Posts Tagged ‘writing life’
In 2014, I missed Suburban Jungle so much that I decided it was time to return to it. But I couldn’t just pick up with Tiffany, Leonard and the crew seven years later. Tiffany’s story was finished, and as she was the star that the rest of the comic orbited around, there was nowhere for it to go except to just sort of string along as a zombie franchise. So I decided instead to for a “next generation” idea, and Rough Housing was born.
I freely admit, I had very little idea what I was doing with it at first, so I just tossed in a bunch of things that I liked and figured it would gel. Possibly not the best way to start a new project, but it was also true of the original Suburban Jungle and that seemed to go fine. My initial vision for Rough House was a lot more pure OTT zaniness and parody. Issue two pretty much exemplifies this, with the S.S. Plot Device and “The _______ of Cangrejo Diablo!” being typical of the kind of jokes I had in mind.
But for whatever reason… I just didn’t love it. Scripting was constantly a chore and instead of wacky hijinks I kept wanting to write shippy or emotional moments. By the end of issue three and well into the scripting for issue four it would be fair to say that Rough Housing was having an existential crisis behind the scenes. This resulted in the scripting for issues four and five taking forever as I wrangled with it.
I knew from the beginning of the “Best Bodies Contest” arc that the big payoff moments were Parker getting up on that stage, and Leonard’s final decision. But I also clung to the idea of wacky hijinks, envisioning lots of sabotage at the contest, Charity doing ridiculous things to stall Leonard and Morrison, and so forth. But while the emotional moments flowed quickly and easily, for the hijinks I ended up with whole pages of script that said things like “FUNNY SCENE HERE.” Fortunately I was able to lean on my wit to come up with gags on a page-by-page basis, but it was a frustrating way to run a railroad.
But as I was working on issue five, two important things happened. First, I began streaming my art sessions, enabling me to get real-time feedback from some of my most engaged readers and see what they responded to and why. Second, I was watching and falling in love with K-On! and examining how I responded to that and why. And when I spotted the overlap, everything clicked.
See, here’s the thing: K-On! hits the sweet spot perfectly. At its core, it’s a remarkably subtle, character-driven story about connections, loss, savoring the moments of life, and so much more– but it sneaks all this past you by being adorable and laugh-out-loud funny. But the humor isn’t the GIANT MONSTERS ATTACK humor of Love Hina or Sgt. Frog. The girls spontaneously forming a cheerleading squad for Ritsu as she tries to eat a receipt they don’t want their teacher to see gets me every time, but it’s also a completely realistic moment.
This was the eye-opener for me. The original Suburban Jungle was very comfortable with the GIANT MONSTERS ATTACK style, with its very tenuous fourth wall, aliens hiding in the sun’s corona, and all that jazz, but when people talk to me about it today, what do they talk about? How Tiffany, Drezzer, or Leona impacted them personally. The connection they felt to Mikey and Wally. How they identified with Dover’s codespeak.
The people in my streams, similarly, talk a lot about how adorable Charity is and wanting to give her a hug, being proud of Parker’s overcoming his fears, or how fun it is to see Rufo wanting to make out with anything that moves.
In other words, the parts that were coming the most easily, are the parts that work the best anyway. XD So! Lesson learned.
The influence of K-On! has already worked its way into rewrites and page layouts. This Langley/Rufo moment, for instance, was not in my original script. It was inspired by the chemistry between Ritsu and Mio and tossed in to spruce up an otherwise dull page, but it’s just as great a moment for these two goofballs.
But the lessons I learned from K-On!, and the realizations I made about Rough Housing along the way, are going to have big repercussions moving forward. Issue six will see a shift away from “this issue’s funny premise”-style writing to focus more on the characters’ goals and fleshing out generally. I also hope to move away from being quite so much focus on Charity to being more of a proper ensemble with stories about the rest of the cast. (Who is Bounce? What does he do all day? What’s the deal between Langley and Rufo?)
This may lead to eventually changing up the cast somewhat, if existing characters aren’t working or new characters might work better. We’ll see. Rough Housing is sure to evolve over the next issues, but I finally feel like I understand it now. Giant monster attacks and wacky hijinks are not and were never going to be the strength of this comic, and really aren’t the strength of my writing generally. It’s the characters and connections, and the humor that naturally arises from them, that will make or break it.
Giant monster attacks may still show up from time to time, who knows? But where before I was saying “A giant monster attacks! What do the Rough Housers do?” I’m instead going to start with “The Rough Housers want X. How does that pan out?”
You’d think after being a writer for thirty-mumble years, I’d have learned that lesson by now. I guess I just need periodic reminders.
So, Suburban Jungle launched 18 years ago today. Thanks to the strange time-dilation effect of comics, that puts Rough Housing as due to start happening around 2019 to put Charity at the right age. XD
It’s been a long strange trip and I’m very grateful for all the friends, fans, and extended family I’ve made along the way. Thank you very much!
One of the purposes of identifying the three lions and an otter was they made handy touchstones for the tasks I need to get through with my writing and illustration. My plan was (and still pretty much is) that each of them would get a certain day (or days) during the week for their thing, to help me keep focused and on task.
Of the four of them, Content Guy requires the most time, because he’s the one who actually does the writing and drawing. On the other hand, Business Guy’s stuff doesn’t take as long, but it’s such a struggle for him that it feels like it takes forever. Fandom Guy loves what he does and is always having fun, but he has to focus his efforts on the days when people are most likely to be listening.
Muse never does anything directly. So she has no day… or it might be said she has every day.
Thus, assuming a five-day work week (which may or may not be a valid assumption), the week breaks down like so:
- Monday: Fandom Guy! I haven’t looked into it recently, but for a long time the stats of websites made it very clear that Monday was the day people were most likely to check out links and want to be distracted from their day. So if Fandom Guy wants attention, this is the day to go for it. That’s why Suburban Jungle goes up on Mondays, and so when Fandom Guy has something to say, that’s the day you can expect to hear from him.
- Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: Content Guy. Assuming nothing else gets in the way, these are the days our hard-working lion spends down in the pixel mines. Of course, this can also include work for Fandom Guy in the case of things like streaming sessions or posting commissions and the like. But these days are mostly for just getting the work done.
- Friday: Business Guy. Last but not least, our frazzled number cruncher does his thing on Fridays, whether it’s paying the bills, keeping URLs up to date, booking convention hotels/travel, hunting down markets/editors to submit to, or updating merchandise availability. Why does he get Friday? So that at the end of a long day doing things for which he has little talent and less patience, he can kick back and have the weekend. 😉 He earns it!
Now given that the average page of Suburban Jungle takes me two days to draw, this means that Content Guy only has one day dedicated to business writing gigs, commissions, book writing and whatever else. But the sneaky trick here is that Fandom Guy and Business Guy rarely need a whole day each week, so Content Guy gets whatever they don’t use. Also, well, weekends are a thing. As the old saying goes, “Find a job you like and you’ll never work another day of your life.” I write and draw because that’s what I enjoy doing (and because I kinda can’t not do them), so as long as I have some time to spend with Mrs. Gneech and the kitties, “working” on the weekend is the opposite of a problem.
And on that note, I’ve got commissions to work on! Catcha later.
So one thing that was made quite clear at the most recent Midwest Furfest is that I’ve really gotta get back in touch with the fandom. Suburban Jungle used to mean room parties and charity auction cameos going for hundreds of dollars, but this past weekend it seemed to be “That comic everybody used to know and remembers fondly.”
Dude. What am I, the Animaniacs? XD Nostalgia is not my brand!
Seriously tho, I think a lot of the problem is that as time has gone on, I’ve just gotten out of touch. I met plenty of people at the convention who’d never heard of me or my work, but upon seeing the art were instantly interested in checking it out. So clearly what I’ve got to do is get it front of more eyeballs!
To that end, I’m working on a retool of my online presence generally, looking for new venues to spread the word and so on. Besides the usual DeviantArt and FurAffinity accounts, I’m going to start posting more of my work on my Tumblr account (which has until now been little more than reblogs), I created a Pinterest board for my art, and I have (finally) started dipping my toes into groups on Telegram.
Sometime by the end of the year I expect to also start streaming fairly regularly on Monday and/or Tuesday nights as I work on the next comic page. Right now I’m still researching that, looking for artists with successful streams and watching what they do. (If you have faves, let me know! I want to see ALL THE STREAMS.)
As a general thing, I also just sorta need to get back out into the world. Over the past years I had kinda retreated into a cocoon as I dealt with the slings and arrows being fired at me by outrageous fortune, and I’m finally sticking my head back out. (What did I find? 2016. For cryin’ out loud, world, I hide away for just a few years, and you turn into a dumpster fire? I want you to go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done while the rest of us clean up this mess.)
…Er, sorry, what was I saying? Right, getting back in touch with the world. I’ve got a few volunteers who are helping me with that, and I’ll gratefully take any assistance I can get, but nothing replaces me getting out there and taking care of it myself. I need to do a lot more connecting with the world than just posting to LiveJournal and Twitter, and that’s going to be a big priority for me over the next several weeks.
If anyone has ideas on what I should do, I’d love to hear them! 😀
As things have developed, both public and private, I have decided that my I need to change my priorities in the upcoming months. To that end, I need to put By Elves Abandoned on the back burner and work on other things. Instead of working on those other things and feeling guilty about not hitting wordcount goals for NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to simply let that go.
The book still has a lot of potential, and I expect to pick it up again before too long, it’s purely a matter of timing. Maybe my own personal NaNoWriMo will come in February, we’ll see!
Suburban Jungle will keep going, and punting on NaNo will hopefully give me time to fix up lingering issues I’m having with the current storyline and the direction the comic is taking generally. Fortunately, that only takes me a couple of days a week and could be done at night or on the weekends as needed. I am also still working on finding a publisher for Sky Pirates of Calypsitania.
How Not to Suck at Overwatch is also going to go quiet for the foreseeable future. It was a fun project and I enjoyed it (and I’m very grateful to the friends and fans who made it possible), but at least for now I have other things I need to concentrate on.
As for what I am working on, that’s not in a stage where I’m ready to tell the world. But when the time comes, I will! But until then, I’ve got commissions to finish and a comic to draw, so I’d better get to work.
When I started trying to brainstorm for NaNoWriMo this year, I had nothing to go on. Months of shopping Sky Pirates of Calypsitania around to agents had received mostly chirping crickets, with the occasional “You’re a good writer, but… nah.” On the advice of J.M. Frey, I decided to write a more “mainstream fantasy” novel that would help me get my foot in the door, figuring that once I had a body of work, it would be easier to get people to buy in to other stuff.
But again, what to write? I can craft prose all day, but creating a compelling story is much tougher. Finally, with nothing else to work with, I said, “Fine! I’m taking some of my unplayed RPG characters, tossing them into a scenario, and writing it as a book!”
On the good side, it definitely got me rolling. I have some protagonists and a broad story arc, and that’s all good. However, there is one big problem with this framework, which is: most RPG campaigns, even good ones, tend to be a never-ending string of fights. Whether it’s orcs or stormtroopers, the “filler” of an RPG campaign is generally going to be battles with monsters… which can make for dull reading.
Yes, the blow-by-blow of a tense action scene can be exciting. Bilbo’s encounters with trolls, goblins, spiders and dragon (and later Frodo’s encounters with ringwraiths, orcs, trolls, more orcs, more ringwraiths, more orcs, easterlings on oliphaunts, more orcs, a giant spider, still more orcs, and a giant pit of lava) are iconic. But what really makes a battle interesting is not who slashed what or cleft the other in twain– it’s what changes as a result of the battle.
And that’s where the neverending string of fights in a D&D game fall down as fodder for a novel. As a rule, they don’t change anything, other than to nibble away at resources. In a novel, the “five rooms full of orcs” at the front of the level that lead up to the “boss” at the end would lose readers after the second fight. “We’ve seen this already!” would be the cry of the frustrated reader. “Get on with it!” (And they’d be perfectly right to do so.) The first fight with orcs is interesting, because it’s new, which means it changes things. The fight with the boss at the end is interesting, for the same reason. (And presumably the boss has some kind of plot coupon or other thing to make them worth fighting in the first place on top of that.) The stuff in the middle? Gets mercilessly summarized unless and until it makes an impact.
So this is where my NaNoWriMo project actually hits an uphill climb: I have more or less completed act one, with the hero about to set off on her journey with her new companions. While I have the next big change– the “boss” of the next section so to speak– worked out, I need to figure out interesting and relevant things that will take the character from here to there. In a D&D game, this would be an overland journey with some random encounters, ending in a dungeon complex, easy peasy. For a book? It has to matter, or be cut. And that’s the tough part.