Pants on Fire

Or: the Advantage of Pantsing

In writing, it is generally thought there are two approaches, and a writer falls somewhere on a spectrum between the two:

Pantsing and Plotting.

A Pantser “writes by the seat of his pants”. He charges forward and sees what will come out of his pen. A plotter plans ahead, giving himself character sheets and a plot outline.

In general, I have a certain amount of contempt for pantsing. It strikes me as writing by accident. At the very least, a man ought to know how he intends his story to end. Otherwise, how does he know it’s any good? And indeed, the more I use formulas and structures and plots and principles, the better my stories tend to get.

However, there is a certain point where planning is stalling, and you just need to start executing.

I’ve been stalling on the second half of Hat Trick: Night Mare Night Mare for a couple of weeks now. Time to get back on those storyboards.

It is easier, after all, to fix a bad draft than to fix no draft.

Mind is too weak for Matter

Someone I respect, on Twitter, dropped a concept, with which I take issue.

I do not mean to demean his wisdom. Twitter is a format ill-suited to nuance. There is truth to what he says, and if it is not the whole truth, well… there’s not room enough in a tweet for the whole truth.

But let us nit pick because I sense the nit picking may be of use to me and perhaps you.

And the expansion in which I found it:

I responded with fragments from the Abolition of Man.

The Silver Fox, you will note, has accounted for what I wish to draw out in his expansion. He mentions the Will. Let it not be quite said that I am arguing against them. Rather, I am spinning out implications.

Here’s a bit more context from Lewis.

It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism … about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. … A persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment… It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

The Abolition of Man. C.S. Lewis.
Emphasis mine

I grew up a fan of Spock from Star Trek, and my love of logic and reason has earned me the nickname “Logic Monkey.” I did not come up with that name by myself. It was given to me.

But I am a man without a chest. Indeed, thanks to isolation and old books, I am more a product of the Enlightenment than my peers, who are more products of the Counter Enlightenment. My head is swollen; my peers have swollen bellies, but in this I am not more virtuous than they. We both lack for chests.

I’ve said on many occasions that there is a conflict in the arts over whether art is a work of passion or merely diligence. And that I have spent most of my life thinking it was the latter, only to learn that the former is also needful. An artist must put in the work, but he cannot safely ignore the muse.

Lewis’s metaphors draw out what is wrong both with the argument and my current and former positions within it. To enslave oneself to the muse is to be an artist of the belly. To enslave oneself to a formula or a market is to be an artist of the head. What is needed is the chest. Trained emotions.

Like it or not, I have a Style..

So, I just made this post because I wanted to use WordPress’s gallery feature to stick these images side by side.

But I think it’s worth saying I feel like I am about to dive in and finish Hat Trick. No promises today. Gonna try and tinker with the plot, get the ending properly sorted. And I need to talk theology of vocation with my pastor tomorrow. But I feel like it’s about time.

Anyway, my preferred style would be somewhere between Bill Watterson and Johannes Helgeson (warning: Not Safe for Work)

What I do is clearly not that. It’s more like a cross between Mario Strikers and Robert Crumb. Try as I might, I can’t brink myself to ink a picture and not break out the hatching! Maybe after I’m done with my next book, I should take a month or two and just do studies…

Apathy

I grow weary of making the 3D models the moment the sculpting phase is done. When I decided to ditch my current set of rotoscopes for a new set, this was at least part of the motivation, although the rationalizations I came up with were legitimate reasons.

I need to decide whether this is an obstacle to be overcome, or a sign I should sculpt for fun, but continue to illustrate books with drawings.

No matter what you do, there will be parts you don’t like, that bore or discomfit you. Overcoming this resistance is key to accomplishing anything. But! Sometimes you are unwilling to do something because you shouldn’t do it.

Telling these two situations apart is hard.

Possibly, I should sculpt characters, render turn-arounds, and use those to create model sheets.

Well, I’m gonna go feed my face, ponder the question, and maybe look at other stuff I should be examining, such as education related stuff.

John Michael Jones Learns the Lord’s Prayer

As noted last time, a John Michael Jones book where his dad sits him down and teaches the Lord’s Prayer, is currently the focus of my attentions.

There are two parallel tracks on that one:

Track 1: Zettelkasten to Storyboard

  • Research the Lord’s Prayer (via smart notes).. ✔️
  • Lay out the card storyboards
  • Transcribe the card storyboards to digital storyboards

Track 2: 3D to Painting

For Kid Proportions (John Michael) and Superhero Proportions (David, John Michael’s Dad), in any order:

  • Proportion drawing ✔️
  • 3D Sculpt
  • Retopo Body
  • Retopo Head
  • Retopo Hands
  • Sculpt/Model Clothes
  • Sculpt/Model Hair
  • Create Sword Prop
  • Create Poster/Painting of Character

And then combine the two in father and son painting.

When both tracks are done, everything is ready for production. At this point, I go to Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, and simultaneously, I go to my secret teams for proofreading, review, and editing.

So this week, I aim to spend a couple hours each day doing 3D stuff, and adding a page or two a day to the card stack.

Update: Today’s Progress

Continue reading “John Michael Jones Learns the Lord’s Prayer”

Weekly update

If I had storyboards, this would be a paid SubscribeStar update. But I do not.

Last week, I got to the end of a story arc on Hat Trick and instead of trying to push ahead, as is my wont, I decided to go all in on making kids’ books via zettelkasten. The idea is I work on whatever I want in the form of little note cards (which in my case are literally playing cards),

…and when a cluster of cards develops to the point that I can turn it into a book, I turn it into storyboards and kick off the process.

Switch!

So I got started on Awesome Moments. But because A) I don’t trust my printer/scanner, and B) I’ve always wanted to illustrate a kids’ book by painting over 3D models, I spent a few days re-teaching myself how to sculpt in Blender.

During the process, I unearthed some reference pictures I drew for character proportions, and attempted to use them, but decided they weren’t right for my needs: I need big hands and feet, for a more cartoony look.

So I produced a new set of proportions, which I have yet to try sculpting or modeling in any way.

Yesterday, the thought occurred that it would be better to make a story that had only one or two characters, so that I can produce a finished book as soon as possible.

The List

To that end, I listed out all the stories and settings I have on my mind, in case any jumped out at me as the best candidate. This is not the first time I’ve examined my options.. I tend to go through the list each time I finish a project to try and pick the next one. But this time I tried to be exhaustive, and from now on, when I conceive a new project, I intend to go back and edit that list rather than make a new one.

Making Awesome Moments 1 is going to take 3-6 months no matter what I do. The idea of picking a project that allowed me to build incrementally toward it was more a joke and an excuse because having a list of all my potential projects is extremely useful to me.

But… then a thought occurred to me. And I already spoiled it at the beginning of the post.

Switch!

John Michael Jones learns the Lord’s Prayer! I sculpt JMJ and his dad, I make a room with a bunch of stained glass windows, and I make the windows illustrative of the prayer in question. Bam.

Yesterday I smart noted the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s large catechism on it. And this has me a little worried…

A Little Worry

Historically, I have not finished projects I’ve started. I like to jump around. Last year, I turned that around by picking tiny projects and committing to them come hell or high water.

The Smart Note/Zettelkasten approach is founded on the belief that jumping around is actually the right way to go — if you do it smart.

I have reason to trust it. But now, having jumped twice in a single week, trusting the process is getting hard. There is no intrinsic limit on it.

I’m going to give it 3 months. If I don’t have at least one book storyboarded by December, I need to reconsider.

Awesome Moments Models

Last time I spent any time on the Awesome Moments project, a few months ago, I came up with some drawings and a concept for proportions based on the drawings.

The idea is to make what I call “lego people”. Not that they have any physical resemblance to legos, but that I have hands and torsos and legs and heads and hairpieces that I can mix and match to create several different cartoony characters.

And the art style is an art style I can be happy with for most of my projects because, using them as a basis for paintings, I can produce higher quality books faster than if I were drawing them.

Mind you, I’m not 100% sure I don’t want to draw them yet. Only 90%. I’m sculpting and sketching away secure in the knowledge that I don’t need to make that decision until the book is ready to harvest from my deck box.

Thing is, this is not the first time I had the idea to do lego people for a project.

Continue reading “Awesome Moments Models”

What’s in the Cards?

  • Awesome Moments is sitting at 14 pages, 4 of which I mapped today.
    • The goal is book 1 is the Gospel, but with a brief bit on Eden, and a brief bit on the Resurrection to provide context. AM1 is the framework for all the other AM books.
    • All the pages thus far are Creation/Eden. I expect to get 4-6 more pages out of Eden, so let’s use that to estimate final book length:
      • 20 pages Eden
      • 40 pages Christ
      • 10 pages Resurrection
    • At a rate of 3 pages/day, that means 13 weeks before the cluster is ready to be harvested. That puts me storyboarding in November, aiming to release the book in January or something. Yikes.
    • But we’re going for max quality, so…
  • Hat Trick has 32 pages, zero new.
    • Aiming to make the final story about twice the length of the intro story, for a total of 100ish pages.
    • At this rate, it’ll be done when it’s done. Which is sad, because I was aiming for October, but unless I get bitten by a Hat Trick bug, it’s unlikely.
  • Trying to sort out what I’m going to do with Anvor
  • Trying to sort out what I’m going to do for “Trad Berenstain Bears” (that is, a series starring a large yet functional family).
    • John Michael Jones is a candidate for this, though he presently has a small family.
    • I had also hypothesized a family of space doggos on a star-faring houseboat.
      • However, for maximum functionality, we want people tied to land, and not sojourners.
      • Although… sojourners does work well as a metaphor for this life, as we await our True Home…
      • I have previously hypothesized a spacefaring family that was designed to be my favorite things about Star Trek. These two concepts could be rolled together.
    • A bad candidate is Anvor. Anvor is a bunch of stories I told as a kid that could or even should be reborn as kids’ books. None of them fit this archetype. However, Anvor and its existing lore would be a good candidate for the backdrop.
    • The final good candidate is V-Knights, another series of stories I told when I was young. This one would be extremely simple to convert into a functional family piece.
    • At the moment, none of the card clusters here have any pages.
  • Every now and again, I yearn to code.
  • I’d like to make some mermaid thing for my kid. Right now is too late to have it done for the next birthday, however.

So we’re looking at two or three months before I produce another product. Ouch. I’ll have to see if I can expedite the process. However, I do have a commitment to make my next book the absolute best product I can, regardless of the time investment.

I don’t think that’s ultimately a good plan. I think there needs to be a balance between quality and getting the products out where they are doing some good. But to strike that balance, I need to know which extremes I’m balancing between, and thus far I’ve only tried to work quickly rather than qualitatively. So, at least one book is going to take a loong time to make.

This week in making Kids’ books:

Having converted to the deck box method of making books, this week’s goal is to continue to seed my box. At least a couple of cards each day.

On the theory that Awesome Moments is the cluster most likely to be harvested next, and having done some “3D sketches” to get my knack back:

Each day, after seeding my deck, I intend to complete or retopo a sculpt to build up a library of pieces to use in future books. And I think I’ve worked out a guiding principle. I decided to post a challenge to teh twitterz (sic):

Continue reading “This week in making Kids’ books:”

Sculpting Warmup

This is part 3 of 2. Part 1 is why I’ve stopped work on Hat Trick for now (I have and I haven’t), part 2 is I’m likely to work on Awesome Moments next (we’ll see), and this is less a member of the series and more the fallout of that decision.

Here’s a bunch of pictures I’ve made by slapping down a 3D render, and then painting over it.

It’s not the only way I do things. I can also paint stuff without relying on 3D to cheat.

Wren Fall

And I left out the more egregious examples where the end result looked worse for the technique rather than better.

But I’d like to use the technique for Awesome Moments.

Or more specifically, I’d like to use a variation on the technique.

I would like to create a library of character pieces that I can mix and match to create a wide cast of characters. Stick Head A on Body B with Legs Q, and we all have the same hand model…

With each book I release, the new parts exponentially increase the number of characters, situations, etcetera, I can use. But first, I have to settle on a style and build the parts library for a single story.

It’s been about a year since I last did anything serious in 3D. I was starting to get a knack for sculpting in Blender when I made a lamb for a nibling.

But that knack has gone. And so, last night and today, I have been working on relearning how to sculpt in Blender.

Continue reading “Sculpting Warmup”