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Basic Leather Working 101

Introduction

When we started the Creator Consortium, we wanted to share how we did things with the world. We wanted to help people get creative and crafty, whether you’re using your hands to sculpt and create physical things or wanted to create fantastic adventures around the coffee table – we were going to be there to give you an idea of where to start.

We’ve not done much of the physical crafting yet, so this is where we start.

This is going to be a three part series looking at how we craft leather from start to finish. The first part is going to be an overview of leather; what tools and materials you will need (or later on, want) with some basics planning ideas to keep your feet grounded before making any mistakes.

In future articles I’ll go into detail on how to create masks from leather, with detailed instructions and pictures:

  • By the end of part one you should have a good idea about what tools you will need, with optional extras.
  • By the end of part two you should have a moulded piece of leather in the form of a mask which should (hopefully) fit snugly to your face.
  • By the end of part three you should have a fully coloured and treated mask, ready for your party, masquerade or LARP event.

I may reference previous parts as we go or give you snippets to future parts as they’re required. There may also be some heavy editing of previous articles as I develop this glorified tutorial.

I’ll be exclusively using vegetable tanned leather as it provides us with a variety of choices and techniques. More on this later.

Firstly, I’m going to provide an insight into the uses and types of leather and ask some questions relating to your specific leather project.

Why use Leather?

Leather is a type of old world plastic. If you know how to manipulate it, you can get it to fulfill a variety of functions. There are some considerations before you start your project however: Is leather the best option for your project? Would there be an easier medium for you to use?

Pros:

  • Easy manipulation, no expensive tools or chemicals required
  • Sturdy material that can take some serious mechanical abuse
  • Variety of uses from small items to full costumes
  • Easy to use (when you know how).

Cons:

  • Not very forgiving, expensive mistakes can happen!
  • Requires a good aftercare regime
  • Storage concerns: spores, mold & degradation can prematurely eat and destroy your hard work!

If you still think leather is for you then read on for some further considerations.

herd of cattle in daytime

Environmental Impact

Leather was once locally sourced and used extensively before plastics were introduced. Unfortunately, now being a globalised industry, it comes with its own complications.

Cattle herds are huge in America, who are one of the largest producers of beef and therefore leather. The impact on the environment is several fold – cattle create methane, farmland and agriculture impact the local atmosphere, and global transportation methods create more pollution.

Some methods of curing leather use chromium salts. These salts are toxic to living organisms (they use chromium salts to denature DNA strands in genetic laboratories). Chromium treated leathers are usually more synthetic looking, with near perfect surfaces with (usually) thinner and very supple qualities. Presumably they are cheaper, quicker to make and easier to use in manufacturing.

Composition of Leather

Leather is essentially skin. When vegetable tanned leather is cured it can become rigid (for thicker leathers) or paper like (such as thin goat skins). The curing process essentially removes the water content without cracking the surface, leaving a smooth and rough side and providing many years of age to what should naturally decompose.

Collagen (face cream adverts talk about it all the time) remains present in the leather and it is this which gives the leather its rigidity. When we wet or soaked, cured leather like vegetable tanned leather we re-hydrate the collagen, making it flexible and less brittle. As the leather dries, if we have done our job correctly, the leather should hold its shape, allowing us to craft intricate and ornate pieces of work, such as masks.

Vegetable tanned leather is used by artisans and crafters all over the world for various projects. It is generally coarser and thicker leather but has a host of applications: in some older types of vehicles it is used for fan belts, it is used for safety attire, all weather clothing, and used as armour up until the second world war, it has a host of utility uses for belts, tool holders, satchels and bags. Vellum is still used in the UK to maintain official government records due to its almost ageless qualities – it is so durable that ancient Kings used it to chronicle their lives.

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Types of Leather

There are a variety of leathers out there. I’m going to provide a brief description of the main ones that artisans and small project crafters are more likely to use.

Vegetable Tanned – There is no surface treatment to this sort of leather, meaning it is ideal for tooling and dying. You can wet mould this sort of leather. A wide variety of uses.

Dyed Through Vegetable Tanned – These leathers do not possess  exactly the same qualities as regular natural tanned vegetable as sometimes there can be a dyeing finish, meaning you can’t necessarily carve, tool or wet mould the leather. However it is durable, and looks great for heavy belts and armour.

Splits – the leather is split and the bottom portion is dyed and treated again to create a smooth surface. You’ll find it’s cheaper but it cannot be tooled or dyed again.

Suede Splits – As above, but both sides are treated with the new upper side heavily treated to create a velvety nap. This is a very versatile form of leather but again it cannot be tooled or dyed further. 

Clothing Suede, Nappa, Cow, Pig – Thin, supple and multiple uses but mainly for clothing. It usually comes pre dyed and is not suitable for most types of projects I will cover here. However, it is great for smaller projects that do not require much treatment, such as small clothing items or accessories.

Chamois – This is essentially split sheep skin and is the first thing most people think of when you mention leather. It has a host of uses and is particularly nice for buffing and polishing your car.

Saddlery – The bees knees of leather, this type of leather is pumped to the brim with waxes and dyes. It is incredibly tough and can be very rigid. It is ideal if you’re just cutting armour pieces to shape, but will require thinning at the edges for stitching. Being incredibly tough, it may take a substantial effort to prepare for stitching. People tend to use long rivets instead. You may be able to carve a pattern into it, but you will not be able to tool it.

Kid – for its thinness this type of leather is very strong due to its fine grain. You see it made into wallets or book bindings due to its fine but mighty nature.

Upholstery Hides – Huge hides! These make a great base for leather if you’re making large volumes. Again it cannot be carved or tooled, but it can be cheap if you bulk buy. I’ve made tabards from this sort of leather and studded those tabards with thicker leather plates to create simple armour.

Crafting Tools

You could really go to town and spend a lot of money to buy a huge variety of tools. In the early stages of any craft, you should only get the minimum you need to get by. If you have a precision craft knife, a stanley knife, a steel rule and some paper, pens and pencils you’ll get on without a hitch. Optionally, you could look at getting some of the following tools, but these are really for slightly more complicated projects. Where possible, I’ve provided a “cheap-cheat” alternatives, but you’ll find that getting the right tool for the job does have an impact as you advance.

My list of tools apply mostly to using vegetable tanned leather, if you’re using a different type of leather you may need a variety of different tools.

For Cutting Leather…

Cutting Knives – these are really cheap from most hobby and craft stores. Stanley knives or retractable knives and precision knives have different uses: Use precision knives to cut finer details and complicated shapes, such as eye holes for masks, and retractable knives for cutting big blocks or chunks of leather out.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

Metal Rule – this is, for me, an essential piece of kit for cutting leather shapes. It should go without saying that a metal rule will not get cut up like a plastic one. More importantly, it should have some form of guard to avoid cutting your fingers. When cutting leather, you will likely apply pressure, meaning that if you slip… well it won’t just be a plaster (band aid) required to hold your fingertips in place.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

Hole Punch – it’s not technically cutting leather, but a hole punch is pretty useful. You can get small kits which have various sized punches which you swap out and screw into place. You’ll need a mallet or hammer to use this. Avoid the type that is hand punched with a wheel of different sized punches – it just doesn’t work as well.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Carving and Tooling Leather…

Swivel Knife – this is a unique looking knife that looks a bit like a flat headed screwdriver. Swivel knives are used to cut and carve patterns into leather. You don’t need to go nuts here because using a swivel knife takes practice and patience. Some people get the knack of it early on. If you want to practice carving leather without buying one, get a small flat headed screwdriver and try it on a scrap piece of leather. More on this later.

http://i.ebayimg.com/images/i/291481826132-0-1/s-l1000.jpg
Image taken from LePrevo Leathers, http://www.leprevo.co.uk

Bevel / Foot Stamp – this little tool is used in conjunction with the swivel knife. After you have cut a line with the swivel knife you can use the bevel stamp (sometimes called a foot) to push one side of the cut down with a small mallet. The process involves moving the foot along the line while tapping the end with the mallet as you go in one smooth process. The result is an almost 3-D appearance. This is the basic technique for people wishing to tool leather and only really works on vegetable tanned leathers.

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Stitching Leather…

Needles – you can get these very cheaply from haberdasheries. For working with leather you’re going to need thick needles with a larger eyelet hole. This is because simple cotton thread is too small for stitching leather pieces together. If you can afford it, an automatic stitching awl will save you a lot of time and effort, but they do cost more than just needles and thread.

Thread – thicker thread, ideally waxed will be suitable for most leather projects. Thicker threads will be less likely to cut into the hole they are threaded through, meaning you will add life to your final piece. If it is waxed, it will also not rot anywhere as quickly and provide a level of waterproofing to the holes it’s stitched through.

Pricking Awl – this nasty looking device is basically a pointed blade on the end of a handle. It will look like a vicious prison shank. They are used to create tiny cut marks which act as a guide for stitching. They also allow the needle to pass through the leather much easier than if you were trying to punch the leather with the stitching needle. I would not recommend stitching leather without first punching the holes with a pricking awl!

leather crafting work LARP artisan masquerade armour

For Colouring / Dyeing and Finishing Leather

Dyes – There are a variety of ways of colouring leather. The obvious method is to use leather dyes, which are alcohol based and miscible in water (meaning you can thin them down). I use Fiebings leather dye, which come in a variety of colours and shades. Leather dyes wet the leather, so you need to be careful with water moulded leather projects (which I will cover later).

Paints – Alternatively you could use acrylic paints, but these have a habit of cracking as they dry as solids. To avoid this, you can use flexible acrylic paints that contain natural resins or flexi-paints which are made with rubber or latex components. If you’re making something that is not expected to bend, you can just use regular acrylic paints, but I would suggest you water them down and work in two or more thinner layers.

Finishes – You are going to need to add something extra if you’re hoping to take your leather outside or use it for anything other than for display. This is really important if you’re going to use your piece in all weather, such as for LARP events. Even in the summer weather, you will need to protect the colours that you’ve so lovingly applied. Personally, I use a two or more layers of Carnauba wax cream and the thinner but highly waterproof resolene finish.

In conjunction these will waterproof and provide some level of flexibility to your piece, preventing excess moisture going in whilst stopping the leather from drying out and cracking. These make great aftercare materials too, so if you get into making expensive kit for LARP, it may be wise to sell the finishers alongside the main product.

Paint Brushes & Rags – depending on the size of your leather piece, you are going to need to apply that dye or paint somehow. For small pieces such as wallets, belts, scabbards and masks you can get away with artist brushes, for larger surface areas such as armour you may want to invest in a spray gun (you can buy these from model shops and may prove cheaper for short term projects). Rags are rags at the end of the day. Something like dishcloths don’t tend to come with a tonne of loose fibers so they won’t leave marks as you buff the leather up.

Optional pieces include:

Edge Smoother – this little wooden device is great at deburing the edges of your leather. Running it up and down the edge, with the leather in the nook will slowly polish and smooth the edge, making your final piece look cleaner and more professional. They can be expensive, so shop around for cheaper ones – after all, it’s a piece of carved wood.

leather crafting working LARP masquerade armour artisan

Boarder / Edge Cutter – this little device will add border edges to your leather, which can make a piece look finished and also carve a smooth line along the borer into which you can punch holes or run a stitching wheel into for later stitching… which saves time and effort…

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Where to Begin

So let’s assume you have all of your tools, paints and finishes ready. You’ve got your leather ready to go. But where on earth do you start? Well, I have two very important pieces of advice that you should always consider for every project you ever start.

Dream BIG, but think small

It is the best advice you can possibly get when I say: start small.

Leather is unforgiving in that if you make a mistake, you won’t be able to hide it. Unlike fabric where you could stitch a secret piece in, or hide a mistake behind a fold, leather is generally too cumbersome or thick for quick fixes. Of course, you could weather a mistake to make it look deliberate if you wanted an overall finish to match.

So, stay small for your first project. This will give you a feel for how leather behaves when you’re working with it. With that experience you can move to larger projects later.

Refine your idea with Cardboard

My next advice will also save you time and money: create a mockup piece first.

In my early days I had very little money so I had to be thrifty with my leather and consumables. Cutting out pieces of cardboard from cereal boxes and seeing how my design folded, glue or stitched saved me a lot of time and pain.

Buying your Leather & Tools

This is the hard bit.

If you live in the UK, you can get your supplies from eBay, but I would suggest you have a look at LePrevo Leathers. They are a large supplier but they are friendly and helpful people.

For other sellers of tools, you can get everything you need on eBay fairly cheaply. Most of it will be made in China, but if you’re starting out, you shouldn’t spend a fortune unless you’re absolutely certain you want to commit to this craft. Otherwise, shop around.

If you’re elsewhere in the world, you will likely have more local suppliers. Particularly in Asian and American nations, you’ll have the likes of Tandy Leather. If you’re in the UK, avoid Tandy Leather, it is generally over priced under the facade of being user and newbie friendly. That said, if you’ve got cash to throw around, go ahead!

(That said, they have supposedly repriced everything, so maybe have a sneak peek)…

So that’s it for now, in the next week or so there will be part two ready to go. I’ll link it at the bottom of this page and notify via our Facebook page, twitter account and likely various other media platforms. Alternatively, subscribe to us to get notifications!

@FerrisWrites for Twitter

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Next in the series we will look at a project in more detail, with steps on how to prepare and cut your leather to make a mask. It’s not rocket science and I’m sure there will be others with different ideas – that’s fine, lets put our heads together!

Until the next episode!

Mr Ferris

NaNoWriMo 2018: Woah-oh We’re Half Way There.

And so the sun rises on another day, and I realise that I’ve not been so productive or learned so much about my writing in many a year, for that I am grateful to NaNoWriMo. I’m really happy that I started this journey and am confident that I will finish, and that I will have a real body of work that I will be happy with at the end of it.

By now, if you are following along, you should be about half way through your story. I’d say I am definitely half way through and can present an ending, but I’m definitely feeling like I should be further along in the narrative, even though not a lot has happened really. I suppose that is a symptom of this challenge only being 50k words, which is very short for any sort of real story.

If you’re riding high on momentum, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re floating in the doldrums, hardly hitting your targets, or even staring down the barrel of a few 3000 word days, then just look at what you’ve done so far, appreciate that every word is another step to achieving your goals, and knuckle down to get this done.

Good luck, all. See you in another 10k words.

 

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Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Setting the Mood

So here we are again, well into NaNoWriMo!

Today we’re going to take a look at how to set the mood of your writing, from simple scene setting, diction to dialogue, and how it wraps up. We’ll also mentioned briefly what to avoid (hopefully in a nice way). So, onward…

The Oxford Dictionary defines mood as:

“The atmosphere or pervading tone of something,” or “As modifier (especially of music) inducing or suggestive of a particular feeling or state of mind.”

When writing this can be as simple as the physical setting of your piece or, on a more complicated level, it could be represented by the thoughts and actions of your characters. If you’re writing a single short story the mood may not change. Conversely a novel will likely guide the reader through several different moods and back again repeatedly as the story arc unfolds.

We can look at mood in two different ways; mood in a narrative may possess a prevailing emotional aura of a words, or it could be a grammatical mechanic, such as the continued definition by the Oxford Dictionary:

“A category or form which indicates whether a verb expresses fact (indicative mood), command (imperative mood), question (interrogative mood), wish (optative mood), or conditionality (subjunctive mood).”

It’s quite a clunky definition but it can’t really be said in any other way!

So how do we create mood when we are writing, and how do we maintain the mood as we continue into a section or even change the mood? There’s quite a bit involved and some of it will come naturally to many writers – mood setting is as subjective as taste, colour and smell – people experience things differently (particularly between cultures). Let’s see where we can go with mood!

The Setting

It is traditionally accepted in any story that the physical setting of your writing is the best place to start. Here we subject the reader to their core senses, from sight and sound to smell and touch, hopefully generating an emotional response in their juicy brains by whetting their taste for the atmosphere we’re trying to create. Role-players and games masters will likely be familiar with this concept since it is vital to creating the atmosphere in their collective story. Let’s get a bit of practice in!

Start by choosing a place to describe, literally any place at all – I’m going to choose a beach and then I’m going to describe this beach in two different ways. Here’s our first example of this beach:

ocean waves

“A terrible leaden pall hangs over the foamy brine as waves invade the beach in broken lines. Amidst the slate shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lie discarded, cold from bygone and indifferent currents. A shattered wreck of an ancient boat lies upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hide, biding their time.”

Our second example is hopefully lighter:

“A warm breeze filters through blue Elijah grass as rhythmic waves rustle to and fro against the smooth shingles of the beach proper. Scattered about the foreshore are tiny treasures from mariners-old, the largest, an upturned boat, its hull home to ancient barnacles. From the silvery water wave great tendrils of seaweed.”

In these two examples we can see there is a very different mood. The first is darker and foreboding, the second is warmer, happier with reflections to a merry past. In both examples I give the sense of colour, temperature and weather to hint at the atmosphere, helping to set the mood. In the second I described the same place in detail, but in lighter, warmer thoughts – gone is the grey sky and invading sea and in their place are blue grasses with calming and rhythmic waves. Even the old boat is seen in a different light, more as a refuge for nature than a wreck.

These examples don’t necessarily need to cover the same details re-skinned to change the mood, it’s just easier to give an example that way.

TL;DR: By focusing on different objects in a little more detail than normal we can show the reader important factors that suggest the mood to the reader, rather than simply telling them about the mood

Word choice or diction is important in describing the setting. Diction is simply the choice of words and phrases a writer uses. By using different words, we can show or hint at different mental states, creating different responses between scenes if necessary. In the first example I’ve used; terrible, pall, hangs, broken, rusty, discarded, shattered, ancient, pitted, and biding, among others. These are all words with a negative connotation, invoking old, war-like and dark emotions.

In the second, I use words like: warm, rhythmic, smooth, treasures, home and wave. These all have a positive connotation, inspiring thoughts of comfort, relaxation and home.

Finally, when your characters are interacting in this setting, think about how they act. Using verbs, how do the characters move about the setting? Some very simple examples of this movement are creeping or tiptoeing.

When a character walks, we don’t see or feel much for the action of moving. Walking is non-descript. Running is a little stronger, but could just be a form of jogging and is vague. Tiptoeing or creeping however suggests caution. Caution is a challenge which could have catastrophic effects for the character if they fail and are discovered, or perhaps they are trying to be considerate as they drunkenly arrive home one night?

What if you don’t like those words? Well, there’s always a trusty thesaurus! Instead of tiptoeing, we could use creeping, slinking, or sneaking to equally or perhaps better describe the action of moving to instantly create a mood with our character actions.

Caution however when using words to describe the setting, which go hand in hand with using emotions to help portray the mood: using words that are directly associated with the emotions of moods is likely to read poorly, such as jealous and joy etc. Try to avoid the clichés such as happy sun, sleepy moon or angry wind. Unless you’re writing a child’s story book, of course.

Be creative though, and mix up your descriptions, use some alliteration and other literary devices to add a bit of spice.

These sorts of techniques come naturally to some writers, often in a purely subconscious manner. Don’t worry too much if you struggle with this – quite often it is subjective and I firmly believe that you get better at this with experience and life generally – read more and you pick up the vibes from other authors. It’s almost likened to a shared writing experience.

A little note on tone. Tone is created by the choice of words you select when writing. Tone is the narrator’s attitude rather than the mood, which is felt rather than read.

white and black moon with black skies and body of water photography during night time

Time

Choosing the moment of your setting is equally important when writing to enhance mood. By creating the setting with a narrative arc, you can create tension or excitement. Think about it this way; your setting should have a beginning, a middle and an end just like any successful story. Start with character action, include the setting, then move onto an element of the story, finally conclude with some sort of discovery. Let’s have a go at creating an example from the one above, I’ll change the direction a little to focus on the past tense. (P.s, its just a draft which may evolve as we go on).

“A terrible leaden pall hung over foamy brine and waves invaded the beach in broken lines as people, cloaks held tight about their necks, struggled forward through the wind. Amidst the slate and shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lay ruined, discarded by bygone and indifferent currents. The people stopped abruptly. A shattered wreck of an ancient boat lay upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. The leaders of the people gathered and spoke in hushed tones; was this the vessel they had been warned about? Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hid, biding their time.”

This example may be a little off-putting without more context, but the elements of tension and underlying horror or fright are present without actually telling the readers they should be feeling these emotions.

We have a start – people walking, a middle – discovering the upturned boat, and finally the end – a warning or worry about the discovery. It’s not a full narrative arc with a conclusive ending, but then not every ending needs to be conclusive! Have a go carrying out this step with your own location and see if you can match a mood. Get someone to read it and ask them what they feel from it.

The great thing about these skills is that they can be used for literally any genre. We’ve seen how mood changes with simple language use to cause tension to build up in small narrative arcs, powering your reader through to the end. So, we’ve covered mood with a setting with some examples, and we’ve mentioned diction as a strong tool for creating a feeling and a sense for a location, with some character action… what is next?

Pacing & Rhythm

Pacing is a great tool for creating mood in the form of tension, or lack thereof. Short and sharp sentences are capable of producing suspense when they play out over a paragraph – but careful not to overdo short sentences as it can lose its influence quickly.

Longer sentences, with commas, help to produce vivid and deep thought as the reader takes a mental breath at each clause. You’ll often find this in prose and poetry, but it is a valid literary tool for fiction. Getting the balance right is tricky but rewarding. Take time to read each line when you are editing and feel the bounce of the rhythm. If it fits the mood, then you’ve cracked it!

marketing man person communication

Dialogue

(I’ve covered dialogue previously, but I’ll go over a few more ideas here.)

Here we’ll look at dialogue and monologue as a way of creating the mood in a literary piece.

Dialogue is communication between two or more characters, whereas monologue is simply a single character’s thoughts or words kept to themselves. Focusing on dialogue, we find that no two conversations are going to be the same, but their moods can be. As with the example above regarding setting, the same conversation can be had with different moods by use of diction and dialogue. However, unlike with a descriptive setting, dialogue uses line and sentence length, grammar and punctuation to more effect. Let’s use an example to give us a better idea:

“This looks like a place in my dreams – perfect in every detail, right down to the shingle and the distant grey storm. There’s is not a bird in the sky or a lion on the shore, only the seaweed and the growing waves,” Eric said.

“We should move no closer. If we do, there’s a chance we will bring doom upon our people. Please. Caution, my lord. This is dangerous!” said Rolf, tugging at the tails of his beard.

“No. We look closer. Move.” Said Ragnar, pointing to the boat.

OK, it’s not book-signing quality dialogue, but it’s a very simple example of the mood. We know that they have arrived in a place (in context, the beach we spoke about earlier). There is something unusual going on as Eric thinks he has seen this before in a dream.

Eric talks in longer lines and focuses on the details of his surroundings – he is not worried, more likely overcome with wonder at the similarities between the place and his dream. Ragnar seems to be giving orders, despite the advice from Rolf who seems to be worried. Rolf talks in shorter sentences, suggesting he talks quickly. We added an exclamation mark to his speech to punch his meaning, suggesting he is tense.

Ragnar uses similar short sentences but in a different form; he is curt and to the point, giving the command to get closer with a single, final word. We get the impression Ragnar is not a thoughtful leader of his people, since he seems to be single minded about the situation.

Monologues work in much the same way: whereas a dialogue involves two more characters conversing on the subject, a monologue is self-centered on the character. A key difference however is the ability for the characters internal thoughts to be at a complete juxtaposition to their environment, which can add distance between the character and their surroundings. As with any dialogue, a monologue should only ever push the story and plot forwards, otherwise we do not need to read about it!

We can see that the dialogue on its own can be successful by itself, but by combining our examples of setting and dialogue, the mood and atmosphere are supported:

A terrible leaden pall hung over foamy brine and waves invaded the beach in broken lines. People, cloaks held tight about their necks, struggled forward through the wind. Amidst the slate and shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lay ruined, discarded by bygone and indifferent currents. The people stopped abruptly – a shattered wreck of an ancient boat lay upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. The leaders of the people gathered and spoke in hushed tones; was this the vessel they had been warned about? Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hid, biding their time.

“This looks like a place in my dreams – perfect in every detail, right down to the shingle and the distant grey storm. There is not a bird in the sky or a lion on the shore, only the seaweed and the growing waves,” Eric said.

“Move no closer. If we do, there’s a chance we will bring doom upon our people. Please! Caution, my lord Ragnar – this is dangerous,” said Rolf, biting at the tips of his fingers.

“No. Look closer. Move,” said Ragnar, pointing.

TL;DR, the setting and dialogue should relate to each other through the mood of the piece. Cute and sunny will likely lift the mood of most people unless they’ve suffered a terrible loss, likewise, dark and chilling is not likely to lift someone’s mood unless they’re part of the Addam’s Family!

What to Avoid

So the message that should be loud and clear by now is to not tell the reader how a character feels, particularly by using words such as happy and sad. Instead, we now know to describe the feeling and the reaction to the feeling. We can describe the surroundings of of the character in the setting to support any dialogue and emotions to create the mood. And the mood should develop with the narrative arc of the section and the whole piece of your writing to keep it flowing to a rhythm.

Show, don’t tell, as they say.

If you’re really stuck

Here’s an idea to get you out of a rut. Let’s say your trying to write the mood and you’re really stuck with where to start. My advice is start with what the characters sense first, or if there are no characters, what the reader would be to sense first. This is usually, sight, sound, smell and finally tactile. Write a list of single words you could describe the setting and mood with, any words that fit or could fit. When you’ve got a good number of them, go through them and cut out the ones that seem too weak or flimsy. Now put them in order as we just mentioned (sight, sound etc). Using this as a framework, start filling it out as a paragraph… then go from there!

That concludes this installment. It’s been a busy few weeks with all our projects on the go, but we’re enjoying every moment of it!

Don’t forget to leave a comment, like, or an upvote if you’ve found this helpful. We’re all for helping!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

NaNoWriMo Update: 10000 words.

We’re about a fifth of the way through the challenge now, and it’s already been an interesting learning experience for me as a writer. When I began the challenge, I was coming at it from a place of weakness, I hadn’t written much fiction in the last year, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it; to get myself back on the horse.

Well as I approached my new book, I felt that I needed to change my style and approach if I was going to hit my word count every day. (Which I have.) In the past I heavily edited my prose as I wrote it, referring to extensive notes and altering paragraphs to make sense in the context of later ones.

It’s only now that I realise how bad of an idea that is when you consider the whole body of work. My new approach is to just furiously write the prose, being careful to leave mental markers outlining the intent of my story as I go, for example: making sure to mention any sort of conflict going on between two characters, but don’t feel the need to expound on it in detail; hint to a shadow in someone’s past so I know, reading through it later in the editing stage, that I must give a little more information on it.

This approach allows me to really keep pushing these buttons on this keyboard instead of staring at the screen. I am also going to write a body of notes at the end of each week, to give me a reference guide to the lore and any mental markers I need to keep in my head as we go.

The most important thing is to keep writing. Whatever stage of the process you’re at, you can do this! It might seem a herculean effort, but it’s just one day at a time.

Until next time; go and write!

If you’re interested in chatting to the team here at CC, hop on over to the discord. We’re trying to create a community and we need all the nerds we can get!

Discord  Link: https://discord.gg/PGj8yYS

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Exposition is a literary device defined as the author providing information to the reader. The mistake of many new fiction writers is to immediately give the reader all the information. Right away. All at once. Page after page. This sort of exposition is dry, boring and likely results in your book being put down after a few minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, exposition has its place in the world; scientific articles, news reports and encyclopaedias are typical examples. It is considered a formal, matter-of-fact writing style and is sometimes given the name direct exposition. Direct exposition is considered a poor style of fiction writing – readers can’t handle all the information in one go, or the immersion of the story is broken by poorly disguised or placed information.

So, how do you get your information across to the reader?

The key is to trickle your amazing world history (or whatever) into the story as you go, ideally before the reader needs to know this information. Building up this way is simple and discrete and does wonders for your readership.

Jo Walton suggests that the best way to get information flowing throughout your work is to scatter it discretely, allowing it to seamlessly integrate rather than dumping it in. You can achieve this through various actions; dialogue between characters, flashbacks in which the story unfolds much like in movies and TV series, character thoughts and feelings, even describing news reports in the background of the situation. We call these forms of exposition indirect exposition.

The details, let’s get into more detail!

Dialogue is the verbal exchange between two or more characters. It can help you slip in some subtle exposition if the topic of the conversation relates to the information you’re trying to include. It’s as simple as discussing past events, concerns for the future or predictions based on a character experience.

Flashbacks are the author or narrator taking the reader backwards in time to describe a previous situation pertinent to the plot of the main story. They give the reader a sense of time and depth to the characters involved and can offer insight into possible future events beyond current time in the story. Tension can be generated when the reader knows a little more than the characters do. Don’t overdo flashbacks though, they can become tedious if they’re the only source of indirect exposition.

Thoughts and feelings are personal views belonging to your characters and are used in much the same way as a flashback, usually from an internal perspective:

“Why didn’t she turn left? Twenty years of living on the estate and she’s always turned left – she couldn’t help it.”

In-story media or news can really kick your exposition home. All that needs to happen is for a character to interact, either seeing, hearing or indeed taking part in the media platform:

“Chelsey grabbed the remote and flipped the TV volume up. She couldn’t believe her eyes – the stock market had collapsed. All the money they had invested, all the effort and pain they had endured to get their business working had been for naught. Economic war, the news presenter said, was leading to air, sea and land deployment of US troops on EU soil.”

Finally, a worthy note on narrative backstory.

Narrative backstory is when the author promotes some of the history or relevant information at the start of the story. You would normally find this sort of prologue in older fiction, usually pre-1950’s (the height of pulp fiction). It can work in modern fiction, but should be used sparingly – there’s a reason it’s not as popular anymore! However, if a character is recollecting the events or situation it allows for the reader to come to an understanding of the personal effects of this backstory. You will find that authors like H.P Lovecraft often wrote in the fashion of a personal journal or statement of the narrator, which adds a personal feel to a classical plot.

That wraps up today’s literary devices article! If you’ve been affected by any of the content of this article, or if you know of anyone who has, please get in touch and we can discuss the ideas more!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Getting closer to NaNoWriMo!

We’ve got some more unusual literary devices for your perusal today. We’ve scraped the barrel and hoisted the sales to bring these weirdly named tricks to add some flare and depth to your writing styles. See if you can make use of them in your month of writing – the fun unfolds!

Anadiplosis

Is it Ana-dip-losis or Ana-di-plosis? I’m going with the latter! This odd sounding technique is actually very simple – when you break a sentence down into clauses, you can choose to end a clause and start the next clause with the same word. It’s a really simple technique and adds weight to the authority of your tone. For example:

“That man speaks in lies, lies carried from the grave!”

Those smart ancient Greeks like to use this method, it pops up everywhere. My favourite example:

“The mountains look on Marathon – And Marathon looks on the sea.”

They’re quite simple to create and can be used in fiction, prose and poetry. This isn’t to be confused with a chiasmus which inverts the meaning between the clauses of a sentence – more on those later!

Bathos

Bathos uses a dwindling cohesion of metaphors and descriptions to show growing passion of the topic – it’s also used to create silly comedy. I am not a comedian, but here’s the best example I can come up with:

“He urged his friend to stop, to think about the children, to really consider what he was doing – how could he use French mustard on roast beef?”

OK so my example wasn’t great, but used properly bathos can create a strong contrast in the tone of your piece or add a delicate level of wit to something which is actually quite serious.

Chiasmus & Antimetabole

These two are so close together as literary devices that they are often used interchangeably. They’re not entirely the same however. They are used ideally in speeches or perhaps opening lines as rhetoric. When a sentence is repeated by its reversal, to convey an idea or define a point, it is called chiasmus (ki-as-mus). In an antimetabole (anti-me-tab-o-lee) however the words and grammatical structure are also reversed. My example of an antimetabole is one which I have to say a lot during my day job:

“I work to live, not live to work,”

All I’ve done is swap the word work and live around in the second half of the sentence to change the meaning around. For a chiasmus I’ve had to take an example from online, because it’s pretty difficult to distinguish the two types (and some are listed under both literary devices!):

“Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.”

Thank goodness for examples!

Dactyl

Sounds a bit like a dinosaur type creature, right? Well, Dactyl is an old Greek word for a finger and here’s why we use it to describe this literary device: a dactyl plays on a single word of three syllables, with the verbal accent of the first syllable emphasised over the second and third. The technique is used mostly in poetry (some say overused) to the point where its kind of normalised now. The opposite to this is the anapest, which puts the emphasis on the second two syllables rather than the first.

So, a dactyl in poetry (which is in itself a dactyl, PO-e-try) can consist of a series of dactyls in order to provide a meter for the reader, some say this gives the poem or piece of work a galloping effect -which people then link to The Charge of the Light Brigade, a famous and overused example online:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward

All in the valley of Death

You could argue that a dactyl can build a rhythm in your written work when the time is right, whether that’s a galloping charge of mounted soldiers or the specific beat of a drum, dactyls can be used as a literary device to help convey strong imagery.

This wraps up today’s unusually named literary devices. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some weird but cool and subtle tricks to add life to your fiction. Let us know if you have any success or if you’ve got any questions. Maybe you can improve on our descriptions? We’d love to get you involved!

J.D. Ferris, CC

Literary Devices – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and I bet you’ve got loads of ideas ready to go – you just need to start writing. But have you considered the literary devices you could use to add style and flare to your work?

Don’t worry if you haven’t, we’ve picked a few out for this week and we’re going to share them with you in a really easy way to understand. We’ll pick a few more as the days go by, so check back to learn more as you go.

It’s a great little break to read – and totally guilt free, since we’re all learning!

Let’s begin!

abstract anatomy art blur

Anthropomorphism (and personification)

This one is an odd concept, but straight forward. Anthropomorphism is when you give human qualities or traits to non-human creatures, objects or events.

Anthro comes from the study of humans and morphism means to change or develop.

Anthropomorphism is very similar to personification, which gives human characteristics to objects or creatures – except that anthropomorphism is used to make those things appear or seem to be human.

Here are some reading examples to help you identify anthropomorphism:

Animal Farm (Orwell) uses animals for political satire and statements in a way that seems friendly and safe. It conveys his messages without being threatening to the reader, in the way that a news article or science journal might.

This form of literary device gets a lot of use in children’s books, cartoons and animations. My favorite example of this is Redwall (Jacques) which uses animals as humans to create a story which is endearing to adults and children, and plays out the story in a safe medium for children to digest.

boy child clouds kid

Bildungsroman

Weird name, right? Bildung is old German for learning or experience, and roman means novel. Hope that clears it up! This form of literary device is more a style of writing. Usually the content of this form of writing is focused on a young protagonist growing or developing to adulthood, in which experiences may alter the outlook of the protagonist either morally, intellectually or physically. It does not have to be focused on the young however, and pretty much sums up every protagonist story ever written.

I’ve got two examples for you; A Christmas Carol (Dickens), where Scrooge goes from being a terrible old miser to realising that he can provide a positive impact on people’s lives – if he could just give up his old ways.

If you have time to watch it, the TV series A Game of Thrones is filled with bildungsroman themes; Jaime Lannister being a popular one; the guy is pretty much a rich, stuck up, entitled prick who is happy to kick a boy out a window, until he loses his hand – not great for the perfect swordsman! As time goes by, Jamie realises that his worth in the world is limited and goes through some drastic moral changes.

brown and white bear plush toy
No pain, no gain, huh, Ted?

Consonance

Another one people get confused with, mainly due to similar literary devices being very close in nature. Consonance uses the same consonant repeatedly, usually at the end of a word, in a series of words, for example; my luck sucks or no pain no gain. Consonance must not be confused with alliteration, which uses vowels in the same way, usually for the first letter of words. Consonance is also different in that it uses the sound of a letter rather than the actually letter, such as; no knocking now.

Why do we use consonance? It’s used a lot in poetry to create a hypnotic beat to the rhythm of a piece, apparently our brains enjoy this sort of thing!

Double Entendre

This is usually a figure of speech or phrase with a double meaning. The first meaning may be obvious whereas the second meaning is likely to be risque, overtly informal or generally inappropriate. They’re great devices for discrete insults or witty remarks or as humour in a manner much like innuendo.

A reading example follows my favourite story as a child; In The Odyssey (Homer) Odysseus, when capture by the cyclops, calls himself Nobody. When the cyclops is blinded by Odysseus and he escapes with his soldiers, the cyclops shouts out for help ‘Nobody has blinded me, Nobody is going to kill me!’ Of course, no allies for the cyclops came to help, since no one was there to hurt him!

That about sums up our writing advice for today, check back soon for more insights into creative writing techniques, or sign up to our newsletter for updates as we publish more articles. We hope we’ve been some help!

Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce