Inspiration Behind the Character: The Reaper

I think one of the questions I get most often is “Where did this idea come from?” or “What was the inspiration behind this story? This character?” It’s a tough question to answer because ideas come from everywhere. Everything you see, taste, touch, smell, and hear, can become an idea for a story. So sometimes it’s hard for me to pin down exactly where the inspiration for something came from. But in this collection of posts I want to explore the ones where I do know where the inspiration came from and how the ideas grew and became what they are today.

Personifying the Grim Reaper, Death in the Flesh

Today we’re talking about the character of the Reaper who is later known as Bain in the first book of my series, In Articulo Mortis, which is in the editing phase.

I first got the idea for the character of Bain and the story of Mortis when I was about 16 years old. I’m more than twice that age now so as you can imagine it’s been a long time coming. Obviously, I didn’t create the Grim Reaper. That character has existed for centuries but bringing him to life hasn’t been as big of a challenge as I originally anticipated. He seemed very natural to me, almost like I’d known him for a long time.

To make a long story short, I had trouble keeping my bedroom door open at night as a teenager because I always felt like some unseen force was looking in on me. Even when there was no one else home, there was sometimes like a shadow on the edge of my vision but of course when I turned my head nothing was there. It did not necessarily feel good or bad, it was just there. At night, the darkness of the bathroom across the hall seemed like it could swallow me whole. It was slightly terrifying especially when one has an overactive imagination.

In Dreams…

To add to the idea, I have the distinct memory of a dream I had once in which I had met the Grim Reaper. I wasn’t dying or dead but somehow we were speaking to one another like old friends. In the dream he was both an ally and a guide. I of course, took that and pulled it into what the story is today.

Art Begets Art

In trying to form in my head what exactly he would look like, I drew from the art of the movies I had seen. Below are a few pictures of other fictional characters that influenced the image of the Reaper/Bain.

Billy from Hocus-Pocus (played by the amazing Doug Jones) was a large piece of inspiration. Despite his rot and decay, he has this charm and playfulness about him that makes you love that character.

As we all know, there’s something about a three-piece suit (or as they say, a well-dressed man). While not pictured here, the image of the lead antagonist in the Harry Potter series, Voldemort, is seen by Harry in one of the later films, wearing a three-piece suit. It’s very snazzy, classy and timeless. I loved the idea for the Reaper. It made so much sense to be to have this crisp, tailored suit despite his rot and decay.

The Voice of Death

Bringing his voice into the book was really a no-brainer. It’s described often as “raspy” and a cross between “something foreign and ancient.” I was always very entranced by the voice of actor Michael Wincott. He, much like singer Tom Waits, has a very raspy voice. It’s very distinct and the older he gets the more beautiful his voice is. So a lot of people don’t know Michael Wincott by name but if you saw his face you could probably list at least two or three movies that you’ve seen him in. He normally plays a bad guy.

Image from Vogue magazine.
Image from Vogue magazine.
Back to Appearance and Demeanor

Another character that interested me was Anthony James’s portrayal of the Chauffeur in a movie called “Burnt Offerings.” The character never speaks and doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the film, however, his role is very critical to the story. The image of the Chauffeur was striking. It stayed in your head. So the idea of this tall, lanky, pale man reminded me of a psychopomp. That was the Grim Reaper I wanted.

In a nutshell, I think that’s where most of Bain came from. Ultimately, these ideas coming together and these influences are what created the character for me.

Thanks for reading.

-RB

Patreon for Writers and Why I Don’t Have One

If you haven’t heard of Patreon, it’s similar to a crowdfunding site but for artists. A lot of people like painters and musicians use it to collaborate with their fans and interact with them on a regular basis. I love the idea of interacting with fans. However, as a writer I find it more difficult to maintain a Patreon page and produce content for those fans while at the same time working on manuscripts.

When it comes to producing content, I have this blog where I can share excerpts and inspiration for my works in progress. I do think that some authors post poems and flash fiction or micro fiction in order to keep readers enticed but it’s not for me. The experience felt like a huge juggling act and a distraction from working on my actual projects.

It was hard to draw a line between what should be a blog post and what should be a Patreon post. Suddenly, I was spending too much time between my Instagram page, my Patreon page, and my blog, while not spending enough time on my actual manuscripts. This is part of the difficulty with navigating social media and promoting yourself as an author. There’s so many different platforms that if you’re posting regularly on every single one, it’s taking away from the time spent on the actual work.

Dedicating more time to actual blog posts, helps me hone my craft.

If you’re a writer and you’re considering setting up a Patreon account, by all means, go for it. It’s free to set up. You’ve nothing to lose. However, if you feel torn or distracted from your actual work, don’t feel guilty about getting rid of it. Ultimately, I would rather people enjoy my stories and interact with me on this blog than throw a few bucks at me every month to read something that they could read here for free.

Are you a writer with a Patreon account? What sort of content do you post for your followers and do you feel that it helps your sales any? Please comment below and let me know what you think about writers having a Patreon page.

Happy writing.

RB

Don’t Give Away Your Work for Free

Recently, I started posting an older publication of mine, chapter by chapter, in the hopes that it would let people sample my writing and grow their interest. I wrestled with myself a long time about it because I have strong opinions about not giving away your work for free. After all art is work. Yes, it can be fun but it’s still a job. And there’s nothing that peeves me more than people who expect to get your hard work for free.

After having some long conversations with myself, I decided that I was going to go ahead and post all of my first novella, Laszlo, on this blog, free of charge. However, partway through posting, I had a friend from work tell me that his neighbor had published a book about his time spent in prison.

My co-worker did a fantastic job selling the book (and he hadn’t even read it yet.) Needless to say, my interest was immediately piqued. After all, I like to learn and prison is a place that I’ve never been nor do I ever want to go. So what better way to learn than from a book written by someone who’s actually been there? I was very excited to read it. I went home that day and purchased it for five dollars on Amazon.

According to my Kindle, I got 20% through the book before I stopped. The summary of the piece on Amazon should’ve been a huge red flag that the quality of the writing inside the book wasn’t going to be much better. I hate bashing other artists’ work and I really wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. If I don’t care for someone else’s work, I won’t say anything but this piece was so horrible, I felt compelled to warn others.

The following is what I wrote about the piece:

“The Amazon summary of this book was a huge warning sign that the piece itself would be filled with errors but I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I had to return it for a refund. This piece is filled with typographical errors, incorrect punctuation, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, incorrect verb tenses and mix-ups between plural and singular verbs and nouns. The author claims that this book has been edited (as per the very beginning) but not by anyone with a proper education, comprehension of the English language or the craft of writing. Frankly, it’s insulting to those who both respect and understand the craft of storytelling.

Overall, there is no story structure. It reads like a NaNoWriMo rough draft. There is also no variance between the author’s voice as a narrator and the dialogue of other people/characters. The idea for a story is there but it isn’t organized; one could say it’s a 200+ page rant. Some of the paragraphs are over two pages long. The book was originally published by Infinity Publications which (after going to their website) appears to be a cross between self-publishing and a vanity publisher. While I see nothing wrong with self-publishing, this is one of the many pitfalls. Books like this are why self-published authors receive a bad reputation.”

Not only were there quality issues, but I had some personal issues with the piece that caused me to stop reading. For instance, the author described every woman in the book by her bra size and breast shape. Occasionally there was an ass or thigh mentioned. In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that he doesn’t have a good relationship with his daughter. After seeing how he describes women as walking sex, I can see why. I hope for his daughter’s sake that she stays far away from him until he understands how to properly reintegrate into society.

It’s rare that I leave reviews on books but I’m trying to get better because the Golden Rule states to do unto others what you would want done to you.

Reviews can help sell books, so I’ve been trying to leave reviews on Goodreads or Amazon for every book I read. As stated before, I hate leaving a bad review. If I had written something and published it with that many errors, I would hope that someone would bring it to my attention, so that I could improve.

That was a long-winded explanation but this is ultimately why I stopped posting my work for free. I composed a story that may not be the best story ever written, but I took the time to think about voice and characterization. In taking the time to proofread and edit and get others to look at it, I actually cared about the craft and I think in large part that’s what separates the successful from the unsuccessful. Their passion.

When it comes to writing (and other forms of art), you have to have passion for the craft. A lot of people see writing as a get rich quick scheme. They think it would be easy to be sitting on a beach in Maui by this time next year.

The truth is- if it were easy, everyone would do it.

The other day I saw a meme that said, “Stop trying to skip the struggle.”

It’s easy to get discouraged when you release a book or a couple of books and you feel like you should be an overnight success. The thing about overnight successes is that while it appears to happen overnight from the outside looking in, the person it’s happening to has probably put a lot of work and years of struggle into making their vision a reality.

Going forward, I will continue to post excerpts and chapters from published works with links to the actual product. However, I will not be posting entire works for free. Art is work and if you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else to?

On Cover Art

They say never to judge a book by its cover. However, we all do it. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to. It’s human nature. When we see something we automatically start sizing it up as to whether we think we’re going to like it or not. This goes for more than just books. We do this with many things in our life such as what furniture to put in our homes and with which people we choose to spend our time.

Appearance means something.

When it comes to getting cover art for your work of fiction, it’s important to go the extra mile and get it done by a professional. When I first started publishing, I was guilty of going the cheaper route. I tried designing things myself, but I’m no graphic artist. I tried websites like Fiverr and purchased cheap cover art, but rarely ever was a satisfied that the product. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

There are many self published books out there with cover art that looks so cheap and poorly done that it makes you wonder about the quality of the book. I once brought this point up to a friend and that friend said to me, “maybe they want their book to look cheap and crappy.” What? I’m pretty sure I was being trolled as he was playing the devil’s advocate because seriously when you’re putting your work out there you’re baring your soul. Do you really want to look cheap and crappy?

I am a big fan of simplicity when it comes to cover art.

I’m not saying the cover art needs to be super fancy with lots of different layers and colors. Sometimes a simple cover is the best cover and holds the best stories. I see a lot of self-published authors making their own cover art. They layer so many things that don’t go together and don’t mix well. You don’t have to put every image or element of your story onto the cover! Leave some mystery. It would behoove them to pay for a professional artist who has experience in creating book cover designs.

It doesn’t take much. With a little research, you’ll be able to find plenty of people who are capable of doing the job. There are a lot of artists out there who are willing to work with you and provide you with a great product. After all, if you put so much of yourself – your blood, sweat, and tears – into your work, doesn’t it deserve to be presented in the best way possible?

Below are a few examples from artists I’ve worked with.

One of many works in progress. Design by FrinaArt.
Second in a series. Design by LaLimaDesign.
A new project that isn’t even fully outlined yet! Design by Sharnel.

Turn on the Faucet

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” -Louis L’amour

One of my most popular posts on this page is titled 6 Ways to Find Creative Motivation. One of the reasons why think it’s so popular is that as creatives we sometimes struggle to find the determination and willpower to work on our craft. Sometimes we lose passion. Sometimes we grow tired. When that happens we expect there to be some easy way to ignite the fire within us. However, we just have to change our thinking because the fire and passion we need, comes from within.

I recently read a book on leadership for work entitled The Servant by James C. Hunter. The lesson that stood out to me the most and was the idea that you must take action first and then inspiration will follow. It may seem a little backwards. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s true. Whether it’s within my writing or conquering a task like cleaning the house, getting started is always the hardest part. But like the quote mentioned above, once you turn the faucet on the water starts to flow.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Instead of wasting time looking elsewhere for inspiration and motivation all you really have to do is start. It sounds too good to be true. I promise you that once you jump that hurdle and get started the task becomes much easier.

“We are more likely to act ourselves into a feeling than feel ourselves into action.” -Jerome Bruner

As I’m writing this blog post right now- I’m exhausted. I’ve been burning both ends of the candle. Sometimes I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew but I’m striving for a better me and isn’t that worth going the extra mile for? So I made myself sit down at my desk despite my exhaustion to churn out this blog post. Not only have I proved to myself everything that I’ve stated within this post by doing so, but I hope that I’ve also inspired some of you.

Take that first step. Turn on the faucet.

Happy creating.
-RB