When It Just Ain’t Right

I got to the end of my first draft of Hampton Court Ghost. I smiled, patted myself on the back, content that the hard part was over. I had started with a premise, refined it and wrote it down, got my characters in order, plotted out the various bits and pieces and cracked on with it bit by bit.

What went wrong?

What makes you say that, the title of this post? Yeah, well, good pickup.

I went back to read it the next day and, half way through, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. I had done it again. I had ignored that little voice inside me, that voice that tells me, “Dude, that’s not believable. It’s convoluted. Whoa! That’s just wrong.”

Now that voice was back, nattering like a parrot, “I told you so! I told you so!”

It is too hard to ignore now. And, what’s more, it is 100% right.

So I got to thinking about why I had ignored it while I was writing. If I had stopped and paid attention to it, back then, back when things were pliable and fresh, maybe I wouldn’t be in such a pickle. Maybe. So I was silly to push forward with an unworkable idea. Again, maybe.

Hindsight, my old companion! How do you do? Can you shed any light on this? Am I an idiot or was the a valid reason for attempting to defy the laws of common sense?

No, says Hindsight, for that’s just part of the writing process. You would be an idiot if you decided that, after the review, after the cringing and face-palming, you’d run with it anyway. That would be stupid.

But, I counter, wasn’t I silly to have gotten to this state when I could have nipped it in the bud all the way back at inception?

No, says Hindsight again, why, do you want be an idiot? That nagging voice is there for a reason. It’s your moderation. It’s your censor. It’s your doubt and disbelief. It’s your ultimate critic. Without it, you would have been very happy to publish that garbage and pin your name on it.

Yeah, but…

But nothing! (Hindsight can be quite rude at times) Quit interrupting and listen: When writing fiction there’s the creative side and the critical side. The creative side comes up with really cool ideas, “What about this? How about that? Instead of X why don’t we try Q?” It’s fun, it’s kooky and it’s insane. You cannot rely on it to come up with something purely sensible since its origins are abstract.

When it just ain't right

The critical side is that pesky, droll-voiced know-it-all that picks out flaws here and there as you’re going along, circling bad grammar, asking you politely, but firmly, to read that last paragraph before you go too far. It’s the voice of reason, keeping you on topic, on premise, on character. It’s boring and stiff.

The two work toward a common goal, yet are in opposition to each other, like bipartisan politics without the snarkiness and bickering.

So which one is to blame?

I must have given too much influence to my creativity, right? Or was it that my critical side spoke too softly and didn’t wield a large enough stick?

Neither.

Boo! What a cop out! No, really, and this is why: The creative side did exactly what it was supposed to do. It came up with a weird, albeit unworkable, plot, full of holes and unwritten with a bold flourish of nonsense.

Still, it was interesting, not like that’s a good enough consolation. I’ve got to rip out eighty percent of what I wrote, think up a new plot and practically write it all again! Yeah, true, can’t deny I’m pissed at that.

But what if it worked? What if the gamble paid off? I could have had a really zany, compelling story on my hands. Like an artist being unfairly critiqued while laying down the sketches, the creative side needs freedom to experiment, to push the pre-defined boundaries and, of course, to make mistakes.

And when the juices are flowing, I make it a rule not to get in the way of creativity: Bad grammar, punctuation, notes to self, all of it takes a back seat when I’m on a run. When the dust settles, the red pen comes out, the Punctuation Parrot sits on my shoulder and the going is slower, but safer.

The lesson to learn here is that there isn’t a set formula: 1 hour creative, 1 hour critical isn’t going to work. Creativity comes in spurts, at random intervals, sometimes not for days or weeks at a time. Let it go, let it run free, let it make the biggest friggin’ mess you’ve ever seen BUT, after the fun, you need to get your mop out and start cleaning up.

If you’re a budding writer and you’ve found yourself in this situation, don’t lose heart. It’s all part of the process. Sure, it’s painful. Sure, it’s just doubled your effort for no perceived reward. Sure, it’ll delay the release of your book.

This is what defines you as an author: Are you willing to suck it up and revise your book, or even scrap it altogether, so that you only serve up fresh dishes to your readers?

The Bullet Animation – All Together Now

Let me go back to where these updated began: As an independent author, it is up to me to organise any form of marketing or promoting of my books. To this end, I embarked on an adventure – Yes, I’ll go as far as to call it an adventure – to create an animation about The Bullet. Let’s see how this came together.

The Pieces of the Puzzle

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Here is a rough chronological list of my tasks:

  1. I considered what I was after. I made a plan, sketched out my ideas into scenes, refined these down to what was I considered was doable, selecting five main sections.
  2. I researched software that was available for sketching, vector drawing and animations and downloaded Inkscape for creating the vector graphics, Synfig for animation and Gimp for image manipulation.
  3. I sketched out my characters faces and brought these into a digital format, converting them to vector graphics.
  4. Using Synfig, I created my scenes, one by one, according to my original design.
  5. I recorded a bunch of sounds on my phone, uploaded these to the machine and edited the soundwaves with Audacity, and hunted down a gunshot for the climax.
  6. With the aid of Anvil, I wrote the musical track.
  7. I used VirtualMIDISynth and the “Fluid GM” Midi Soundfont to get a richer sound
  8. I exported the music from Anvil and blended this as a separate track together with the sound effects in Audacity.
  9. I rendered the animation from Synfig to a movie file.
  10. Lastly, using Microsoft’s Movie Maker, I added the audio to the video and exported the whole shebam to a YouTube ready file and uploaded it.

The end result is a one minute and twenty second clip that I’m pretty chuffed with:

Sure, it’s not refined, it’s not going to win any medals. If I get to do it again, if I ever have time, there will be several things I’d concentrate on.

Post-Mortem

In the programming world, we use retrospectives or post-mortems to see what went wrong, what went right and what can be done better. Forgive me if I cannot resist giving the animation the same treatment.

The first issue that jumps at me is the lack of sophisticated motion. It was suitable for what it needed to be, and that’s fine, but as I think about how I might create other animations, I figure there will be more ‘going on’. Background motion, moving lips with synchronised speech, blinking eyes, torsos turning, limbs flailing. While too much can be distracting, too little can be boring.

The music I enjoyed. A lot. Creating it piece by piece, getting the soundfonts, discovering reverb and chorus (albeit too late to apply it) and adding tracks as layers was just fun. Pure and simple. I reckon I could lose hours just knocking out tunes and mucking about with rhythms.

Then comes the sound. That was a headache. It was the opposite of fun. It doesn’t matter how I look at it, it just didn’t sound ‘right’. I guess I just don’t have the skillset or the proper equipment for sound engineering, so I’d probably ask for help, or try and find someone to hire.

Likewise with voice-overs. I think a voice-over would have been great. Again, lousy recording equipment and an even lousier voice let me down, to the point where I omitted the voice-over altogether. For this I’d definitely hire someone with a voice appropriate for the context.

Lastly, I think the sketching and vectorising the characters worked out just fine, only I’d spend more time getting details and layers so as to add more dimension to them. And I’d really like to try the ‘bones’ feature out in Synfig and get some complex motion happening. Oh, for another lifetime!

In any case, I’ll call it a wrap. I’ve got to get back to writing, so I bid a fond farewell to the Land of Animation – for now. I’ve got my little bag of tricks for next time, and I hope to share with you my next foray when I get a bit of breathing space between titles.