My Dream

I almost lost my job recently.  I would have actually been fine with losing it, actually, but my workplace literally shuts down when I’m not there.  That’s not important, though.  The important thing is that it made me realize what I want to do with my life.  And that is to turn the characters in my head into something I can live off of.

The only thing I ever seriously pictured myself as doing in the future was being a webcomic artist.  My original plan was to publish my stuff in twenty to forty page chapters, mimicking the Japanese comics that first inspired me.  I’ve come to realize that I’m not going to be able to keep up that schedule on my own, and not while I’m working another job, but I still want to publish my drawings to accompany the words.

If I want to make money off of my work, I need a value proposition.  What can I give people that they can’t get anywhere else?  Why would they want to read my story, much less pay for it?  If I was going to an investor, and making a formal request,  I would right something like, “Occulted is a story about how people are defined, by others and themselves, and the struggle to be allowed to live your own life, as examined through a category of people that doesn’t exist in real life.”  That’s a bit long, but it works for the start of paper, while something to get people to bother reading the paper would be something like, “Monster high-school students (many of them girls) get into fights.”

Unfortunately, neither my prose or my drawings are particularly good.  For my drawings, I need to work on drawing my hands and feet, to make sure they’re the right size for the rest of the body, and to buckle down and actually draw the backgrounds.  For my prose, I need to plan things out more, to consider how the world, the story, and the characters all fit together.  Drawing up a schedule of days (like, what days each chapter takes place on) might help.

Speaking of schedules, I need to find time to do all of this stuff.  Scratch that, I need to make time.  I need to stop procrastinating and do work.  I have most of my weekends open, I just need a way to figure out how to keep myself on task during them.

Write, draw, write, draw, lunch, write, draw, write, draw.  This could form the basic pattern of my day, each ‘write’ and ‘draw’ consisting of fifty minutes of the activity, with ten minute breaks between to stretch my legs.  I’ve kind of done this before, with a previous iteration of Occulted.  That was when I was unemployed, however, and if I do something like that, that means I’ll have to do it while also doing laundry.  But at least it’s a plan.

I also need to increase my exposure.  The easiest way to do that would be to upgrade my WordPress account, which would also have a bunch of other benefits.  My website could do with a sprucing up.  I’m thinking of adding a header image, drawn by myself.  Actually, I think I want everything on this website to be done by myself.

I want to buy art supplies.  So far, I’ve been drawing in pencil (colored and grey) and ballpoint pen, because they were available and cheap.  I’m thinking of taking up brush ink, both black and colored.  I also need paper heavy enough to hold that, and a scanner to get my drawings into the computer.  I also need a filing cabinet, both to put the scanner on top of, and to put the drawings in.

I also need to get a Patreon account and a Paypal account.  There are some donations I’ve been meaning to make now that I have money, anyway.  I’m not sure what I would give the people that donate, though.  The most obvious thing is early access to chapters and pictures, which means I need to build up a buffer, but I need to do that anyway.  I could also give access to special drawings that I wouldn’t post on my main site.  My poetry’s getting a pretty good response most weeks, maybe I could take commissions.  I could ask for a mood and a subject.

But beyond that, I have no idea where to advertise, and I don’t want to post things all over the internet, instead of just here.  And then there’s my problems with the largest sites for increasing my exposure.  Twitter seems like it would be a pain to keep up with, and Facebook wants to have the entire life of its user on it, which is something I very much don’t want.

I’m not going to stay at my current job after September, so that’s how long I have to get this all running.  I have a deadline and a plan.  Do you have any questions or suggestions?

Dragon Ball and its Imitators

The earliest thing that I remember that set me on my path to writing is first catching Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z on Toonami.  Ironically, the parts that I came in on were probably the worst parts of the series: the Pilaf arc (before the series had found itself) and the Buu saga (when the series was running out of steam).  This didn’t inspire me directly, but it did lead me to looking up scanlations online, of series that were, themselves, inspired by Dragon Ball.

After years of keeping up with Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach, reading through the scanlations of Dragon Ball was an eye opening experience.  The thing that struck me was how fast everything moved.  There was absolutely nothing in the series that doesn’t move the plot forward.  (Well, until the Buu arc.)  For example, there’s a part early on where two characters have to swim through an underground tunnel to escape a bad guy.  Other series might take three panels, one of the characters disrobing, one of the characters getting into the water, and one of the characters starting to swim, with maybe the second panel getting skipped.  I was surprised that the comic went right from ‘we need to take off our clothes’ to ‘we’re in the water.’

Perhaps even more striking is where the Piccolo arc ended, which is where the animation team divided the series.  This had been the most dramatic arc in the series at the time, involving an enemy from the mentor’s past, the origin of the Dragon Balls, and a villain that could create A-bomb level blasts.  The final tournament arc doesn’t just end where you would expect a shonen manga to end power level-wise, but narratively as well: the hero had saved the world, was going off to get married, and he had finally won that stupid tournament.  The only real plot thread left dangling was what was up with Goku’s tail.  All of this was done in under 200 chapters, about four years of weekly installments, while the later series needed at least a decade to even start to approach their ends.

The slowness of those series can be attributed to their authors’ style: Kishimoto has a tendency to draw everything out for the most drama possible, Kubo’s negative space needs gigantic panels that keep much from happening in a chapter, and Oda uses a ‘more everything’ approach to storytelling (More action!  More tears!  More shouting!  More everything!)  Kishimoto and Kubo are also much worse than Toriyama at improvising (Oda is, too, but he also improvises a lot less).

The problem with improvising is that it can lead to retcons.  The retcons in DB never really grate on the reader, because the past doesn’t matter.  The characters, especially Goku, never think about the past, because all that matters is the challenge in front of them.  From what I read about him, Toriyama also strikes me as a very in-the-moment kind of guy, so an in-the-moment kind of story suits him.

This is in contrast to, say, Naruto, where the change from ‘The Nine-tailed Fox Demon being sealed inside of someone is completely unheard of’ to ‘The Nine-tailed Fox Demon has been sealed inside of people for generations’ renders the early chapters of the story nonsensical.  (Why would people hate and fear demon hosts if they understood how to control them?  Or why would there be demon hosts if they couldn’t control the demon?)  Kishimoto’s style uses a ton of flashbacks, to the point that there was a flashback within a flashback at one point, so with the past constantly being shown like that, it’s really noticeable how the story doesn’t actually fit together.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s to understand yourself when you write.  Toriyama’s in-the-momentness is also the reason that the story could move so quickly, not getting bogged down in pointless details or forcing the author to stall for time while he thinks something up.  Oda knew that he wasn’t that in-the-moment, so he did a ton of prep work, but he didn’t realize how much time it would take to tell his story.  Kishimoto and Kubo tried to replicate Toriyama’s ability to let the characters just act, and failed, so their series got worse and worse as time went on.

So what kind of writer am I?  For one thing, I’m the kind that needs to go over their work after the first draft.  That takes time that weekly updates won’t allow.  My mind has a tendency to create immense, detailed backstories for the characters I come up with, with almost no conscious effort on my part.  My creative process is mostly filling in the gaps between what I’ve thought up.  I think I can get away with only a little prewriting, because most of my universe is already inside of my head.

Where I Go From Here

My rewrite of “Initiation” is complete, and I must say, I think the characterization came off a lot better than they did in the first version.  A lot of this is just knowing the characters better, both from practice and giving myself time to work on the story.  It also helped that I managed to clear up some of my misconceptions about the brain and extroversion, allowing me to write Kayleigh a lot better.

On the subject of giving myself time to work, this is the longest I’ve ever taken to publish something.  Including the rough draft, I took three weeks on writing this thing.  The most I ever gave myself on the other chapters was two weeks, when I let my buffer get that long.  And even then, I lost my buffer to a particularly meandering chapter, that I didn’t even like the end result of.

This implies that I should let myself take time to look at the story and how it’s shaping.  I shouldn’t be afraid of scrapping things that simply aren’t working.  This is also the story that taught me how to rough draft, and I like the system I came up with to do so.  Unfortunately, I need to give myself a deadline, to insure that I don’t just faff about all the time without ever doing any work.

The solution I came up with when I was turning the rough draft into a final draft was to create a buffer of essays for the time it took me to rewrite.  I’m not sure I can keep a regular schedule while also making each chapter with care, and I’m not sure how many essays I’ll need to write for each chapter.  Maybe I’ll write the essays when I have something to think about, and shuffle things around in the schedule to give myself time.

As for what I’m going to do with Kayleigh, I’m going to go at least through Ixxqura by telling her story in parallel.  This will give me an opportunity to show another side of the story, letting her interact with characters Jessica can’t.  Ixxqura’s basically only exists to be an early problem to deal with, largely unconnected to anything else while I get the world established.

Thank you to everyone that reads and comments.

Thoughts on ‘Initiation’

For reference

Kayleigh is the first character I’ve written that hasn’t had a chance to roll around in my head for years.  It feels as though forcing myself to write a character causes them to solidify a lot fast than they would otherwise, and that’s both a good and bad thing.  The good is obvious, because I can create much faster, but the bad isn’t.  I’m now thinking about Kayleigh and her supporting cast.

I should probably talk about Kayleigh having a supporting cast.  I created Kayleigh for basically the sole purpose of having things explained to her.  While I was writing Ixxqura, I came to realize that Jessica knew to much to be a natural target for exposition on the Occulted, so I had to go and insert a new chapter with a new viewpoint character that was.  Unfortunately, being a complete newcomer to the world, like the audience is, left her in a good place to be a protagonist.

So my brain suddenly coughed up an entire set of characters that only Kayleigh would interact with regularly.  I have half a mind to tell Jessica’s and Kayleigh’s stories in parallel, having them learn the same subjects in slightly different ways.  I also kind of want to have Kayleigh go and have her adventures off-page, letting the audience imagine what she’s doing while Jessica doing her thing.

As for Kayleigh herself, I don’t feel that she came off as extroverted as I wanted her two.  Part of this is that I didn’t really consider how she interacted with the world while I was writing those opening paragraphs, because I hadn’t thought of her friends before hand.  The other is that I’m not really sure how extroverts act, living as I do on the extreme end of introversion.

I also suck at writing introductions in general.  The characters in my head are more-or-less fully formed, so I’m not really sure how to introduce them to the reader.  The fact that I frequently don’t have a reader, and that the ones I do have don’t really talk to me and give feedback, doesn’t help.  Still, I have to keep pushing on.  No matter what, I have to keep going.

I’m thinking about stopping the greater narrative for a while and focus on polishing “Initiation,” as a single story, to a mirror sheen.  I think it would be fun to really break down my own work, think about what went well and what didn’t, and put it back together in a stronger form.  It’s going to be hard critiquing my own work, but its going to be something that I have to do.  At least I don’t have any delusions about my work being perfect as it is.

I must think on this more.