Metamorphosis into Pictures

A couple of weeks ago (WW 10-24-12), I mentioned working on the computer game Chronomaster.  Since then, I’ve been thinking about that wonderful moment when I first saw my words transformed into pictures.  In 1995, when I was working on the game, only a couple of my novels had been published.  Quite honestly, neither of the covers (the original for Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls and that for Marks of Our Brothershad come even remotely close to how I envisioned the characters or their setting).

Two Interpretations of Tishien

Therefore, despite having liked the preliminary sketches I’d seen, when I set up the beta version of Chronomaster, I didn’t have very high expectations.  Accustomed to a much slower computer (I’d rented one that could run the game), I wasn’t even watching the screen when the opening came up.  Imagine my astonishment when some noise made me turn and I looked over to see a flotilla of space ships soaring across the screen, laser beams and missiles raining destruction down upon an obviously doomed city.

An old woman was talking to a small boy, speaking words I’d written for her.  “And this is happening, not only here, but all over the world.  We must hide deep beneath the earth, for the worst has not yet come.”  I stood there stunned, then slowly lowered myself into the desk chair to watch Chronomaster unfold.

Writers frequently get asked a variation on the question: “If your story was made into a movie or television show, who would you like to play this character or that or direct or…?”

That’s a question certain to floor me.  My stories belong to their own worlds.  Maybe because I don’t watch a lot of television or movies (these days my very limited viewing time is mostly reserved for anime and the occasional old film), I don’t even know who are the current hot stars.  I certainly don’t know who the directors or producers are.

This doesn’t mean I’m immune to the thrill of seeing my words inspire someone else into pictures.  In fact, since I can’t draw beyond the simplest of cartoons, I think I get more of a thrill out of watching that transformation happen than if I could draw.

As I have mentioned before, I’m a long-time role-playing gamer.  My current group shares a talent that I’ve never encountered before.  Almost all my players are good at drawing.  (The exception is Jim.  And me.  But I’m running the game, so that doesn’t matter.)

A few weeks ago, I was introducing the small town of Black Goat’s Pass.  Being me, I’d worked out the economy for the region.  In the process, I had invented an herbivore called a “tishien.”  Tishien products – especially wool and their curious, twisting horns – are one of the mainstays of the local economy.

In the way players will, my group fastened on the tishien as something particularly fascinating.  “What do they look like?”  “Multiple horns?”  “How do they grow?”  “Have you ever seen a Navajo churro?”

As the discussion became more lively, I noticed that both Tori and Cale had pulled out their sketch books.  Cale made what seemed to be (to me) very few pencil strokes, then leaned over to hand me his book.  “Sort of like this?”

I was astonished.  Had I really said enough to let him create something so like the creature of my imagination?  Even the rather creepy eyes were just right.  Tori had her colored pens out and spent a little more time refining her sketch.  When she held it up, there – in living color, perfect for heraldic representation – was a tishien in profile.  (Yes.  They do come in blue.)  I was as thrilled as on that long-ago day when the flotilla from Chronomaster glided across my computer screen.

As a writer, I get a lot of satisfaction out of telling the story I want to tell.  However, I’ll admit, helping to plant the seeds for someone else’s creative effort is fun – and weirdly rewarding – too.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll even see someone in costume as one of my characters.   (I missed the party where someone came as Mira from Child of a Rainless Year. ) That would be neat, sort of three dimensional art…  I think Firekeeper wouldn’t be too hard to manage, if, of course, you could find Blind Seer.  Jenny from The Buried Pryamid only needs a kitten…


8 Responses to “Metamorphosis into Pictures”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Lucky you to have such a creative gaming group!

    I wonder how Jim feels–is there any deep time in GamingWorld, and archeologists to explore it? Or is it an Indiana Jones-style pursuit of valuable relics, in ruins that have their own ecosystems (evolved or created). Are there former epochs, whose remains shape the present, or did the Deity create the world a few thousand years ago, and the seams still show?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    As for costuming, I think I’d go as one of the human athanor. I think I could manage that….

    • janelindskold Says:

      There is indeed “Deep Time” in any gaming world I create — and I usually create from scratch.

      However, as for Jim, he doesn’t role-play archeologists. That’s his real life job.

      Amusing true story. Jim gamed in a group that included George R.R. Martin for ages. (I gamed with those same people for a bunch of years myself.) George apparently never got it through his charming head that the thuggish people Jim tended to play were Jim’s relief from his reality — where he’s a scholar, project director, and very responsible and well-controlled person.

      Neither Jim nor I tend to “play” ourselves or use our gaming to deal with psychological problems (as I’ve seen people do). We’re just having fun pretending to be people we’re not.

  2. Paul Says:

    At a long-ago SF convention, Robert Silverberg and some others who’d started out in magazines recalled monthly trips to the various editors’ offices on the day when the cover art would be delivered. They would invariably claim, “Hey, I’ve just written a story that would fit this.” Then, if they got the contract, they’d run home and write it. Ed Emshwiller, whose trademark was to work the letters EMSH somewhere into his art, once had a cover with a spaceship and those letters disappearing around its side. The author who did the story to fit the cover created a device called a REMSHAW drive device for that ship. He would have been really prescient, to have already written that one.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I’d heard a variation on that tale. That the editor would solicit stories to go with a cover he was already planning to use.

      I certainly have done something like that. A theme anthology for White Wolf was going to be titled “City of Darkness” (series name) “Unseen.” I was contacted and asked if I could work “Unseen” into my story… It fit with the idea I was already playing with, so you’ll find out how I did it in the story “Shadow of a Reflection of a Cat’s Head.”

  3. Eric Says:

    I’m jealous of your gaming group! I’ve not been able to pull together a dedicated group to carry on for any length of time, but I’ve been a part of a dedicated group while visiting friends on the other side of the country.

    Whenever I read, I find myself imagining in my head how the things and people about which I am reading would look if they were put in a visual medium. Always a downside when the movie comes out because it doesn’t look the way I think it should!

    • janelindskold Says:

      I’ve always loved long-running, dedicated groups — especially those that will make time to meet more than once in a while.

      The synergy of all those ideas is fantastic. Feeds my creativity in all sorts of odd ways.

  4. Chad Merkley Says:

    It’s interesting to hear your perspective on the relationship of you work to other media. Movies are probably the most lucrative and widely exposed medium today, but they’re surprisingly limited in ways that the written word isn’t.

    For example, one common trope in fantasy is that a character has some kind of extra perception–seeing magic or spirits or something. How do you make that clear through a visual medium, that only certain characters can see certain things without it seeming choppy or gimmicky? Or how could the Firekeeper books be turned into a movie without losing all of the animals’ dialogue? Subtitles? Voice-overs? Simply remove Firekeeper as a POV character? None of those sound satisfactory to me.

    So books and movies have very different elements in which they excel. Not every book can or should be adapted into a movie. I really have to wonder how The Hobbit and Ender’s Game are going to succeed at telling the same stories as the books.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I agree.

      Subtitles drive many Americans crazy, but they’d probably be my choice as to how to provide the animals’ dialogue in the Firekeeper books — especially since they don’t only use sounds to communicate but body language. I had to use words when writing because “tail tucked, ears flatten, show edges of teeth against gums” doesn’t come across quite the same…

      I think a clever director could come up with alternatives, though…

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