The Right Canvas
Posted by Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane Nov 12 2012, 12:01 am
Writing is an art, right? And like any artist, we writers have to find the medium (or media) that works best for us. Some of us may be using mezzo-frescoes to create the Sistine Chapel while others are more in the family of those spraypaint artists I love to watch making and selling their art on boardwalks. We all have different techniques that are going to work the best for us and our perfect medium isn’t always the first thing we try or the thing everyone in our writing workshops is telling us is ART, so please forgive my labored metaphor as we discuss how to find the right canvas for your writing.
Many MANY moons ago, I started out my writing addiction working on an epic fantasy novel. Under the belief that it would sell and I would be skyrocketed to fame and fortune as the next David Eddings, I jotted down preliminary notes for a half a dozen books in the same genre. But that first fantasy book never did sell in an epic bidding war (le sigh) and I shifted my attention to romance, temporarily forgetting about those half-done fantasy plot sketches.
Then, years later, I was going through my old notes (more reminiscing than with any belief that I would find anything useable) and I tripped across one of those plot sketches that still resonated with me, but in an entirely new way. I was dying to write this book, but this time when I looked at it, I didn’t see fantasy. I saw Dystopian. The evil wizard was now a dictator. That fantasy world was now a futuristic society. It was the same book, the same heroine, the same plot, but with a few little shifts it was topical and new (and much more suited to my voice, which has never been very lyrical fantasy-ish).
I once heard Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick talking about her historical and futuristic worlds and how they both support the same story lines. When one pen name was struggling (hard to imagine now, I know) she could write the story she wanted to write in the other world without losing the heart of it. So look at your book in a new way. Maybe your medieval Crusader romance would make a kick-ass space opera, or vice versa. Maybe your contemporary virgin-billionaire motif would be fresh and new in a Victorian setting, or even steampunk! Consider shifting the canvas to give your words new light.
And while you’re at it, consider the size of the canvas. My new release (Finder’s Keeper! Out tomorrow! Pause for celebratory cha-cha.) started life as a 4,000 word freebie short story for a promo my editor wanted to do with a bunch of her authors. She gave us a starting paragraph and we were all supposed to take it and spin it into a story our own unique ways to highlight our various styles and strengths – so mine became a mini Karmic Consultants para-rom-com. The promo project was pushed back because of deadlines/life/the universe/everything and eventually scrapped. But I had already written the story – and when I mentioned putting it out as a freebie on my own, my editor asked me to expand it so we could sell it. I’d never taken a short story and tried to turn it into a novel before, but it was amazing fun, taking that little snapshot of a short story and turning it into a much larger, more detailed portrait.
The same can be true in reverse, taking a long story and cutting it down. Presenting a tighter, more streamlined version can be even more compelling than our original longer attempt. It’s all about making something beautiful and not ALL beauty is elaborate, some is clean and simple. And small. So if you’re stuck on your manuscript, consider experimenting with the canvas size.
And then (stick with me, I know the metaphor is stretching to the breaking point but we’re almost to the end) there’s the paint used. I think of that as the perspective and voice. First person, third person, poetic or bare bones – they can all be used to make something beautiful in the hands of a master. And sometimes trying a new paint can open up whole new avenues of art.
I’ve been writing in third person from day one and I feel pretty comfortable with that paint (let’s call those acrylics, shall we?). I know what it can do, how to blend the colors, I may not be Monet, but I’ve honed my skills enough to have some technique. And now (writer gods help me!) I’m experimenting with a project in first person. And present tense, no less! It’s like I put down my acrylics and someone put a can of spraypaint in my hand. (Okay, I put it in my own hand, but ack!) Now I’m trying to figure out how to make those gorgeous pictures I’ve seen the boardwalk artists create and I’m not sure whether I am about to be declared the Spraypaint Van Gogh or locked up for paint abuse. Time will tell. But I’m glad I’m trying it. Just think of all the great art we would be missing if Picasso had tried to spend his whole life as a Realist?
So that’s my metaphor. Ta da!
Have you ever changed the canvas of a story and seen it take on new life?