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The Right Canvas

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?

22 Responses to “The Right Canvas”

  1. Gwyn says:

    My answer? Not yet, but I’ve been giving it serious thought which makes this post both timely and relevent for me. I won’t bore you with the deets, but I will thank you for the reassurance. Alas, I fear my detour will remove me from RWA’s roles, but if that’s what the story demands, then so be it.

  2. YES! I know exactly what you’re saying and how you feel. Last week, I released my first short–well, 40K–but that is short for me. (shameless plug–I’ll talk more about PERFECT on Wesnesday) I really fought not to add more scenes. I think the short moves (which we all need during the holidays) and has all the elements to warm-hearts.

    Writing it was learning experience and freeing! Maybe short is my spray can.

    Great post and congrats on your new release. Do you have buy links to share? Maybe a blurb? Hint!

  3. Liz Talley says:

    What a beautiful post!

    Rigt now I’m sort of locked into producing my art on the same canvas in the same medium, and I have to admit I miss the ability to pick up something vastly different and run with it, allowing my creativity to arc and explode in a new way. But I still find that even within my parameters, I can feel free to push boundaries. I mean I have to. Otherwise, it gets super boring for me to write a boy meets girl, they fall in love, something goes wrong, they over come, without having some uniqueness, some excitement for myself.

    Right now, I’m hung up on a book and I’m staring a dead white space on my canvas. Maybe I’ll envision this as something else and see if it might move me in a direction that will help the story I have to write.

    Thanks!

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I feel like writing for a contract is a bit like being commissioned to paint a portrait. You want to make something beautiful and creative, but you’re locked into the pre-agreed parameters as well. Good luck finding new ways to make your subject shine, Liz!

  4. Hope Ramsay says:

    I have definitely written in two genres. And before I made my first sale, I would bounce back and forth between them. And, yeah, I heard Jane Anne Krentz’s speech about finding your core story and it took a while to figure out that I like to write fish out of water stories. Recently, I’ve been like Liz, though, producing on the same canvass and with the same paints, and, to some degree, painting and repainting the same scene. (This is what happens when you get stuck in a series.) So my wander lust is starting to take hold and that epic fantasy under my bed is starting to call, and I’m thinking that this just might turn into something that is more YA than the original draft. But, as yet, I have not pulled it out and started looking at it.

    Deadlines, you know, they can suck the creativity right out of you. *sigh*

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I’ve just completed my series so I’m able to play around with fingerpaints again if I want to. :) Sorry you’re up under a deadline, Hope. That fantasy YA sounds like an intriguing Someday Project. I have a bunch of those. Who knows if Someday will ever come?

      Good luck with that deadline!

  5. Rita Henuber says:

    Vivi, you are creative in so many ways. They only thing for you to do is reach out and test all these different venues. I think you will be successful in anything you do. Just reading this post shows the creativity. Good job .

  6. My first answer to your question was no…I hadn’t really experimented. Then I remembered a short story that I had started turning into a single-title contemporary romance. Someday, I plan to go back to it, but other projects are calling at the moment. It’s been so long since I thought about that story – thanks for the reminder.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      It’s fun to have those Someday Projects under the bed, isn’t it, Anne Marie? I love the possibility for a new direction – even if I never take it, I love knowing the chance for something new is there.

  7. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I loved that keynote Jayne Krentz gave. I don’t think a person in the room didn’t get something valuable out of it. Congrats on your new release, Vivi. L.L is always forcing me to use new paint colors. :)

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I missed the famous keynote you and Hope caught. I heard her speak at a library in Washington, but I think some of the themes may have overlapped. Thanks, Laurie!

  8. Really interesting post, Vivi. I’ve never really thought of trying to do something else, only to keep making what I do write better. I guess I’ve found my forte and will stick to it. Mostly because I can’t imagine my voice suiting something else. :)

    Thanks for making me think about it.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      If it isn’t broken, why fix it? I love the new and fresh, but that can make me a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none. Here’s to your mastery! I love your books so for purely selfish reasons I’m glad you will keep on with what you do!

  9. Sorry I’m late, but I just got a chance to read this and had to comment. What an awesome metaphor, Vivi! You know, I used to say I disliked first person books, but lately I’ve found myself reading more and more of them (I’m currently reading a Lisa Jackson book that’s in first person). I’ve found my reading tastes have changed (or maybe it’s better to say they’ve expanded). Maybe someday they’ll expand even more and I’ll try to write one. Can’t wait to read yours once it’s done!

    • And I spoke too soon. The Lisa Jackson book I just started begins with a dream sequence that’s in first person present, but then switches to third person. But I’m enjoying it no matter which person it’s in!

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