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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vine

Let's get Visual

Updated: Jun 23, 2018

Hopskotch and the Rising Sons
Hands up who likes monsters in their stories.

Have you noticed that the website now features a Gallery page? The plan is to fill it with illustrations of people and places from the trilogy that I have not yet found the time to finish. Or begin. For the realistic future, it feeds directly off the Hopskotch Home Instagram page, a portal exclusively populated by the illustrated quotes/snippets sampled from the trilogy.

In an attempt to capture the tone of the books, the characters and the created world of Broken Meadow, I began posting snippet quotes from the story to the Hopskotch Facebook page, accompanied by an image that reflected the context and scenery. Only when the website went live did I decide to meme things up, imagining a gallery of illustrated quotes collaged into a visual storyboard (albeit, out of chronological order). Conveniently, the Wix dashboard allows an Instagram feed directly onto the page (I don’t how it works, it just does), but my personal Insta was all doggie photos, occasionally punctuated with the parrots that descend to feed in my backyard.

So Hopskotch Home was created as a dedicated Instagram account, and every upload feeds automatically onto the new Gallery page. Don’t be deceived by the simplicity – each tile can take up to an hour to create, and some go way beyond. Sometimes I find the quote I want to share, and go in search of a matching image. Sometimes it happens the other way around. There is a reason I spend the time on them.

Some people think in pictures, not words. I only became aware of this in the course of my duties as a graphic designer, when colleagues pointed out that I was one of them. I’d never really thought about it, but if true, then words would not be enough to communicate to potential readers the depth of content in The Waking World trilogy.

Character Development

Here's a tip I wish someone would have told me before I started writing Hopskotch and the Golden Cicada: visualise each scene the same way a cinematographer frames a movie. And I mean right down to the camera angles, pans, zooms and cut-aways. This method became the core foundation of my writing process, but it didn’t occur to me how effective it would be till the final chapter of Book I:

“Yet more branches sprouted from the pockmarked cliff face to ensnare him, twisting their snake-like tendrils about his body till he was completely enwrapped. The tree had the full weight of him now and Hopskotch surrendered to its embrace, lulled into a passive state by the song of the rising orchestra. He felt his right arm finally escape its rope snare, but could not tell whether it was by his own power or that of the spiral fig. Cradled by the living wood, Hopskotch began to rise through the air.”

As I was putting the words down, the closing scene played in my head like the memory of a recently-watched film. I can recall every detail, right down to the camera angles and the composition of the background score – all I had to do was chronicle it. A little further along:

“Straight up he went till the cliff face finally disappeared beneath his suspended feet. The tree’s hold was firm, but gentle. Hopskotch felt in no more danger than a babe in the arms of its mother. No bruise or ache troubled his body. The earth melody was being channelled through the mysterious inner workings of the spiral fig, and it sang to him in a language from before the coming of Aethelron.”


I’ve watched enough film to understand the importance of visuals in storytelling – even those classics that will never make it to the screen. In fact, there are many that stick in mind long after the memory of what specific movie they were in has faded. One stand-out is the pan-away scene in a movie I cannot recall (I think it was one of those environmental disaster movies). It begins with a close-up of a flower. All very lovely until the camera pans back and you realise the surrounding greenery is in turn surrounded by ice. As the camera continues its skyward trajectory, it is revealed that the bloom is isolated in the middle of the arctic circle.

This kind of dramatic foreshadowing works across genres. The dark comedy Pleasantville (1998) begins with a close-up of Tobey Maguire. The high-school geek is delivering a rehearsed pick-up monologue to the girl of his dreams. When he reaches the end, the camera pans away to reveal the object of his attention is more than a hundred yards away, well beyond earshot, and being chatted up by the football jock. It leaves one in no doubt that a whole lot of character development stands between Tobey and the babe.

Don't worry Tobey gets the girl in the end.

As on film, so in the written word. The principle of a close-up leading into a pan-away is a stupendously effective writing technique. Consider the opening line to Tolkien’s The Hobbit:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

Tolkien ushered in the tale of the One Ring with that simple and straightforward statement. The pan-away expanded it into a great adventure. Similarly, the frantic dream sequence that kicks off Chapter One of Hopskotch and the Golden Cicada begins:

“Hopskotch was racing toward the school grounds.”

Why was he racing? What was he running from? Was he in mortal danger? These were the questions I wanted the reader to ask – the hook to keep them reading. At the time of writing I was not aware of it, but I was leaning on the exact same method Tolkien had used – a lead-in foreshadowing the darkness to come. It took years of writing for me to first observe, grasp and appreciate the beautiful simplicity of this technique.

Of course, it’s not compulsory, and doesn’t work in every context. And it won’t work at all if you have not first mapped out and fully visualised the scene in your head. Technique will not save a poorly formed story, but it may unplug writer's block on a good one, allowing the tale to unravel from keyboard to screen (or pen to paper, if you’re an old-fashioned type) and help the writer rediscover momentum.

Facing the mosaic

I am wary of leading too far, and/or dropping spoilers. It is the reader’s privilege to create their own visuals from the words on the page, and it will always be the author’s preference that they do so. The tiles on the Gallery page should be viewed as teasers only. Consider each an exercise in reverse engineering. In fractions. They capture but a minuscule portion of their respective scenes, and even less of the thought process that conjured them.

A cynical person might call them a baited hook. I would describe them as an hors d'oeuvre for those who think in pictures rather than words. Regardless, I intend to keep Instagramming the quote tiles until I run out of inspiration.

There’s still a small fortune to be mined from the pages of The Waking World trilogy.

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