Slap Happy Larry

picturebooks, apps, eBooks, short stories

Category: Development (page 1 of 3)

Stories come as wraiths

wraiths

I don’t usually revisit early drafts of things that are well and truly finished, but I happened upon my very first scribblings about Hilda Bewildered. I use a Scrivener file for an ‘ideas binder’. I’d completely forgotten that I initially imagined this as a Christmas story.

Scrivener Screenshot of Hilda Bewildered

Scrivener Screenshot of Hilda Bewildered

iBooks Author: Making a Fixed Layout Children’s Picture Book

Lotta: Red Riding Hood made with iBooks Author available on the iBooks store for iPad

Lotta: Red Riding Hood made with iBooks Author available on the iBooks store for iPad

I noticed when searching for tips on how to make a picture book (of the sort most often produced for children), the term ‘picture book’ most often refers to a book of photos as far as iBooks go.

But I didn’t want to create a ‘photo book’. Nor did I want to use any of the fancy features of iBooks Author (IBA). After making 3 picture book apps, with all the bells and whistles, I didn’t want any music/narration/video/hyperlinks — I just wanted a plain old linear picture book. I didn’t want to spend 18 months on it, or spend weeks learning how to use new software.

ONE OPTION: BOOK CREATOR APP

I considered making my picture book with the Book Creator app, used by lots of schools when students are creating projects. Book Creator is certainly simple, and very good for use with students, but I’m not a fan of its page turns, and I want my pages to fill the entire screen.

ANOTHER OPTION FOR MAC USERS: IBOOKS AUTHOR

As it turns out, iBooks Author is amazing for what it can do as well as for what it can’t. For example, you can’t hyperlink to an image.  [Now you can.]

IBA is not set up for ‘creating’ a picture book — it’s the equivalent of Adobe InDesign in that you come to IBA after you’ve created all the story and artwork and now want to lay it all out so that it looks nice.

(My favourite ‘creating software’ is Scrivener, by Literature and Latte. Others are using Pages.)

How do I set up an iBooks Author file to create a children’s picturebook? 

tl;dr

Download my very basic IBA picturebook template.

A children’s picturebook has no chapters and only one section. So do this first:

When creating a new document, don’t choose one of the templates — pick the plain one.

Delete its first chapter. You can’t get rid of the ‘section’ below it. Start your page one in the section, then add all the rest of the pages behind it.

Step-by-step instructions are here.

Although all pages after page 01 will be indented inside IBA, as if they’re children of the ‘mother page’ 01, the reader won’t see this incorrect hierarchy, and it doesn’t really matter for us as authors either, since the pages are all numbered correctly. Consider it an unfortunate limitation of iBooks Author, which is optimised for making textbooks, not picturebooks.

Picturebook Template in iBooks Author

Word of warning:  Don’t do what I did and at a late stage decide that actually you’d like to insert a page before page one. If you do that you’ll have to shift a whole heap of assets manually. At least, I never figured out a way to insert a page before the first one.

 

Disable Portrait Setting

It’s necessary when creating a Fixed-Layout Picture Book (FXL) that you don’t want the orientation to change when a reader rotates their device. To avoid this all you need to do is click the “Disable Portrait Orientation” check-box in the iBooks Author Document Inspector.

There are a lot of Internet lamentations about how people are still making FXL books in this day and age, when flowable text exists so use that instead! But no, unfortunately 2015 is not the year in which it’s suddenly easy to create beautiful, bug-free reflowable picturebooks for iBooks. Maybe next year, Apple?

The main problem with creating a FXL book is that it won’t be available to users of iPhones and iPod touches. There are many more iPhones in the world than there are iPads. This will affect the number of downloads you get. Now you can read one of these fixed layout picture books on the small screen which actually creates another issue: For which screen size should you optimise? our Lotta: Red Riding Hood was made for iPad, but now you can read it on an iPhone, the text is actually a little small.

 

What size should I create my iBooks canvases in my art software? 

2048 x 1496px. (That’s landscape)

When you place your image onto the page in iBooks Author, type 1024 into the metrics panel of the inspector. Position it at 0,0:

iBooks Inspector Canvas Size in Pixels

What size do I make the cover?

The cover is always portrait orientation on the iBooks Store.

768 x 1004 pixels

You may have noticed that IBA works with points. I don’t know why. But if you’re interested in more information on pixels vs points, dimensions etc. etc., I found this website the most helpful.

 

What do I do about the text? Do I add the text inside my art software, or within iBooks?

This seems obvious to me now, but was a question I started with. There is a huge advantage to adding the words in iBooks Author — the end user can make use of iOS features such as dictionary, highlighting passages, or I believe there’s a setting where they can have the words read aloud to them. Also, the font will look really crisp on the screen if you’ve added the words within iBooks Author rather than embedded them into the page in your art software.

The problem is, how do I know where the words are going to go, as I make my art in a separate program? I hacked around a bit and ended up pasting all the words into iBooks Author (before doing any art at all), deciding which size font fit best (for this book size 20 looked best for the number of words per page).

Next, I took an approximate (but close enough) screen shot of each page (Cmd+Shift+4), saved the screenshot as page1, page2 etc, then used this as a semi-transparent layer in my art software as a guide to where I’d put the words. That way, I was able to create the illustration to fit around the words.

Using Screenshot as Tracing Object in Artrage

Using Screenshot as Tracing Object in Artrage

 

Page Layout

For Lotta: Red Riding Hood I have decided to stick with a traditional verso-recto design, partly because this is based on a traditional tale, so I want a traditional feel. Bear this option in mind for more modern stories: Now that you’re working with a flat screen rather than on paper with a centrefold, your graphic design is not in fact limited by that pesky join in the middle. Here is an example of interesting, magazine-esque graphic design from a book called:

TRICKY VIC: THE IMPOSSIBLY TRUE STORY OF THE MAN WHO SOLD THE EIFFEL TOWER (Click through to find more about this book at Art of the Picture Book).

TRICKY VIC- THE IMPOSSIBLY TRUE STORY OF THE MAN WHO SOLD THE EIFFEL TOWER

Here the double-spread has been broken into three distinct columns.

What should I put into the ‘Intro Media’ area?

I’ve bought children’s picturebook iBooks where the reader is subjected to a promo video of the picturebook as soon as we open it. I think this is the wrong way to use a promo video. After all, the user has already found your book, if not paid for it. Perhaps you can insert a video which provides a prologue of sorts to the story. I’m sure there are other creative ways to make use of this new digital medium. Let me know if you can think of any.

For now, I’ve decided to use this area for a landscape version of the title page. This works well. I feel an iBook picturebook needs a title page as well as a cover — after all, we’ve been conditioned as readers of picturebooks to expect end papers, a colophon and at least one title page before starting to read the story.

I designed the cover and title page pretty much simultaneously, since I wanted to use more or less the same assets to create both a portrait and landscape version of the same thing.

Here’s our front cover:

Lotta: Red Riding Hood cover for iBooks Store

Lotta: Red Riding Hood cover for iBooks Store

And the title page, which I dragged into the ‘intro media’ area in IBA:

Lotta: Red Riding Hood intro media for iBooks

Lotta: Red Riding Hood intro media for iBooks

 

What do I put into the Table of Contents Area?

You’ll need to put an image in there, maybe the digital equivalent of endpapers? I created an image related to the story, and now it doubles as a colophon. iBooks Author will show you with semi-transparent squares exactly where the page thumbnails will go, so make sure you don’t put anything ornamental or fussy behind there.

Table of Contents Background Image

Table of Contents as seen from within iBooks Author

Here’s what the same page looks like when it’s on the iPad. (Artwork is in progress during this preview.)

Table of Contents as viewed on the iPad

Table of Contents as viewed on the iPad

As you can see, Apple reserves some space for their tool bar/status bars.

I made a PNG file which you are welcome to use as a reference overlay when creating your background image in your art software. Turn it on and off as necessary to check you’ve positioned your illustration where you want it.

How do you preview an iBook on your iPad?

You need to have the iPad plugged into the Mac, with the cord. Then it will show up as a preview option. (You’ll also be reminded that you need to open iBooks.)

Important Update: Mid 2015, Apple changed iBooks so that you can now read iBooks on an iPhone as well as on an iPad. This has important consequences for how big to make the writing — bigger — and means that you’ll need to decide beforehand which device you’re going to optimise for: Will the words look a little too large on the iPad, or a little too small on the iPhone?

Next job, getting your iBook onto the iBooks Store.

  • I called the American Tax Office via Skype and requested an EIN. Strangely enough, we’ve been selling apps on the App Store since 2011 and have never needed one of those. It took no time at all — at least, it wouldn’t have, if the Skype connection had been better…. [Was it the connection, or my non-American accent?!]
  • You’ll need to download an extra piece of (free) software called Producer. (Whyyyy)
  • It took about a day for LRRH to be approved (or, overnight, since I’m here in Australia). A subsequent book seemed to appear on the iBooks store right away.
  • No, you don’t need an ISBN — it’s no longer a required field. (If you’re Canadian you might want to grab one anyway. I heard over your way, they’re free.)

First Person Point Of View In Picturebooks and Film

Film School Rejects shared a short film called Gumshoe, which is four minutes shot from a first person point of view. As FSR note:

First person POV can be tricky to pull off because of how limiting the field of view is. It’s the same thing with found footage, but even without the shaky cam (or at least a less shaky cam), it can be disorienting and leave an audience frustrated by the loss of control. When it’s done well, it can be very cool. Still a gimmick, but an entrancing one.

See The World Through A Detective’s Eyes In This Short Noir Film

In the noir film, the first person point of view serves several purposes and one of those purposes is to add a comic (as well as comical) tone. The ‘kapow’ type voiceovers add to this humorous tone. A woman’s legs viewed from the top-down quash any real attempt at the familiar ‘sexy pose’.

FIRST PERSON POV IN PICTUREBOOKS

What roles might this POV play in picturebooks?

I have made use of it — though not across an entire work — in Midnight Feast, in which the reader views the hallway from the young protagonist’s point of view. The point of view soon shifts to one of ‘reader’ because a touch on the screen sees the protagonist in front of the reader, pressed against the wall, trying not to be seen.

page03_a

A shifting point of view adds variety to a picturebook, which is especially necessary in a story like Midnight Feast, in which the action takes place entirely inside one small apartment and stairwell. But even in cases where there are plenty of beautiful settings, an illustration from first person point of view can aid reader identification with the protagonist, and so I’m making use of it again in Hilda Bewildered. Below is a screenshot for page 22:

HB_page22_taxi-driver-agrees06

In this case I included the hand of the main character. The green ring is significant to the plot, and I also needed the speech bubble to be coming from somewhere (even if it is just a hand). Technically, at that angle, a passenger in the back seat of a car would not see the taxi driver’s eyes but rather his head (I only know this because I worked from a reference photo) but I have illustrated the driver’s rather menacing eyes and I’ve made sure they are looking straight at the reader. In conjunction with the first person point of view, I hope that when the reader first turns onto the page, that those eyes will heighten the suspense. Where is Hilda going? Who with? What’s going to happen when they get there? All of this works better if readers can put themselves into the position of the main character.

A Limitation Of Animated Apps

Apart from the vast resources and expensive software and the need for highly trained personnel there is another reason for avoiding too much animation in storybooks, regardless of ethical considerations regarding whether books should even be trying to emulate animated film anyhow, and it is demonstrated in the picture below:

Tyson Murphy — click to get to original Tumblr blog

As you can see, it’s a purely aesthetic one. The character in the top picture is beautifully rendered, depicting the light coming from above. The character below is what we generally see in even the high budget animated features, such as those from Studio Ghibli, because the time and resources required to have shadows fall naturally and beautifully upon a moving figure is vast, and impossible to achieve unless moving into the super-duper expensive realm of 3D — which has a distinct look all its own.

Here is a screenshot from Spirited Away:

Notice the backgrounds of Spirited Away are of a different, detailed style than the characters. This is a legitimate and successful style, with the simplified characters looking distinct against the backgrounds — overly detailed characters may well make the screen too cluttered. Characters are instead given form with solid fills of darker colour, with a maximum of two tones per object — Sen’s hair, for example, is one tone for the part of the hair which catches light, and a darker tone to depict the shadow.

A more photorealistic style would depict many shades of brown. When characters in apps are animated, a more ‘painterly’ or more photorealistic style becomes unattainable. This is something to consider whether developing a storybook app or judging a storybook app for its animation, or absence thereof.

But in many works, of course, these two different styles is not an unfortunate consequence of animation but a stylistic decision — as Perry Nodelman writes in Words About Pictures:

Illustrations do have a narrative purpose. They must show us not just beautiful patterns and evocative atmospheres but what people look like as stories happen to them; that is, as they move and talk and think and feel. So their faces and bodies usually have the simplicity, and consequently the expressiveness, of cartooning, a simplicity at variance from the frequent richness and detailed accuracy of their backgrounds, which give us a different sort of narrative information. When faces and bodies do have the same solidity and detail of shading and lines as their backgrounds, they may come to seem static and inexpressive…The extraordinary expressiveness of cartooning seems to make it a particularly appropriate means of communicating narrative information. To suggest that all picture-bo0k art is a sort of cartoon or caricature is no insult; it merely stresses the extent to which the purposes and pleasures of this art differ from those we assume of other kinds of visual art.

Animating a Droplet Of Water

midnight-feast-droplet

On one page of Midnight Feast I decided early on that I had to have a tear drop falling onto a plate. I didn’t really consider how I was going to do this without owning animation software — so far I’ve not been convinced that highly animated storyapps tell a better story than ‘semi-animated’ ones like ours. But this really had to be animated.

When I looked up slo-mo videos of droplets falling — thanks, Interwebs! — I found that the way a droplet falls and splashes is completely different to what I’d imagined. When I showed Dan my animation, based closely on the video, he said it didn’t look realistic. I assured him it was ‘realistic’, but the real problem was, it wasn’t believable, so we modified reality a little and ended up with a stop-motion kind of effect which isn’t perfect but quite cool nonetheless. (I’m always amazed when my animation works at all.)

This raised an important point for me, which is as true of drawing as of animation: There is a difference between accurate and convincing. It applies to stories equally.

I’m reminded of the droplet because I just happened upon this: A Hand-Cranked Automaton That Mimics the Effect of a Raindrop Hitting Water.

Nature truly is amazing.

Rethinking The Fade-out

What colour are most movie fade-outs?

In the olden days of film, the transition between Act One and Act Two was often marked by a brief fade-out, a momentary darkening of the screen which indicated passage of time or movement in space. The fade-out was equivalent to the curtain coming down in the theatre so the stagehands can change the set and props to crate a new locale or show elapse of time.

– Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

It’s interesting to think about how so many of the conventions in modern film — and by extension, storybook apps — come from realworld logistical constraints of yesteryear.

The fade-to-black has been played with in more recent times. One notable example is in the HBO series Six Feet Under, in which the fade-to-white stands out and makes a statement (about heaven, about nothingness, about zoning-out) in a way the fade-to-black says nothing much at all, simply because the audience  does not ‘see’ something when it happens to be the default.

Along came PowerPoint and movie software for the Mac and PC, and home movie-makers were suddenly offered a lot of rope when it came to transitions. Cuts, fades, cuts, wipes, random bars, flashes, you name it, all the transitions could be yours!

Most recently, Microsoft has offered up some genuinely impressive transitions, if you’re inclined to be impressed by code.

But what does that mean for story app developers? A few things, I think:

1. It’s hard to wow readers with fancy transitions because they’ll have seen it all before. Page turns are not easy to code. Microsoft and Apple (for their iBooks) have spent a lot of time and money perfecting theirs.

2. It’s easy to pull a reader out of the story by making a simple thing like a page turn into a thing.

3. When using a fancy transition, the fanciness should relate directly to the story — advancing the plot, hinting at theme, providing the reader with foreshadowing/symbolic hints etc.

 

Slapping On Filters

The Horn Book has published a balanced and interesting article about digital and traditional artwork found in modern picturebooks, in which case some reviewers and enthusiasts are keen to know exactly how a piece of art has been created. The article wisely advises in its title: Just Enjoy The Pictures.

However, something from the following paragraph pulls me up short:

While many people embrace the notion that the computer is merely another tool in an artist’s toolbox, there also exists a disdain for art that tries to be something it isn’t, such as digitally created artwork that attempts to look like it was rendered in oils. Why go through the trouble to fake it when you can do the real thing? Why slap a filter on it to make it look like oils instead of taking the messy risk of working with actual paint?

I can’t work out from the article whether the writer realises that no (published) digital artist is simply ‘slapping on filters’.

So I’d like to make it clear here: Filters are about as useful as tits on a bull. There’s no ‘slapping one on’ to achieve any artwork with soul. Indeed, I don’t even know why Photoshop ships with filters. I haven’t yet noticed a picturebook artist who has found a use for a single one.

However, some artists may be making judicious use of filters. Judiciously. Maybe. With lots of mods.

Which leads me to my next point, a response to the clip from a new (niche) documentary called Making It, in which illustrators talk about their work. I haven’t seen the film. There’s a clip on video in which an illustrator called Anthony Francis Moorman talks about various things illustration related — how he enjoys drawing boobs and skulls and not buildings — then he goes on to  say that he takes great pride in the fact that his drawings are done by hand. He says that because of all the art software out there now, a lot of young illustrators are doing their work entirely on computer, and ‘it has no soul’.

As usual, I tend to question cause and effect.

1. ‘Soul’ and ‘spirit’ etc. are religious terms, which are trying to describe something else. ‘Soul’ is such a nebulous term that I wonder what it really refers to in relation to art. Does it mean, perhaps, that the slightly shaky lines, imperfectly coloured, are more attractive than the dead-straight lines which have been auto-filled in a program such as Adobe Illustrator? Does the ability to make perfect perspective with the guides in the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop take something away from the slightly skewed, morphed, unnatural perspective achieved by hand-illustrators?

2. Assuming that this is what is meant by ‘no soul’, is there no soul because the drawings have been done on a computer, or are the drawings soulless because they are being done by people who’ve had no real training in the art of perspective, shading and colour theory? In this case, the computer is not the problem; rather, computers may be standing in the way of a broad art education.

3. ‘By hand’ is an interesting term to those of us who paint digitally using a Wacom tablet. Because when I’m drawing on paper I’m using a pen-like tool. Similarly, when I’m drawing via computer, I’m using a pen-like tool. The degree to which I am able to replicate the experience of drawing on paper is determined by the amount of practice I’ve had: It takes several years to become really comfortable working with a Wacom pen, looking at the screen while drawing onto the desk. But I am still using my ‘hand’.

Moorman’s excerpt is interesting because his thoughts are representative of many attitudes towards the inferiority of digital art and the superiority of non-computer based art. It will be interesting to see if and how these attitudes evolve as illustrators move even further into an era in which it’s impossible to make a living without involving computers at some stage of the development process.

Developing Characters In Stories

Goodreads to Anne Tyler: You are noted for your skill in writing character-driven novels. Do you consider yourself a student of human behavior? When working on character, do you turn to people watching or daydreaming—looking outward or inward for inspiration?

Anne Tyler: I figure we’re almost all students of human behavior. That’s how we get along in the world—by trying to make sense of the people we have to deal with.

When I’m working on character, I search my memory for telltale traits or gestures that I may have noticed in some random passerby. For instance, the other day I met a delightfully scatterbrained woman who was wearing a plastic bracelet the size of a giant bagel. When she tried to write a note, her bracelet was so thick that her fingers couldn’t reach the pad of paper she was resting her wrist on. I loved that; I thought it said reams about her.

Goodreads

Here’s what Robert McKee has to say about characterisation in stories:

  • Characters are not people. Whereas people constantly change and are difficult to pin down, characters in stories stand for things about human nature that are unchangeable through the ages.
  • Be mindful of the difference between ‘characterization’ (age, looks, IQ, job etc.) and ‘true character’ (that behind the mask).
  • True character can only be expressed through choice in a dilemma. How a character chooses to act under pressure will reveal the most interesting things.
  • Make sure you understand your character’s desires.
  • Don’t reduce characters to case studies. ‘Generally, the more the writer nails motivation to specific causes, the more he diminishes the character in the audience’s mind.’
  • What other characters say about your character is more revealing than what main characters say about themselves.
  • To create 3D characters, what you do is give them complexity by contradiction. The trick is to make the contradictions of their character consistent.
  • The protagonist has to be the most complex character in the story.

Catherine Tate was asked once, ‘Where do you get your characters?’ She told the journalist that there was a shop on such-and-such-a-street.

As Dean Norris said of his character Hank Schrader on Breaking Bad: “I knew all about my character before I’d read a thing.”

From an acquisitions editor:

Here is a problem I find in my own writing and one I see in a lot of submissions:
 
Characters so focused on their own agendas that they don’t react like normal human beings to what is going on around them.
Cardboard Characters from Novel Rocket

PSYCHOMETRIC PROFILING

  1. Making use of Myers-Briggs Personality Types;
  2. How to Use Psychometric Testing to Create Believable Characters from Writer Unboxed.

Other Useful Links

4. Creating Authenticity in Fiction – Where do authors draw the line? a thought-provoking article from Carly Watters.
5. Why Your Novel Characters Need Real Flaws at Rachelle Gardner’s blog
7. What Is Character? Books which debunk the myth of fixed personality from Brainpickings
8. Under Development: Ways to Create Characters, from The Other Side Of The Story
9. Take Your Characters To Therapy from Writer Unboxed
12. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT TEMPLATE FOR HEROES (based on Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey)

Editing With Roald Dahl

When I was a kid I thought The Witches was the most perfect book ever written. I’m scared to revisit it now in case I found something wrong with it — which I inevitably would, so I won’t.

However, Publishers Weekly has an interesting piece after a conversation with the editor who worked on The Witches with Roald Dahl. It’s a good read in itself, for anyone interested in the process of story creation.

Here are some points I have taken away from the master of gruesome tales for kids:

  1. When editing don’t lose sight of how prose will sound when read aloud
  2. In a story featuring both adults and children, the children should come up with the bright ideas to get them all out of strife. This is what makes a story for children.
  3. If you’re going to write a story full of mean [women] then you should feature an especially kind [woman] to offset.
  4. Think of your audience. Bugger everyone else.

 

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