SPREY Log #13 – Genre Research

Exciting news, I finished reading Brian McDonald’s “Invisible Ink” and started reading the next book already. I will put “Invisible Ink” away for a couple of weeks and then read it again, just to make sure I haven’t missed the point. Then, I was very lucky as my kindle recommended K.M. Weiland’s “Writing your story’s theme” to me. Perfect, I told myself, reading another voice dealing with exactly what plagues me at the moment could be the best call now. And I found a treasure indeed.

First of all, according to Weiland what I have gone through and discovered througout my own past blog entries and writing sessions is true. Theme is indeed ethereal and you can actually craft a story without ever consciously dealing with any of it. You then just aren’t guaranteed a coherent theme will manifest through your instincts alone.

Weiland offers a more open view on theme than McDonald declaring theme a personal practise of each writer. She does for example not exclude single word themes or a preaching approach where you offer an answer to humanity’s biggest problems yourself from being acceptable themes. What I learn from this is that I can treat it like the discussion which art style is the best…none of them. I just have to find out where I fall on the spectrum of approaches and make the best of it. This of course in turn changes my search for SPREY’s theme. I don’t have to find that one statement that clutches the story climax and in turn is reflected through everything else in the story, although it would be good for structure’s sake.

Yesterday I figured out that current SPREY is a wild mix of themes. Weiland says if you can’t figure your theme out and are worried about the consistency of your story, you can always fall back on genre. At least that’s what I understood. It is probably not the most elegant way to do things, but if you at least do your genre right, you aren’t lost completely. After all, it wouldn’t be a genre if it’s archetypes and must have scenes weren’t tested. I took that to heart and put in an extra reading session yesterday, diving into the romance genre and slasher movies. I was surprised by what even a superficial look at both unveiled.

Genres are powerful tools indeed. A romance can be more than primarily dealing with a love relationship in your story. Actually, a classical romance can even work without a love interest. If you are interested in that genre and it’s history at all, look it up, you will not be disappointed. Looking into slashers was also pretty revealing. I have truly seen my share of them and never actually thought about the ritualistic nature and symbols in most of them. A virgin woman is protecting herself from a sometimes supernatural danger that has been killing her whole peer group. That’s like tossing an ancient Greek princess into a labyrinth to please that minotaur monster inside. Truly, some things never change. This time around the princess, rarely a prince, saves herself though. Here I’m baffled how I ever assumed SPREY had anything to do with the essence of slashers. I guess I just copied some of the aesthetics. On the other hand, they’re putting Rich on an altar to cut his heart out in the end. But he never was in a peer group that was killed off and left him alone to be tested. Also if anyone is a typical final girl it’s Willard, because he’s the only virgin I know of in the story. But Willard is also the one who returns to kill the monster. Decisions decisions. But at least I’m having a lot of new ideas to play with in my writing. I have no idea where this is going but I must write and test. I also hope I’m not being dishonest with myself here though. I don’t think the final girl protects “just” her virginity. This must go deeper.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #11 – Testing SPREY’s story

I keep working through “Invisible Ink”. This time around I’ve learned about how the best stories have a balance of external action and internal development of the characters, a glimpse into their emotions and inner life. And I’ve learned what a climax of the story actually is. How can this book tackle all and every problem I ever had with my writing? And why do the explanations work so well for me?

I have heard about the climax of a story before. I was under the impression that the climax of the story is it’s most important, most dramatic, most action rich scene or moment. It changes everything and the whole story builds up to it. While this is not wrong, it was not precise. It could have lead me astray in some cases. In fact, the climax of the story is the test whether your protagonist has changed or not. Not every protagonist is changing, and not every protagonist is changing for the better, but the climax is a test of whether they did, usually a decision they make in a dire situation. And everything that happened before is necessary to establish why it’s a big deal. It does not matter whether the protagonist is about to save the whole world, their relationship with their child or just make peace with themselves, which nobody may even see from the outside. It is your job as writer of that story to craft it in a way that makes the reader care.

DANGER, SPOILERS AHEAD. Don’t read if you want to experience that in SPREY yourself later.

SPREY’s climax so far has been Rich sacrificing his life for Willard. This is a reversed mirror to the beginning of the comic where Rich just can’t bring himself to commit to a stable relationship with Willard. Rich is afraid of getting his heart broken later. He also doesn’t like the prospect of having to arrange himself with a partner. He is so used to fend for himself and do what he wants the way he wants, it seems like a huge disadvantage to give even a bit of that freedom away. But then he is ready to give his life.

This is also an inversion of the whole plot of Willard leaving his old life behind to save Rich. Willard’s arc actually is over already when the climax comes up. The slashers taught him that he has a chaotic side and a potential for evil, but they offered him a very flawed way to deal with that. Willard would have had a choice to become a slasher, for real and fully, but he did not give in to that and went with Rich, saving a lot of lives on the way out.

I’m surprised to find that it does not matter whether Rich and Willard survive in the following, at least not for the climax. The climax is just about putting their character development to the test. I think I have to correct myself, Willard is tested twice. So he does not become a slasher. But now that that is gone and that Rich is gone… he has to make another choice. There is a very slim chance that Rich is still alive. Rich has distracted the slashers who were after them away from Willard’s tracks and has probably been badly injured when they got him. But he could still be alive. Willard would be free to just go, return to the normal world as a changed, more balanced man. Instead, he goes right back to grasp that last straw and save Rich if he can. Willard is in for a battle he cannot win and he knows it. But he does it out of love. And now he understands why Rich was afraid of it. This is Willard’s sacrifice.

I don’t intend to break my own heart entirely and will let the lovers survive. I’m not entirely sure how they make it out of there in one piece, but that is a detail question compared to decisions about the underlying story structure and it’s workings.

SPOILERS OVER!

But wait…that is just the climax. That is not a theme. Remember? SPREY still got none. But at least the beginning matches the climax, which is a huge win already. And the climax is strong! Maybe the theme will reveal itself once I worked further through “Invisible Ink” and also did more writing work on SPREY. What do I want to say with SPREY? I don’t know yet. But what I got already stands at least a basic test.

See you next blogpost!

100 Days of SPREY – 21

Today marks the beginning of a new phase, the second phase of the hundred days of making Street Prey(SPREY) and I really feel the pull. I wouldn‘t have thought it, but by planning this event I might have programmed myself unconsciously to actually cross a barrier like with a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now the pace indeed got faster with tons of ideas what to do and how to improve things.

Unfortunately that means new uncertainty, too. I‘m not even in my familiar void now. So to keep creeping anxiety down I remind myself: I do have a base product, and that is drawing and releasing at least one panel for SPREY a day. If I decided to stop evolving here and never did anything again to improve myself, it would still work. If I had to, I could do this for the rest of my life. Now that is a base to work from, isn‘t it? I did not say that this will produce a stellar or the best possibele outcome, but I can tell, it will work and I will come through with the story. And that is what counts when you promise readers a story. You must finish it. Deliberations about quality come second. Now of course, if you finish a story but do it badly, you can still disappoint your readers. But nothing is worse than abandoning the story half-told.

Now the next big source of disappointment for my readers that I want to avoid is making false promises about what the story is about. I am aware that SPREY has one big tone shift in it that is not so apparent early on, but this changes nothing about the story. You actually get exactly what I layed out in chapter 1 as weird as that sounds. It is a romance first that tries to exclude the cruel world around it as well as the interior conflicts inside of the lovers but in the end can‘t. Their love that they are holding to even is the thing that forces them to change and ground themselves in reality more in order to survive and to keep the love alive.

Also I dared to think outside of my own box for a day. Is SPREY indeed more of a storyboard than an actual comic? I conclude, it is an actual comic. Very much simplified, a storyboard is like the recipe to craft something else, an animation or movie, while the comic is meant to be read itself. You can enjoy SPREY on it‘s own. The interactive elements add to the unique experience of SPREY and running through this for the first time. Not knowing the actual other endings but being aware there are decisions to make that influence it changes the experience. It is almost like in real life. Yes, you can make choices and change your course any day. But will you truly ever know what would have happened if you did or did not do something? Would you even want to browse through the other endings if you could? Experience can only give you an estimation where you might come out in the end later, hindsight analysis is a painful tool at times, but very good for learning. I guess neither me nor the readers that are here with me will be able to recreate this specific first run of SPREY ever and I‘m rolling with and honoring the experience.

So I conclude, SPREY is indeed an interactive romance comic. That is the unshakeable core of it. I shook it myself to make sure. I will take a closer look at the genre and world in the next blog entry. Note how the setting doesn‘t even matter for the core. The next layer of things gives my story a coat and more personality maybe. It is quirky already with the interactive elements, though.

100 Days – 71

Editorial note: I dipped my toe back into 2D animation today after a long long time. Just for the record. And yes, apparently gestures like I’m practising them train you for that. Let’s see where this goes (but it doesn’t have to go anywhere, of course). I changed. I am much more relaxed now with my things.