Onward and upward – fun with mind manipulation

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. You train and train, conditioning your body through smaller “fun” runs as you gradually build up some confidence and stamina. Then it is the day of the event, the thing you have been training toward for the last several weeks if not months. A crowd surrounds you. Their excitement is contagious. “See you on the other side!” and “Let’s do this!” You are anxious, but anything is possible. You take off.

Then, six miles later or so, you see that the course contains a hill (not to mention another ~twenty miles) and you start questioning why in the world you ever thought this was a novel idea (pun intended). You start contemplating veering off with the half marathoners, but that still means you have to somehow find it in you to run another ~seven miles. Ugh.

At this point, you realize you are thoroughly outta luck, so you might as well keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Image courtesy of Imgur

Image courtesy of Imgur

You adjust your pace and trick your mind into ignoring things like mile markers while instead focusing on smaller, more achievable goals. I just have to make it to that street sign or the next water station without walking. You look around and see spectator signs like “If this were easy, it would be called your mom,” or “remember you paid for this.” You’d laugh if it didn’t make you wheeze (or puke), but it is exactly the reminder you needed.

You may not get a spot on the podium, but you know that as long as you finish, even if you wind up crawling across the line, you are still getting a medal for your effort. It hurts to go forward, but you also know it just might kill you at this point to go back empty-handed.

I am at the base of that hill with my current work in process. Day job, illness, and life in general, knocked me off schedule. Even worse, as much as I want to push my characters forward, they seem equally determined to catch their breath. I am tempted to write in some zombies or talking animals from another dimension just to mix it up, except I’m pretty sure I would ultimately have to cut the scene out. I can feel my will to continue begin to be tested (oh, why didn’t I set out to write a short story, or at most, a novella?) But as starting another project (with zombies… no…, dragon zombies… from space!) or taking an indefinite hiatus (don’t even think it) are equally unacceptable options, I’ve come to the realization that it is time to start utilizing the tricks that kept me motivated two times before. It is time to pull out the signs.

In my case, that usually means mocking up a cover or two as I have an easier time visualizing my goal if I have an idea of what it might look like when I cross the finish line. Which brings me to cover design.

I am always on the lookout for ways to improve any aspect of my authorprenuerism and recently watched a special on the topic of something called the golden ratio, 1.618, or phi. Supposedly this near mystic ratio can be found among plants and shells almost as if the natural world was actually planned by mathematics. It is repeated in architecture such as the Parthenon and its proportions found in art like the Mona Lisa.

To create it, you draw a rectangle (one size is 1x, the other side is 0.618x). Then while keeping the rectangle’s proportions the same, rotate and resize the rectangle so that its longest side now fits within its shortest side (or… you can simply find a ready-made golden ratio template on the internet).

Golden Ratio

Golden Ratio (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Its use is also suggested to be a form of mind manipulation. There are those in the marketing world who believe that design based on this ratio is also more appealing to consumers that designs that do not. Intrigued, I decided to first test out how well my existing covers conformed to this ratio.

Golden-ratio-UFGolden-ratio-FFAccording to the theory, a consumer’s eyes are expected to naturally follow a line of curvature within the golden rectangle. The rectangles should then act as a guide for the placement of design elements.

I was somewhat shocked but overall pleased to see that both of my covers roughly fit within the design rules I hadn’t previously known existed. For example, if the theory is true, a would-be reader’s eye is drawn to the chasm beneath the woman in An Uncertain Faith suggesting my main character’s trying situation while on The Fair & Foul, a reader’s eyes are drawn to my name which will help achieve brand recognition.

Of course there are others who believe that the golden ratio is purely a myth or that there are other more appealing rectangle sizes, but considering how important cover design can be to the success of a book, it is definitely something I will be keeping in mind moving forward.

And move forward I will.

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61 thoughts on “Onward and upward – fun with mind manipulation

  1. My brain got all foggy and i blanked out when i saw math and shapes so forgive me If the conch shell diagram portion of this smart post went way over my head. But yes the amazing novel i was writing I’m fearing will be novella sized. Like i sold out. Like I’m a hack. I’m not old enough to reach hack status yet. Sigh.

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    • I have a performance review that says I overwhelm with data, so it was bound to happen at some time. 🙂

      If the story is a novella because it is a novella, then is a market for that. If the story is a novella because the writer got lazy, then… it’s still more words than the person who has always dream of writing, but has never started has written.

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  2. And let me add the golden ratio enters in good glass stemware design. So, it’s not just the Merlot that is satisfying, it is the proportions of that wine glass too. Cheers!

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  3. Interesting! Now, of course, I want to take my book cover and try out this Golden Ratio thing (which I had never heard of before). Plus, it looks like it would make for a fun origami project if I were so inclined. (I’m not. Just pointing that out).

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  4. That same ratio comes up what are considered pleasing faces per facial plastics instruction. It shows up a lot when you look for it. I think the math definition is: if a+b=c it’s the ratio where a/c=b/a

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  5. Great analogy of the marathon. It does feel that way at times. I hit the slog about 2/3 of the way through. Keep going. The finish line is worth it as you know. The golden ratio is interesting and your covers are beautiful. 🙂

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    • You are awesome! Yes, I do believe hummus is in order. I pushed through the pain and had a great writing session. I may just make it, and it is all because of people like you.

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  6. Ahh yes. The marathon that is novel writing. The worst bit is EVERY draft is a sodding marathon. UGH. I edited 20K of my first draft and totally burnt out. To save me scrapping the entire thing I’ve swapped to my non-fic manuscript. But I know swapping between projects isn’t for everyone. But I’m too intense. I go at 100mph and if I hadn’t of swapped I’ve of ended up hating the project and never completing it. You know a break is allowed Allie. It’s not the end of the world. Even just acknowledging you’re having a break helps as it takes off all that pressure you put on yourself. Or at least it does for me anyway.

    On the covers – that’s 100% where my eye is drawn on the first book. I LOVE that cover, and I really reckon that things like that ratio are true. I’d love to know how you mapped it over the cover….

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    • Unfortunately, my issue is I’ve missed too many writing days and so lost my momentum. But I had a great writing day the day after I posted this and am feeling fairly optimistic.

      I used adobe illustrator for my maps, but you could use PowerPoint or word just as easily.

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  7. So much goodness here, Allie! First of all, the marathon analogy – I’ve never run a marathon, and am of the ‘if you see me running you better run too, because something’s chasing me’ school of thought. However, I totally get it. For me writing is like unearthing fossils, digging them from the forest floor then discovering there are lots of crevices, nooks and crannies that need to be cleaned, then the whole thing polished, before it’s done.

    Then the golden ratio – I remember learning more about it as part of Art History at university and I’m definitely a believer. In an abstract way, we could also structure our plots to follow the same sort of spiral, if you know what I mean.

    And finally, both your covers are gorgeous, really well done 🙂

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  8. Now that you lay it all out, the covers do seem to conform to the golden ratio. Mr. Google tells me that great masterworks such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper conform to it, so you’re in very good company.

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  9. I totally agree that the covers are so important to the success of a book. I hate to admit it, but when I’m browsing book stores, there are some books I pick up because of the cover alone. If the book jacket makes it sound interesting, I buy it. . . but the initial intrigue came because of the cover. Your covers are both fabulous.

    And I can totally relate with the marathon and the book writing analogy. I’ve been working on some shorter pieces, hesitating to even jump in with the novel even though I have an idea in my head for a couple years now.

    In my running life, I registered for a marathon back in September (the marathon itself is in May), thinking that I could get train and be ready no problem. A couple weeks ago, I changed my registration to the half . . . now, when I finally start that novel I hope I don’t cop out like it did with my upcoming race.

    Keep writing, Allie! You can so do this!

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    • I do the same when I am browsing. (And thanks)

      I don’t blame you for switching to the half now. My husband is the marathoner which is why I am familiar with my fellow supporters’ signs. You still have plenty of time to train. You can do it too!

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