JULY 2014]

This old painting still looks reasonably ok, but on a purely technical and stylistic level, it isn’t really as well-developed as even the more mediocre art that I make these days.

If you’ve been making art for less than three years, then don’t worry. You’re still new to it and you’re still learning the basics. Having times when you feel less inspired, or times where you fail and make mistakes is all part of both being an artist and learning to be an artist. So, don’t worry about it and keep practicing regularly.

3) Do something “easy”: One of the best ways to restore your artistic confidence if you’re worried about the quality of your art is simply to make a piece of art that requires very little in the way of creative inspiration, which can be made relatively easily and which will automatically look better than your “ordinary” art.

Although this type of art varies from artist to artist, I usually find that art based on pre-existing things is very useful for this. If you know how to copy from sight, then making still life paintings or even studies of historical paintings ( just make sure that they’re out of copyright, and that you acknowledge the original artist) can be a great way to produce good-looking art when I’m going through an uninspired or mediocre phase.

For example, during an uninspired phase a few months ago, I was still able to produce some good-looking art by – for example – making a slightly altered study of this 19th century painting by Gustave Courbet:

“After Gustave Courbet” By C. A. Brown

So, making an “easy” type of art – whether it’s still life paintings, fan art, landscape painting, studies of old paintings etc… can be a good way to reassure yourself if you’re starting to worry that your art is getting worse.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Rushed And/Or Uninspired Art Look Better

Since I seem to be going through a bit of an uninspired phase at the time of writing, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to make rushed and/or uninspired art look better.

Whilst this won’t result in ultra-high quality or ultra-detailed art, it will at least make rushed and/or uninspired art slightly less noticeable to the untrained eye.

Although I’ve probably mentioned some of this stuff before, I’ll try to avoid some of the really obvious ways to make uninspired/rushed art look good (eg: remaking your old paintings, making studies of historical paintings, making still life paintings etc..).

1) Focus on the easy parts: If you’re feeling uninspired and/or you don’t have a huge amount of time to make a piece of art, then one of the best ways to make it look better is to focus on the “easy” parts of the picture and to either leave out the more complex parts or find some way to hide them.

For example, people are often relatively difficult to draw well. So, in an uninspired digitally-edited painting that I’ll be posting here in early July, I made sure that the person in the foreground was facing away from the audience (and, thanks to the positioning of the painting’s light sources, was also little more than a silhouette). Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 1st July.

By devoting less effort to the person in the foreground, I was able to spend more time on the “easy” parts of the painting – such as the background and the lighting. This allowed me to make these parts of the painting look reasonably ok (or at least better than they would have done if I’d focused my time and effort on drawing a more detailed character instead).

So, find the elements that you find “easiest” to paint or draw and focus on these.

2) Detail control: One of the best ways to make uninspired and/or rushed art look better is to add lots of detail to one element of the picture whilst reducing the detail levels in other parts.

This can be as simple as drawing or painting a detailed foreground and adding a rather quick or impressionistic background (or even leaving the background out altogether). But, it can also be done in much more subtle ways too. For example, here’s a preview of a somewhat rushed digitally-edited drawing that I’ll be posting here in early July:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 2nd July.

Although this picture looks reasonably detailed at first glance (due to the detail on the plants), the picture’s colour scheme is considerably less detailed. For the most part, it is just a simple orange/black colour scheme (with some grey and white too). By devoting much less time and effort to the colours and choosing an “easy” – but striking – colour scheme, I was able to save a bit of time whilst making it.

So look for areas where you can add detail and, more importantly, look for areas where you can reduce the detail level (without affecting the quality of the picture as a whole).

3) Have a unique style: Although it can take quite a while to develop a unique art style, it can be incredibly useful when you’re feeling uninspired and/or are in a rush.

This is because even a less-detailed or lower-quality piece of art in your own style will still look more unique and visually-interesting than a piece of art that uses either a more realistic style or a more commonly-used style. For example, here’s a preview of a slightly uninspired painting that will appear here in a few days:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th June.

Although I wasn’t feeling that inspired or enthusiastic when I made this painting, it probably still looks reasonably ok since it includes most of the key features of my art style – such as high-contrast lighting (where at least 30% of the total surface area of the painting is covered in black paint), my usual colour palette, my usual drawing style, some elements from the cyberpunk genre etc…

The thing to remember here is that even though an uninspired painting in your own style might just seem “mediocre” to you, it will probably still look interesting to people who either like your art style or haven’t seen it before. So, having a more unique art style can make even your uninspired or rushed art look a little bit more distinctive and interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

In Art, Style Matters As Much As (Or More Than) Substance – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, I’m going to have to start by talking briefly about watching a review of a modern computer game (of all things). As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will become relevant later.

A short while before I wrote this article, I ended up watching a cynical game review on Youtube (viewer discretion is advised). Although the game in the review is too modern to run on my computer, the footage of it looks like the coolest thing in the world (eg: a “Blade Runner“-style cyberpunk horror game). But, the reviewer is heavily critical of the experience of actually playing the game since it aparently includes relatively few game-like elements.

This made me think about the subject of “style vs substance”, and – since this is supposed to be an article about making art – I thought that I’d look at how this relates to art.

Unlike games, films or novels – style can often be as important or possibly more important than substance in art.

For a great example of this, just look at a genre of art called “Conceptual Art“. This is a genre of art/sculpture that prioritises meaning over aesthetic concerns…. and it’s terrible! Seriously, the average work of conceptual art often just looks like a pile of random bric-a-brac that has been lazily thrown together in about five minutes.

So, yes, style matters a lot in art. This is why, for example, historical paintings from the middle ages to the 20th century are still revered as great works of art even though the vast majority of people couldn’t care less about the religious stories, historical events and/or people from the past who are depicted in these old paintings. The style of these paintings is appealing, even though most people don’t pay much attention to the substance.

Likewise, another way to prove the value of style in art is to look at a comic written in a language that you don’t speak. Since you can’t understand the dialogue, the only way you can judge the quality of the comic is by looking at the actual art. And, if you keep reading it despite not understanding the dialogue, then that’s usually a sign that the art is of a suitably high quality.

Yet, despite this, substance does matter in art. But, not for the reasons you might expect. Going back to the comic-based example, one of the reasons why a comic can still be compelling even if you don’t understand the dialogue is because the art contains a high level of visual storytelling. So, visual storytelling can be one way to add some “substance” to your art.

Likewise, substance can be a useful thing when it comes to being inspired. Often, when an artist is feeling highly-inspired, it is usually because they have a very interesting idea they want to turn into a painting or a drawing. So, having some “substance” behind your art can be a great way to feel inspired. But, even if you’ve got a good idea, you still have to express it in a visually-appealing way.

For example, the night before I wrote this article, I prepared a digitally-edited painting that will appear here later this month. The painting had a good idea behind it, but it didn’t end up looking as good as I had hoped. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 29th.

In this painting, I’d planned to paint a 1980s-style rural pub. Although I’d originally planned to depict it in a rather romantic and rose-tinted way, I suddenly realised that it would be a lot more interesting to make a painting that was both warmly reassuring and eerily ominous at the same time. A painting that evoked both the friendly coziness and the dreary, heavy traditionalism of an old-fashioned pub. A painting that showed how these two elements interact with each other and how they are both equally important parts of what makes old pubs so interesting.

But, although I sort of achieved this, I didn’t really do it that well. The emptiness and gloomy lighting ended up tipping the picture slightly more towards the “ominous” side of things than I’d expected. Likewise, I messed up the composition, perspective and shadows slightly too. Whilst it certainly isn’t the worst painting I’ve ever made, the stylistic elements certainly don’t live up to the original idea that I’d had.

Although my painting had an interesting meaning behind it, I messed up how I expressed that meaning. And, as such, the painting suffered as a result.

So, yes, style matters as much as – or more than – substance in art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Finding Good Things In The Mainstream – A Ramble

Although I sometimes take a somewhat cynical view of modern “mainstream” culture, I had a rather interesting experience that made me think about it in a slightly different way.

This was mostly because, during a nostalgic moment, I remembered that there was a brief period during the late 2000s/early 2010s when modern British pop music was actually really good.

In 2009-11, La Roux had released songs like “Bulletproof”, “In For The Kill” and “Tigerlily”. Tinie Tempah had released songs like “Pass Out” and “Written In The Stars”. Ellie Goulding put out a song called “Guns And Horses”, Clare Maguire put out a song called “Ain’t Nobody”, Jessie J released “Do It Like A Dude” and Mini Viva released “Left My Heart In Tokyo”. For a couple of years, modern mainstream pop music here was actually worth listening to.

Despite the fact that modern mainstream culture is often eye-rollingly terrible, it does contain good things. Although lots of them rarely appear at once (eg: the only other recent example I can think of is how both a remake of “Ghost In The Shell” and a sequel to “Blade Runner” were released in 2017) and some even have high barriers to entry (eg: system requirements for modern “AAA” computer games etc..), they are certainly there. Not to mention that many of the old things from the 1980s and 1990s that I love so much were probably at least slightly “mainstream” when they were originally released.

Yet, finding good things in the mainstream is often either a rare surprise or more like panning for gold. This is, of course, why “mainstream” stuff from the past often tends to be far better than modern mainstream stuff. Leaving aside the awesome historical nostalgia in many “mainstream” 1990s TV shows, movies etc… History usually has a habit of ensuring that only the best things are remembered.

Although this isn’t perfect – since contemporary classics (like “The Matrix” or “Half-Life) can overshadow other good things in the same genre released at the same time – history does serve as a very good quality filter for “mainstream” things.

So, one of the best ways to find good things in the mainstream is simply to either wait a few years or to look at things that were mainstream a couple of decades ago. Generally, if something has stood the test of time, then this is usually a good sign.

But, often the best way to find good things in the mainstream is just to trust your own instincts. If something sounds like it could be good, then check it out (when the price has gone down a bit) and see how you react to it. I mean, some “mainstream” authors that I really like include Lee Child, J.K.Rowling, G.R.R Martin and Dan Brown. Yes, their popularity was the thing that first introduced me to their novels, but it was the quality and/or enjoyability of their work that kept me interested.

So, let your own quality standards be your guide (instead of advertising or whether something is “popular” or not).

Because, yes, sometimes good things become popular. Sometimes they don’t. Although there are a lot of criticisms to be made of the mainstream, the fact remains that there are occasionally good things that can be found there.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Not Every Webcomic Update Will Be Stellar… And That’s Ok – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy making next month’s webcomic mini series at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about quality variations in webcomics today.

This is mostly because, although the second update in the upcoming mini series certainly isn’t a “bad” comic update, it didn’t end up being quite as funny or artistically detailed as the previous comic update was. Here’s a preview of it:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd May.

Even if you only make webcomic updates occasionally, you’ll probably run into this problem too. Sometimes, the only good idea for a webcomic update isn’t quite as good as the idea you had last time. Of course, in these situations, the only sensible thing to do is to… make the comic update anyway.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Make the comic update.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, a mediocre finished webcomic update is still better than a hypothetical “great” webcomic update that you haven’t made. For starters, it means that your audience gets to see something. Even if they aren’t impressed by the comic update, they can at least feel reassured by the fact that you’re still making comics (and sticking to your schedule).

Secondly, you are almost certainly your own worst critic. If you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even one of your “bad” comic updates might still be considered acceptable or even good by the standards of other people. If you haven’t been making webcomics for long, then you need the practice – so make the update and post it for your own sake. Remember, even the best webcomics weren’t as good during their early days.

Thirdly, even if you only publish six comic updates a month (which seems to be my thing at the moment), you’ve still got to make multiple comic updates within a relatively short period of time. This is especially true if you want to make a long-running webcomic.

You’ve got to come up with comic ideas on a regular basis and, as such, there are inevitably going to be slight dips in quality occasionally. No-one’s imagination runs at 100% efficiency all of the time. Your audience probably understands this too and are more forgiving then you think. At the very least, if you stick to your update schedule then this means that they won’t have to wait that long for the next comic update (which might be better).

Fourthly, a mediocre webcomic update can be more inspirational than you think. After all, if there are any aspiring webcomic creators in your audience, then they are probably going to see the mediocre comic update and either think “I can do better than that! I’ll finally start my own webcomic!” or “Whew! I’m not the only one who has off days with my comic sometimes!“. So posting a mediocre comic update might actually help out other people.

Finally, and most importantly, if you care about the fact that your latest comic update isn’t as good as the one you made before it, then this means that you care about making webcomics. It means that webcomics still matter to you. It means that you still feel motivated to make webcomics. It means that you aren’t giving up in frustration or anything like that. It means that you want to make better webcomic updates. And this is a good thing!

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂