Writing Excuses 4.15: Visual Components of Storytelling

Isaac Stewart, the interior artist for the Mistborn books, joins Brandon and Howard for a discussion of the visual elements in our work, and how to make them cohere. We talk about the yellow ball-on-a-stick fiddly-bits in the Schlockiverse, and how they unify the hi-tech of that world. We talk about all the symbols Isaac drew as he tried to conveny with the visual sensibilities of the Mistborn world. And we explain how these and other examples of art and design unify the worlds we build and the stories we tell.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, narrated by Wil Wheaton and Kate Reading.

Writing Prompt: Sketch out a starship, with interesting features, and then work those features into your story.

Additional Plug, Just Because We Can: We mentioned XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery, by Tracy and Curtis Hickman. You can get it here, at Amazon, or at any hobby and game store.

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17 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 4.15: Visual Components of Storytelling”

  1. Great show guys; however, I think someone may have misspelled the word “Components” in your title!

  2. I can’t even start writing (not that I’m published but you all get the idea) until I have just about every and every character drawn. It’s weird, but it helps me out a lot. Despite all of my other flaws, setting and character design are rarely among them. Or so I’ve gleaned from writing groups.

  3. Since Howard has mentioned the old AD&D books a few times in the podcasts over the years:

    I have to say Dave Trampier perfectly captured the feel of what I thought the atmosphere should be, or more likely I melded what I expected to fit what he produced, whatever the case may be…

    …it is a shame he “disappeared”.

    I still miss Wormy.

  4. My laptop finally broke this week, and I was so afraid that I would miss Writing Excuses. But then I found out that my Wii’s internet browser can play embedded Mp3s. So I didn’t miss the podcast this week. Yay! Although it’s a real pain to type a comment on the Wii.

  5. Cool, you fixed the title; I’m just such a nerd about little things like that…

    I’m glad you brought up this topic as I believe drawings and writing goes hand in hand to help get the story from my mind to the printed page. I find it is very useful to make pencil drawings of my characters and settings as it helps me to write a more accurate description of the way I picture them in my mind. I find when I have a picture of a particular character I can look at them and make a list of personality traits, things they like and don’t like, what they are the most afraid of, how they might handle being in a certain situation and so on. I am writing a Sci-Fi now and I have made drawings of the planetary system, the planets, and maps of places on the different planets. I also like to draw a time-line and start all of my characters on a different line. Then I make reference points on the time-line where the characters interact and I write what each character is doing on the time-line even when they are not on stage as what goes on behind the scenes can be very important to the stories development.

  6. OT, but I’m in the middle of the second Mistborn book right now, and every time I hear something about that Icelandic volcano, I think “Oh no! It’s the Deepness!”

  7. @Katya – There is coffee all over my desk now. It came out of my nose. I blame you.

  8. I love how you guys do all the different things we need to know in writing. When authors come to my school they usually just say things like, ‘try, try again!’ and ‘Write what you want to!’ You’re comments really, really help me and actually get me to try out the strategies you give us.

  9. I don’t draw my characters before I write… Alright I sort of do,but no one sees them unless my little sister sneaks a look, which she does ALL THE TIME.

    Here is the real test though, I let my sister read my books, then SHE draw them. She is an artist, she’s going to be famous one day I know it.
    Then, if she drew them ‘right’ With the kind of expression that character would have, or the way he stands, the look in his eyes. Then I know I did my job right.

  10. I think one interesting aspect is that whatever visual theme you choice it will alienate as well as attract groups of readers no matter what you choose. For examaple, if your visuals are maga like in some aspect big groups will refuse to touch it, but teenage girls might flock to it. Anf maybe that is what you want, or maybe it isn’t. In any case its an issue that must be considered. The visual elements to your work is just one more of the number of promises you make, and need to fulfil.

  11. I actually got the opportunity in my character design class at school (for 2D and 3D animation) to “Disneyfy” one of the main characters from my book. It was an interesting challenge because I don’t usually draw my characters. Even so, I’ll find images that help me get an idea of what I want for that character. More often than not its the environments that I draw or model. Over the summer I’m going to build a city from my book in 3D and put it into a game engine so that my co-writer and I can literally walk around the city that we’re writing about. That’s a big step up from the sugar-cube port we made for a previous battle.

    I do agree with you Elin – theme is a really hard thing to gauge when you’re making artwork for your stories, especially for amateurs. Most of the “art” I make for my books is only for my personal use. I really admire writers who can pull off the story and the art at the same time and make it a rewarding experience for the reader. *tips hat to Howard*

  12. @Eliyanna – I’m glad someone else appreciates the seriousness of the situation! ;)

  13. Speaking of Mistborn: I’m in the second book too. @Brandon, despite being busy with a career, family, and school, you’ve been dragging me through this wonderful story at nearly record breaking speeds!

    @Howard, you did the same thing with Schlock Mercenary when I first discovered it. Now I wait with baited breath for each day’s installment.

    @Dan, I’m not much of a horror fan but I’m going to make an exception for you!

    Anyway, on topic: I’m not good at drawing, but I often draw notional maps and find pictures that represent my main characters when I’m going to write (or play an RPG). I also sometimes sculpt important items (if there are any) or general religious or cultural artifacts to cement them and their purposes/uses/etc in my mind before putting words on a page.

    As for the final product, the little bits of art that appear with chapter headings or at the front or back of a book can certainly add to the ambiance, but I don’t usually connect them to the story as much as some people might.

  14. For those of you interested in creating your own maps, I’ve found the following website very helpful for cool map-making tips and tricks. Take a look at some of the Cartographer’s Choice Maps in the forum. These are really nice!


    Also, a map that caught my eye from Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. An example of a good fantasy map that is both artistic, informative, and matches the style of the book that it portrays: http://www.jim-butcher.com/news/000348.php

  15. I’ve always found the maps are the best way to draw me into a setting. A well thought out map will make me spend a good amount of time (over an hour for something as developed as lord of the rings) familiarizing myself with the geography. Well developed maps are nice because they tend to mean a setting is also properly developed, and having an understanding of them means I understand the little nods to geographic regions made in the book itself. (But then again, I personally don’t consider World-Builders’ a disease so much as a very delicate and dangerous writing tool, like a scalpel or (in some ways) a chainsaw. If used improperly, it kills the story, even if it gets past the publisher; if used properly, it develops some of the most epic and immersive stories in existence, such as the Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings.)

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