Presentation Does Matter

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim on my Switch lately in those rare instances when I’m allowed to turn my brain off for a while. Skyrim is an odd choice for me, not because it’s a huge RPG — I love those — but because I’ve already played it when it first came out over seven years ago and decided that I didn’t like it.

The urge to pick it back up again came to me on a whim and boy am I glad I listened. Aside from the inclusion of the DLC material, there’s nothing new about the game on Switch. It’s still the game I played seven years ago and put down. So what changed?

I think its the portability aspect. I love having this entire world in my hands. Usually, I hate open world games. Its part choice paralysis and part narrative pacing problems — I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XV. See, in open world games, you’re given the main quest line to follow and then as you go through it, you’re constantly running into peripheral things to do. With the fate of the world or empire or whatever at stake, it kind of breaks all narrative immersion when you stop to help someone find their chickens. Find your own dammed chickens! But I digress …

This time, I knew what I was getting myself into. I decided just to play the quests I wanted as long as they were relevant to the plot in some way. Each decision, I massaged out in my brain so it was all part of a single narrative experience. And the fact that I could take this entire world with me in the palm of my hands was what sealed the deal. Even if I only have ten minutes to spare, I can just dive in and lose myself in Pict, the Dragonborn for a bit.

It reminds me when I tried reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind for the second time. I’d heard all the usually things when it first came out, read about fifty pages, and just couldn’t get into it. I figured I’d never read it. Who has the time to read books they don’t enjoy anymore? Then fast forward a couple of years. My wife is pregnant with the twins and going to sleep at 8pm every night. Good thing the Switch doesn’t exist yet, so instead, every night when she’d fall asleep I’d read. I read A LOT!

That Christmas my mom had joined the Rothfuss train and bought both The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear for me as presents. I’d finished whatever I was reading and needed something new and figured why not. I owned them now and if I didn’t like them, I’d donate them. I’d been working through a stack of free books and a trip to our library to offload them was on the horizon anyway.

Now the copy of tNofW I’d tried before was the big, honkin’ tome you’re probably familiar with. The version I’d been gifted was this little thing (I’ll find the exact edition when I get the chance), still a hard back, with the thinnest, softest pages. It kind of forced you to hunch your shoulders a little to hold it. And the nature of the narrative being told in the first person made it feel like I was reading someone else’s journal. Like Skyrim on the Switch, something just clicked and it just pulled me right in. I thoroughly enjoyed it and even read the next two.

As writers, the goal is to pull a reader into your world through the power of your words alone. But it certainly helps to present those words in an appealing format. I have a definite appreciation for layout that I never had before which was why when I was working with the cover artist for Fairfax Cleaners, it was really important for me not to display the main character on the cover. So many urban fantasy covers feature some photo realistic – or real realistic – protagonist just kind of standing there and looking badass, I guess?

Personally, I find the covers boring. And unless you have some quality art production behind you, that style is so easy to screw up and look cheap. It may be just me, but I think it’s kind of a trope at this point and I wanted nothing to do with it. So instead, I opted for a severed foot, a bloodied hacksaw, and some rubber gloves. Let the words paint the picture of what my protagonist looks like. I wanted the art to prime that stage. The right presentation can prepare the reader for the journey, but it’s up to the writer then, to make sure that journey is one worth taking.

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