Monday, September 28, 2009

Progress Report: 9/28/09

This week was mostly about whipping my query letter into shape and getting it ready to go off to editors. Which I have done now (two queries out) and will do some more this week.

Query letters are intimidating. I think virtually every writer would like their query letter to say: "Look, could you just read my damned story, okay?" and leave it at that. I feel like I have a bit of an edge on this process, since I've been writing ad copy professionally for +5 years and the principles are pretty much the same, but it's still a bit of a trial.

From what I've seen, the thing that most writers run into is a difficulty boiling down their own story to its key, interest-grabbing essentials. Actually, the problem for writers is that there is a sense that if you can write a 250,000 word epic fantasy novel, a page of sale copy ought to be a snap. It doesn't work that way. Copy writing is its own beast, and there are writers who are superb at other sorts of writing that can't scratch together a piece of decent copy to save their lives.

(By the same token, if you've ever tried to read a full length book written by someone who knows only copy writing, you have tasted a special flavor of pain.)

In terms of fiction writing, I'm progressing along on a short story that is currently called "The Dragon and the Aussie." It's about a friendly dog meeting a wary young dragon. Not enough to build a trilogy on or anything, but I think it'll be a sweet little piece. Short stories are a nice way to keep in practice between stretches at novels. I'll have to look more deeply into the ins and outs of short story publication once I get a few under my belt.

Speaking of short stories, I have also been combing through some of my older stuff to see if there's anything up to snuff for publication. Jury's out on that, but there are some fun reads, and I'm thinking I'll go back to these pieces and start posting them on DeviantArt once and a while (linked to this blog as well), and give people something to read.

Also on the agenda: making this blog look more interesting. Needs some art, some links, stuff like that. It's pretty bare-bones right now.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Possible Futures of Thunderstruck

Understandably, a lot of people who have followed the story of Thunderstruck want to see it continue. So would I (as I hope you know). Here are some of the suggestions that I’ve seen, and my answer to how likely they actually are.

1) Publish an Outline.
Or a bulleted list of what I planned to happen. The answer on that one is no. This would be a cheap and hugely unsatisfying way to end a story. Picture for a moment your favorite series — Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, what have you. Now think of a bulleted outline of the last book. How does that experience compare to reading the actual book? The answer is that it sucks. The experience is so bad that it would be better not to have read the outline at all.

That is not the only consideration. The fact is that I do not write with a rigid outline. Thunderstruck has on several occasions jumped the tracks and gone in a way that my outlined version did not predict. Which is fine, because every time it’s done that, I’ve liked the outcome. So even an outline would only give you one vague possibility for how things might have gone, and not a very accurate one at that.

Besides, if I publish an outline, that kind of kills the suspense if I ever do come back to the story, doesn’t it?

2) Go to a Reduced Schedule (1-2 times a week)
I seriously considered that possibility. Ultimately, what it boiled down to was a question of whether I devote myself to writing or keep trying to be an artist/writer. And I choose the former. I love drawing, but for various reasons, I don’t think it’s my career path. Writing is.

3) Publish the Existing Comic as a Graphic Novel
I appreciate the encouragement from people who say they’d buy Thunderstruck in a traditional print format, and I am not immune to the appeal of this vision. There are some technical problems with this. For one, I have not drawn with a print format in mind. Go back and look at the physical dimensions of the comic throughout its history. They’re all over the place. Notice the font size, and how it will vary wildly from one strip to another. These things aren’t too bothersome in the fast-and-loose world of online comics, but in a print format they will stand out and look shoddy. This could probably be handled, but it would be time-consuming.

Another practical issue is that I have shamelessly mined the Internet for photography to use in backgrounds. I haven’t kept track of who owns the copyright to these photos or what the usage agreements for each might be. Since Thunderstruck has been a virtually profit-less enterprise (a hobby, in short), there’s really not much legal concern. If I were to physically publish the comic, I would have to scour through each of these and most likely re-do the backgrounds. Not impossible, but again, time-consuming.

But the ultimate decider on this is that I would want to go back and re-write a lot of the story. Not just to bring the older art up to snuff (though that is a temptation). It’s because the writing itself would need an overhaul. More detail on that in just a second.

4) Publish a Prose Version of Thunderstruck
This is the most likely thing to happen. I have a lot of work in Thunderstruck. It’s a world that is rich in detail and compelling to me, and I’ve got a lot left in the story I still want to tell. There is a lot of potential for prose-novel version of Thunderstruck.

Don’t expect it to be identical, though.

The thing I liked least about writing a webcomic was this: you’re stuck with your first draft. Oh, there’s no physical barrier to making rewrites, but readers don’t really dig being dragged back and forth through a rewrite process. The very act of drawing the comic also makes rewrites incredibly tedious — I can change dialogue without too much difficulty, but the effort that goes into drawing is so great that the prospect of re-drawing completed pages is enough to send me screaming for the nearest balcony.

First drafts are messy, and there’s a reason that rewrites are so important. It shows in the end result. The pacing in Thunderstruck is inconsistent. Characters change as I get to know them, and their later incarnations don’t mesh with their first appearance (Grogan was the most striking example of this). I ended up hitting the reader with great walls of exposition, clumsily delivered. Elements of the plot shifted around like sand. And so forth. I’ve had many readers say wonderful things about how well-executed and written Thunderstruck was, and I am very grateful of it (and fairly proud as well), but I know it could be a lot better.

I was thinking at one point of picking up the story from the last strip, and carrying forth in prose. But I think if (hopefully when) I return to this universe and these characters, it will be with a fresh page in front of me, a stronger idea of how I want to shape and pace the story, and a better, tighter approach. Back to the start, in other words.

Ah, but I will miss some of the things you can do in comics. Like the bit where Sharon and Gail first communicate through their respective bathroom mirrors — that came out quite nicely, and it would be hard to capture it the same way in prose. Comics also give you the option to subtly drop visual clues in a way that isn’t the same in prose, like Jude’s necklace.

So, will Thunderstruck return someday in a new incarnation? I think the chances are good. What I am really ending right now is my hobby as a webcomic writer/artist, in favor of devoting myself to a professional career as a writer. But there’s no reason to believe story of Thunderstruck can only exist as a webcomic. It is a world close to my heart. And it would be a fine, fine thing to go back someday and share more adventures with Sharon and Gail.

Progress Report: 9/21/09

This blog has several purposes, but the primary one is to keep up-to-date with these progress reports. One of the things I learned from writing a webcomic was how useful it is to have a schedule. It keeps me on task, allows me to budget my time, and generally lets me establish a discipline around writing.

So for now, I intend to publish one progress report per week, every Monday, on my writing. If I haven't gotten any writing done or made any progress over a week's time, I'm doing something wrong (unless I'm on vacation). I didn't end Thunderstruck just so I could have more time for video games or watching football. I did it because those hours I spent on the comic are quality hours I am going to use for writing. That's my promise to myself, and to you.

This week's progress was mostly about wrapping up Thunderstruck, but I think I should tell you a little about my novel here while I've got you. It's called Rose & Jade, and is the first installment of a planned trilogy called "The Awakening of Dragons." It took me about two years to write it, and it is now in a sufficiently polished form that I'm shopping it to agents and editors. This week's efforts will be focused on that endeavor, and I'll tell you about all that in more detail next Monday.

Welcome to The Raptor Clause

Hi everyone. Sorry the place is kind of sparse right now. I just moved in, and I'll get it spruced up here as I go along.

I expect that most people here right now are coming from Thunderstruck, so I'm going to talk about that. For those of you who don't know, Thunderstruck is a web comic that I've been self-publishing since May 31, 2004. I just ended it today, and I'm betting there are some readers who won't be happy with me about that.

The last strip of the comic pretty much gives you my reasons for bringing Thunderstruck to its abrupt close. Here's a little more about why I chose to end the way I did.

There was a strong pull to wrap the story up in some way instead of severing the plotline in the middle. As I examined this option, I realized that there was no way to do this in a satisfying fashion. Everything I considered started to feel cheap, rushed, and uninteresting. If I crammed the ending into a small space just so I could have something that felt like a conclusion, it would've been lousy.

I considered publishing a kind of outline of where I thought the story would go. That was even worse. First of all, my outlines are only general guidelines, and I know just how much I deviate from them when it gets down to the actual writing. Secondly, outlines are just boring. I know some of you may be frustrated by not knowing how things turn out or what the secrets are, but I don't think an outline would've brought any real satisfaction.

I then considered at least getting to the end of the chapter, just to get a better closing point. Since all the chapters end in cliffhangers, that's not saying much, but it would've at least been a cleaner breaking spot. The problem with that was that I knew I was going to end it. Thunderstruck demanded a great deal of time, energy, and passion, and that last ingredient is the key. I couldn't devote myself in the way that any story deserves, especially a demanding one like this, if my heart wasn't in it.

And there's the other trap. If I kept writing until the end of the chapter, the pull to carry on after that would start to creep up on me. I'd fall back into my routine -- demanding, yet comfortable -- and might lose the momentum to do what I know is the right thing.

I know the ending is sudden. But it's time.

Thunderstruck has always been a labor of love. It is very hard to let it go. It's been a part of my life and my identity for over five years now. I know I'm going to miss writing it, and miss interacting with all of you who have read and enjoyed it.

I've learned a lot from writing Thunderstruck. And I plan to put that knowledge to good use.