I learned a lot of stuff this summer. I consider these Wednesday updates in August to be a kind of "summer wrap up" where I talk about that. But I also changed my plans a few times, and I've got these big ideas in my head that are pushing out the little things I wanted to talk about. So.... I'm going to shove the big ideas aside for a bit, and talk about nitpicky little things.
The Devil, and The Opportunity, Is In The Details
I am a great believer in what I call Passive Marketing. I'll expand on that a more this fall, but what it's about here is Optimizing My Stuff: making the blog more attractive, make the links work better, make it clearer what people are looking at, better titles, better covers, better blurbs, better writing.
The blog story -- this online novel I've been writing -- is new, and I've been just feeling my way along. Since I'm shifting the rest of my blog back into gear in September, I need to think about what I want to do with the presentation of the blog story:
When I look at each episode -- that is, how it looks when you click a link and land on it -- I think I've got a little too much header. It takes up so much space that the story itself starts almost "below the fold." You have to scroll to get started.
So what can I do?
First, I should look at the header for the whole blog -- the banner with the lady with the sword. The image part of that is perfect for the blog, and I'm not going to mess with that, other than maybe find the source files and fix the ugly color of that frame border. But the subtitle is just too big.
I really don't want to get entangled in a complete new template design right now, and Blogger's interface doesn't make it easy to change the size of just that text. So I'm thinking of removing that text and putting it in the sidebar.
Once that's done, I think I can make the header within the post more efficient. Right now I've got a tiny paragraph which acts as a story navigation bar. That could be smaller and more efficient -- not full sentences, but just links.
Next below that is the artwork and then the series and episode titles. The text repeats what's in the artwork. I think it's imporant to have the text because it's clear in all browsers and some people read in text only. So...
Much as I love the format of an illustrated title header, I'm not going to use the art that way any more. I'm going to do the illustration in a more "drop cap" style. A square or rectangular illustration embedded in the first paragraph. That should bring both the illo and the first paragraph up "above the fold" even on small screens. (Also, the artwork will look better in those preview thumbnails which only show the middle of the image.)
The Art Itself
I've learned quite a bit this summer, but I hit a plateau in my development somewhere around Episode 20. I set myself some strict limits in how I did the art -- particularly in format and color palette. (I used five specific hues, and only varied them by lightness and saturation.) I'm ready to move on.
And since I am changing stories, it's going to be somewhat easier to set myself a new challenge, but I would do it even if I were continuing with the same story. (And how I hope that when I get back to this story next summer, I will have stronger skills, and I can take the style I've established and improve it.)
So, in October, when I start the new story, I will work on a new style. It will still be abstracted, but instead of solid silhouettes, I'll be going for a woodcut look. The story is set in a world which suggests American Revolutionary times -- a time for rough woodcuts in printing -- but it also has a bit of the feel of a melodrama or political play which looks back on that time from a more recent period.
I went for a WPA poster look for the cover of the first book, The Wife of Freedom, and I plan to stick with that for the books. However for the next blog story, Test of Freedom, I will do just black and white and go with the more rustic style.
Also, I am also not going to do a different illustration for each episode. Instead, I am going to do something like they did with Adventure Magazine, and do a set of repeating "dingbat" illustrations. I will probably do a set representing various characters and locations, and perhaps ideas, and use them as a "scene setter" for each episode. I could use it to set point of view, or the setting, or something else. I might to some illustrations which are specific to the episode too.
This will give me a chance to work on the illustrations a little more (and I might even polish the image when I reuse it sometimes). It also means I might do more than one illustration per episode.
I like the navigation footer (the "stay tuned for Episode XXX" part). And I did learn from Daring Adventure Stories that the post footer can be an effective place to put a book purchase link. However, I think what I've had there is too long. I'm looking at ways to have something small and efficient but still effective.
The Rest of the Blog
This summer, I mostly took off from real blogging. I posted the blog story, and my ROW80 update posts, but otherwise just posted the occasional think piece when it struck me. In the fall, I'm going back to real and earnest blogging.
I've got to get organized, and so next week -- the last Wednesday of August, I'll combine the self-absorption of summer with the useful cool posts of fall, and post about a great organizational tool I'm going to adapt to this blog. It's called a "Tickler File" -- once the mainstay of newspaper work, now a popular item for the productivity crowd. In the meantime....
See you in the funny papers.
Progress report for "A Round of Words in 80 Days"
Saturday Day 48 - 123 minutes.
Sunday Day 49 - 240 minutes. (I left Monday's episode to the last minute, had to work like a demon.)
Monday Day 50 - 55 minutes.
Tuesday Day 51 -65 minutes. (And a long day at work!)