Blanche And Pearl…“They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Blanche And Pearl...”They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Today seemed to be a good day to share one of the illustrations which I’ve been working on while my chickens helped some with a few pictures for “My Life With Gracie.” This illustration work really is work!

This is one of four large illustrations for How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. It is for the first section titled “Blanche And Pearl.” Each section will begin with a large illustration and then each chapter will have a smaller panoramic banner illustration. (Imagine just the bottom third of this drawing.)

It is a drawing challenge for me to work with only black lines and gray tones because I definitely miss being able to use color which adds so much life and emotion to a drawing. But with the cost of color printing, it is the only affordable alternative for a book of this length. Having grown up with only a black and white television, I am comfortable seeing the world without color, and I think perhaps the drawing style may somewhat recall a previous time period.

Some things are the same as the drawings which I’ve done from the beginning such as the low horizon line which gives a “chicken’s eye” or “child’s eye” view of the world. Also the illustrations which include people, such as The Bottle Cap Lady, will only show no more than the lower body, not the face. (Not because I can’t draw faces, but because the chickens are the main characters. It’s also important to the story’s message for The Bottle Cap Lady to be anyone anywhere, and facial details or a regular given name would interfere with that.)

You may notice a bit more realism in this drawing. Much of this is because the novel explores Pearl’s real genuine emotions about not being accepted by the other chickens and then later losing Blanche and needing to face life alone. Those themes don’t seem suited to a lighthearted cartoon style of drawing. There are also many straight lines and angular shapes, and only the chickens and the German iris use curved lines and rounded shapes. I think this contrast helps bring attention to the smaller elements in the drawing like the chickens. (Often Pearl feels small and insignificant, though she never gives up hope.)

My goal is for this illustration to capture the relationship between Blanche and Pearl and the feelings expressed by this key sentence from the story’s first part: “They only ever had each other.”

You may be thinking this doesn’t look like a typical Christmas illustration or sound like a typical Christmas story. You are quite right. But then Pearl is not a typical chicken and The Bottle Cap Lady is not a typical neighbor either!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

How does this drawing look to you? Can you tell which chicken is Pearl? And is this Pearl as you might imagine her in a world of black and white? I live with these chickens and with these illustrations, so it’s often a challenge to see things with different, and perhaps more critical, eyes. Your perspective, even if not-so-favorable, is truly appreciated.

John’s Reading List For Writers…“Save The Cat! Writes A Novel” by Jessica Brody

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody

This book has an unusual title and cover, and to be honest, neither caught my attention in a positive way. (Could I really let my chickens see me reading a book with a picture of a cat on the cover? Cats love chickens, but not in a good way.)

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel is based on the Save The Cat! books by Blake Snyder. His books were written more for screenwriters, but in her own book, Jessica Brody adapted his ideas for novelists.

From reading this book, I learned that the building blocks of a successful screenplay and a successful novel are very much the same. Both are made up of “beats” which are events that work to transform the main character. Each has a specific goal to move the story forward.

Here are several “beats” that come in the beginning of a story.

The “Opening Image” provides a snapshot of the main character and their world. The readers gets a glimpse of what life is like for your main character. Think about the opening minute or two of a movie where the main character is just going about their ordinary, everyday routine while the opening music and credits are playing.

The “Theme Stated” tells what your character needs to  learn and how they need to change. But, of course, the main character is often complacent about their life and isn’t particularly eager to learn any life lessons and transform in any way because change can be painful and is often hard work. They need something to propel them forward into the story.

The “Catalyst” is something that disrupts the status quo world of the main character. It sends them off in a completely different direction whether they want it to or not. It’s what moves them out of their normal life and onto a journey of transformation.

The next time you watch a movie, look for these things. They have been there all along, we just have not been completely aware of them. (That is what convinced me this was a useful book.) The “beats” are built into the screenplay for a movie, and they can be built into a novel as well. They lay the foundation and hold the story together even though the movie viewer or novel reader is often not conscious of them.

This post just skims the surface of the first part of this useful book. A large section describes the different story types and the essential ingredients that make each as effective as possible. If you write only a particular type of story such as horror or romance, this larger section of the book may not be useful to you, only just the parts specific to your preferred genre. In that case, a borrowed copy from your local library might work best for you. That’s where I originally found this book and then bought my own copy.

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel has been a very useful resource for me and may be the same for you even if you choose not to add it to your home library.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! I am hoping to have a new “My Life With Gracie” story post each Saturday which seems to be our most popular day with readers. Thanks for reading!

John’s Reading List For Writers…”Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron

If you are writing any kind of story, but particularly a novel, this book is for you. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. Wired For Story by Lisa Cron completely changed how I looked at writing a novel and just about anything else!

I checked out this book from our local library early last summer. Read it. Renewed it. Reread it. Took notes from it. Then I went out and bought my own copy!

Wired For Story is about how our brains think in stories and what our brains look for in stories. By tapping into the way our brains process stories, we can write compelling and meaningful stories. (This is not about tricking or manipulating readers the way annoying “click bait” does online.)

The story is what creates beautiful writing…not the other way around. —- Lisa Cron from her website

So what does that mean? To me, it means story has to come first. You may use the most sophisticated words in the dictionary and sound like a literary genius, but if your story doesn’t hold anyone’s interest, you have wasted your time. You may have a beautiful piece of writing, but no one will want to read it. Once you’ve hooked the reader with good story, then they can appreciate beautiful writing.

Throughout her book, Lisa Cron pairs a “Cognitive Secret” about how the brain works with a “Story Secret.” Here is an example from the first chapter.

Cognitive Secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.

Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.

No one told me this when I took “Creative Writing” in high school. The focus was on saying things in a unique way and using lots of sensory description. (This was boring, and I was honestly not very good at either of those skills. I still am not.) By mastering beautiful writing, we would be able to make our readers feel like they are experiencing the story for themselves. Looking back, I wish I had asked, “Why are those things so important when no one cares what happens next to my main character?” Story has to come first.

Even if you only write blog posts and have no further aspirations, what you write here on WordPress must make the reader want to continue on to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next post.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, a story is not about the plot or even what happens in it. Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change. They grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot. Thus story, as we’ll see throughout, is an internal journey, not an external one. —- Lisa Cron “Wired For Story”

That one short paragraph from the first chapter completely changed how I wrote my first novel about my chickens. It went from being about “some cute and interesting things that happened to Pearl” to being about “how Pearl faced some tough challenges that changed her for the better.” This is not an external journey (what we do). This is an internal journey (how we change).

If you are a writer, this book belongs in your library! It will likely change the way you write your stories, and I believe the change will be for the better. By the way, you can also find some valuable free resources on Lisa Cron’s website. Check it out, and if you find the information there helpful, look for this book in your local library or bookstore. I don’t think you will be disappointed.