Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Empty Garden .. Can You Come Out to Play? An Experiment in Captioning

You can't succeed until you are afraid to fail. Come inside and decide for yourself this captions fate!

Please read the caption first before going any further. I want you to digest it and think about it for a moment before plowing onward through the blog post.

About 2 months ago, we started a section of the Haven for those captions that were considered too experimental for trades and made it an area where others could discuss the crafting of captions and ways to expand our horizons by pushing the boundaries. (Sounds familiar to this place, eh?) We went through a few things like Diegetic captions, where everything that can be read is INSIDE the caption .. I think there are some like that here .. less appreciated fetishes, and quite a few POV captions.

When I started writing this caption, I was going to use a technique of the male part and female part of the protagonist having a debate. I didn't think that there were that many captions like that, and I wanted to see what I could do with it. And then about halfway through .. it turned on a dime.

I went off in another complete direction I hadn't thought about prior. Some people are much more serious about the whole gender thing than others. What if one friend was truly committed and the other wasn't? Maybe it was just a phase, or perhaps there was something underlying there between them that wasn't there before? That was the vibe I was getting and decided to go for it.

So, there we have it. A POV caption where the protagonist decides he would prefer to present as a man, and ends up realizing he is falling in love with his enfemmed friend. If you didn't figure it out, at the end, the two voices in Steve's head merged into one.

I put all the yellow text in a spoiler tag and uploaded to see what others thought. While this area of the Haven doesn't get many views, it does get people who want to experiment and grow themselves, so the view to comment ratio is fairly good. Just a small subset of a larger community of like minded people looking to have a dialog.

Olivia Lovely had this to say about it:

Oh, this is a very sweet caption you've whipped up for us! I have encountered that M/F sides talking to each other, but usually in the context of the female side steadily overtaking the male (Evie Hyde does this a lot during sex scenes and it's very effective). This is a much more casual instance and yet the moment carries a lot of weight for the friends. I like the mentions of specific events in their history, I think it fleshes it all out nicely. It's also just neat to see a cap where someone doesn't transition forever, (even tho it's not quite what I want in my folder lol) well illustrated~

Great picture choice, by the way, her expression is actually pretty complicated, and her outfit is sooooo cute! A nice background and a beautiful day to struggle with identity lol Plus you found enough space around her for quite a lot of text! That's veeeery hard for me!

Feedback! Usable feedback! Yes! Mother lode! Then Felicia Hextus chimed in as well!

The idea, to begin with, is quite original. Yes, Evie Hyde may have done similar experiments before, but this is actually a format rarely seen still. The selection of 'silent' markers - like the gendered colors - are effectively used to guide the reader through the cap. You did a very good job here regarding the reader guidance!

The image selection, too, is excellent. Quality, but not glammy. A vivid facial expression as Libby noted already, adding much complexity to the caption text.

Only the framing of the image with text as such is a stylistic choice I want to critically comment on if I may. The text literally is framing the female figure, giving not much space within the image for the reader-viewers to lose themselves in the image. I couldn't help but find the already complex composition borders on the convoluted. I must admit I feel bad for commenting this as I cannot even offer proper recommendations for improvement - choosing a smaller font would stand in the way of readability, as taking another photo would take a lot from the impactful image-text relation. Though I hope that my rambling nevertheless gave you something to think!

An excellent experiment in style and topic!, potentially a tad much to digest :)

Someone else that is thoughtful in this section of the Haven. And here is where comments are worth their weight in gold.  I had to reply to her as I had already done thinking about some of the points she had brought up. Here is my reply, (in the original I had snipped the part that is non-italized above.)

As you mentioned in the non-snipped portion, there doesn't seem to be a way to fix that. As such, I went with this design, "literally framing the female figure" with text for 2 reasons. 

The first was that I wasn't sure people would get the duality of Steve/Steph if it was in a text box, and how to even display it in that format. Would I have the text setting to the left, or right of the photo, or set up a box on both sides so there is a male box to the left and female to the right with the picture bi-secting it (I've actually done this before?) Within that, I have 2 stage directions (in white text) that frame the story, that I really couldn't get rid of. In the current format, I can tell the story chronologically, and the male/female debate takes place in the middle without as much confusion.

The second was that I WAS 'framing the female figure' as the literary device for Steve's revelation about Dee, which 'solved' his own gender issues, where he was going along for the ride because he really loved Dee, not because he wanted to dress up. In retrospect, I'd have loved to have an extra half inch on each side of her to make it a bit less suffocating, but whose to say I'd have actually used it? Dee is the center of his thoughts (Jeez, me narcissistic much?) and like a 15 year old goth chick pounding away on a poetic dream/reality metaphor, I am placing her RIGHT smack dab in the actual thoughts he is thinking and that nothing else mattered at that point in time. I swear to goddess I'm usually more subtle! LOL

I love it when we can talk about captions a bit more technically here, and how we choose design and form to put across ideas we are trying to convey. Thank you to everyone who commented and I will definitely talk more about it if someone else says something after this is posted. Maybe you see something that I didn't think about, or didn't mention in the discussion previously.

I am glad that I was able to clarify, as it gave some insight into the creation I hadn't mentioned before, and Felicia finished up with this:

Thank you very much for the thought provoking explanation of your artistic process - I should really take the time and write longer reviews of your caps if that elicits such educational answers from you!

As literally framing the female figure, your densely circular text structure does an excellent job. I did not consider this analytical perspective before but now that you revealed it, it sheds an intensely holistic light on the caption. You are indeed right that the male-female voice over dia-monologue would not have worked in separate text boxes and that their dense cluttering does, in fact, support the reader's notion of an overwhelmed mind!

Thinking about my own image cropping techniques, it came up with the idea that the borders of the cap could in fact be stretched a little and blurred, simply to expand the non-essential borders of the image. Perhaps to give it a rather dream-like quality, too. But then again, the framing of the female figure, as you so wonderfully described your work, would lose a lot of effet!

What a lifely artistic conversation - thank you!

Now we know a bit more about each other's creative processes and why we chose to do what we do when it comes to the caption composition. It's what I've tried to do here on this blog for the last 6 years and now I can also do it at the Haven! Hopefully having you the readers see this process helps you understand why I do consider TG Captioning as much more than wank material.

If you've made it this far, thank you for indulging my zeal for the creative process. Coming up in a day or two is a caption giveaway for Joanna as I continue to mix in some older captions with the newer ones that I've made over the last 2 weeks or so. Please feel free to comment below since I like to think it's a fairly original caption you don't see everyday.

"There's no such thing as a winnable war, it's a lie we just don't believe anymore."


  1. Wow. That conversation was illuminating to say the least and further illustrates the kind of depth and complexities that tend to render me unable to create captions. You went deep to begin with (one of the lasting lyrics in my head is "the woman in me shouts out/the man in me just smiles") and then went deeper and then deeper still all without breaking stride or style.

    I mean, the use of text to provide an insight into the mind, the 'silent markers' (great term) and then the merging and the different direction. I'm not sure this particular caption would even work as 'wank material'. I mean, I get that captions often focus on that 'money' aspect and I have used some visual material in that fashion, but I also understand that the best, the most lasting, captions are more than and not even 'wank material'.

    What I find fascinating is the way that everyone, when challenged, has these deep aspects to their work but don't analyse them until the forum allows for them to do so. The stretching and fading of the boundaries would, I think, still work without creating extra space, for example, and you could even deliberately smudge the image around the Dee in the centre to further enhance the effect of the textual surround.

    One aspect of captions that I would love to see work is combination sound and image, though I am very much aware that you kinda do this already on your blog. I'd love to see some way of combining music and text but have yet to work out how to do this reliably. I once synced a passage to a track (rob d's Clubbed to Death was the track, in case you wondered) but that was based on my reading speed, which is not everyone else's reading speed. Interesting experiment in that it proved there was no easy way to do it (and it was hard to write too).

    And the sentiment in 'The Russians' seems carefully framed and placed too. I suspect quite a lot of thought went into that choice.

    Also, yes, you have my 'squee' of anticipation and thanks in advance.


    1. Thank you so very much for slogging through the text and coming up with some thoughts to add upon what was already there. And as you mentioned above, many do have deeper aspects to their captions, but choose not to elaborate, mostly because they probably think they are spending too much time on something only a few people will care about.

      I've always seen this blog as a place where I can give you "the story behind the story" which was an extension of discussions I'd have with Mistress Simone, Bren, Jennifer, and later on Calvin / Caitlyn, Kait and others.

      Image and sound is harder to mix, as you'd have to make either a video or some sort of Powerpoint presentation to get it to work. I know Jennifer used to tell people what she was listening to when she made individual captions which offered insight. I tend to add a music offering that somehow gives a bit more depth to the caption, or has something referentially or tangentially related to what I've written.

      I was going to go with the song that inspired the caption title, since I thought of the words, "And I've been knocking but no one answers.And I've been knocking most all the day. Oh and I've been calling, oh hey hey Johnny! Can't you come out to play?" as what Dee (and Steve to an extent) was thinking.

      But with all the Russian mania here in America with regards to the presidency, I couldn't help but think back to the end of the cold war and how certain people seem to want to replay it. They don't seem to realize it's much more complicated today. There might be 100 answers to the question .. and EVERY single one of them is wrong.

    2. Indeed, it's why I enjoy visiting here - the discussion of the craft. I hope others eventually join you. There are one-handed captions, I know, but the best of the captions, the ones that last, aren't always those ones and much more likely to be those that are self-contained stories with just the right amount of ambiguity. Be it through a certain wistfulness, some squirming or even just carefully placed blanks in the narrative.

      I think I've said it before, but captioning seems to be a lot like poetry in that there is the skill of saying as much as possible in the fewest words, well-chosen words, possible. And the emotions and words must furthermore match an image (or even animated gif).

      And yes, sound and captions... Intractable.

      Finally, on the Russia thing. I concur. But the news out of your part of the world (inasmuch as watching late night comedy shows would show me news) is pretty darn terrifying any way you cut it at present. I mean, I should talk from the UK, neither of us is France. Oh, wait, there are parallels with the German Presidential campaign of 1932. Bugger.