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Designing a Web Site is Like Writing a Book! by Denise Vitola

In this era of ebooks and online publishing, a designer or artist who understands that designing a web site is like writing a book will have the lion's share of business.

Fiction authors are finding a new freedom in self-publication because today's technology not only makes it possible, it makes it acceptable. These writers need web pages and book covers. No matter that the print run will be small or created as print-on-demand, it is a lucrative market that is just now being tapped by designers who have their eyes open. More and more wordsmiths are entering this new grassroots form of publishing. They feel confident in their abilities to turn a phrase, but when it comes to deciding if blue and green go together on a web page, they are lost, or worse yet, think that they can successfully navigate the waters with limited knowledge of how broad the digital sea really is.

Fiction writers have special needs for their web sites and book covers, and they need the special guidance of a designer who understands the process. He must also have a working knowledge of how a story is told to successfully portray the elements that the writer feels are essential to sell his book to the public.

Visual artists and writers have the same purpose, that of drawing in the potential reader. Writers understand this when they fashion a story. Use information about writing to lure in the author and create a web site that will satisfy his technical and emotional needs.

YOUR BASIC PREMISE:

Fiction writers promote mythical situations, make believe characters, and exotic locations that are sometimes out of this galaxy. This is where the author and his readers dwell and it is the place where you the designer must find yourself. Become as familiar with your client's writing as you can, or if his work is in the creation stage, take some time to study the fictional genre in which he is working.

Genre pertains to different types of stories such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, western, romance, literary and mystery. Within each genre you will usually find sub-genres. Examples of these would be science fiction action adventure stories, detective mysteries, and historical romance. Be well read when you step into this specific design arena.

SUSPEND THE VISITOR'S DISBELIEF

Most fiction writers will admit to wanting much more than the standard white background and simple html table. They want and need irresistible color, shape, and theme. Their visitors will expect nothing less. Immerse the prospective reader in a visual world that reminds him of the author's stories. Whatever you do, don't let him leave feeling like he has just surfed into any old site. Make him carry away a bit of the mythological overtones by dressing up the site so he can suspend his disbelief. It's time for you to dig deep into your creative pockets and let your imagination go to produce a piece of art that will stimulate the desire to read the story the author is offering.

LOOK FOR THAT THEME

Select a theme and plan to carry it through all your pages just like an author would do in writing a fiction piece. In a story, theme is an underlying message that you hope to use to teach or enchant the reader. Do be aware that many literary themes are difficult to grasp. In fact, most writers struggle with theme their whole career. It is not enough for the designer to give the writer a bunch of 1950-styled rocket ships on his site just because he's a sci-fi writer. He will invariably want you to create a theme that expands his personal message.

Let's say you're client is a romance writer and the book she wishes to promote involves the theme of "Love is blind." Brainstorm ideas that you could use on her web site that upholds this message.

Ideas could include web graphics that pick up the historical era in which the story is set. Use color, shape, and creative html layout to mimic the passionate flavor of the writing and demonstrate that love is, indeed, blind. Step outside the box by coming up with unexpected pages. For instance, you could create a guest book that serves an online journal for visiting romance readers, or a specific page that demonstrates the theme by highlighting tragic love affairs and bittersweet reunions.

ENHANCE TONE AND SETTING

In writing, tone and setting hinge to theme in remarkable ways. Theme determines tone and setting, and where the author will use word choice to set these story parameters, the designer will use color and texture to create a web site that captures the very essence of he writer's message. Make liberal use of your design tools. Writers are, at the very heart of the matter, visual people. They see details that most people would miss. Make sure you infuse as much tone as possible. It's your chance to expand your own ideas and not the time to play it conservatively. Don't miss the obvious opportunity.

PLOT

This pertains to the story's action. Plot takes the reader from point A to point B, making several small stops in between. Plot is integral to an exciting book. In designing a web site for an author, make sure you ascribe plot to navigation. One of the first things a writer learns to do is to create a story that takes positive steps toward a climatic ending. His virtual world should be just as easy in which to move around. There is nothing worse than a convoluted plot, except, of course, if it's a web site that is hard to maneuver through.

THE MAGIC OF LITERARY VOICE

The next thing you need to remember when designing a web site for an author is the importance of voice. In writing, author voice is the deciding factor between a good book and a great book. Voice is how the words 'sound' inside the reader's head. A writer's use of narration, from word choice to metaphor, helps him to establish theme, tone, and setting. It upsets the balance when you're client is providing a dark, ominous voice, but you've decided to smear the page in cream colors and delicate scrolling. Be aware of the 'sound' the text makes and use your judgment about matching shape and color to it. Accent it; don't overpower it.

YOU DID SAY 'RED HERRING', DIDN'T YOU?

Everyone loves a good mystery and all 'who-done-its' have one thing in common: the 'red herring.' No, this isn't an odd colored fish, it is a clue thrown into the mystery mix to give the story flavor. Sometimes red herrings are legitimate clues to the answer, and sometimes, they are not.

When building a web site for an author, use the idea of a red herring to advertise the client's writing product. Spread out different blurbs on each page you create. Link the internal ads to the theme and make the reader associate the web site with the writer. The author will appreciate the subtle references to his work. He'll probably want a red herring on every page!

MAKE SURE THAT FIRST SENTENCE BREATHES FIRE.

The front page you design for your client should be like the opening sentence of a book or short story. An author knows that the first sentence is the most important one he will write. It must whollop, entice, and jostle the reader into proceeding further into the story. If the writer doesn't get that first sentence right, he will lose his audience.

The designer of a literary web site needs to pay special attention to this. Make certain that you begin announcing the web site theme immediately. If you use a special splash page, then make sure it combines some of the important elements discussed in this article. Your client will have an easier time relating to an entrance that stimulates the interest in products immediately. In fact, take that first sentence from his book, if at all possible, and use it like clay, molding your ideas around. You will get some fascinating ideas this way.

THE CLIMAX OF THE STORY

Writers might as well stay home if they don't understand that every story needs a climatic event. This is the situation that is the pivotal point of the novel and the moment when the theme either becomes illuminated or it doesn't.

An writer thinks about this one point of his book. It consumes him, because the climax of the story is everything. That's the way he's going to think about his web site. He's going to want that one page, that one section, to be the fireworks on the Fourth of July. He's going to want his message repeated on this page and repeated strongly. Give him a page that literally sums up everything he's trying to do with his writing.

ENDING--I NEVER SAW THAT COMING!

Every writer knows that without an unexpected ending, his story can fall flat. It's as important as that first sentence, but in a different way. The ending must draw the reader back to the next book. If he feels cheated with the novel's ending, it's a guaranteed outcome that he'll move on to a new author.

When designing a writer's web site, make that final closing page something that the reader doesn't expect. It can be a surprise in concept, artwork, color, and theme--just make sure that it's memorable!

Imagination is paramount in this process. You are dealing with a creative individual. Will the internet persona you devise label him as a funky author with a cool product, a stuffy scholar with a university degree and the need for adventure, or a sci-fi top gun with a virtual universe of exotic delights?

Learn to create a site that reads like a book and you'll get that special literary client asking for more.

Copyright 2000 Denise Vitola, All Rights Reserved

This article was published on Wednesday 15 November, 2006.
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