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June 5th, 2017, 5:00 am

Mort Harris

The Problem Of Serial Fiction

So, uh, howdy.

As I’ve been trying to write the fourth episode of Beechwood & Bloom: Paranormal Investigators, I’ve gotten to thinking about the story I’m trying to write, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it could be a lot better. It may not have been a good idea to journey into webcomics with my beautiful baby, but I don’t really have stories that aren’t my beautiful babies, and looking through my seventeen folders of drafts, if I’d started with something like Shades of Blue or Sylakia first, I think I’d’ve ended up in the same state. Their plotlines and characters have continually evolved to the point of near-unrecognizability, and if I were starting B&B now, it’d be a whole lot different. Part of me says, ”Just roll with it. Use the B&B experience to improve your other works.” But part of me – and it’s the part I’m listening to more and more – says, ”B&B deserves just as much as your other stories.” I’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes work improving B&B, but I still don’t think it’s enough.

When I started B&B, I wanted to tell a story about accepting when the world doesn’t make sense, and about how that doesn’t mean you can’t still act. Noah’s original character arc was that he looked for patterns in everything, searching desperately for control, and found that there was no fundamental order in the universe. So, overexposed to the paranormal and believing that he could wield its power … he decided to make some. He got … bleak. He got better, but things got bleak; the penultimate episode was to be named "Beechwood vs. Bloom". Two years, one sociology class, and a lot more listening to other people later – I’ve realized that that’s a crappy message. Events have knowable causes, even the actions of sentient beings, and if there’s events with unknowable causes, then they can’t affect you. (I’ve been thinking about Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._K._Chesterton#Chesterton.27s_fence" allegory of the fence a lot recently.) Ironically, as I tried to set the seeds for letting go of the understandable universe, I’ve become more attached than ever to the concept that things can be understood. Also - it wasn’t fair to the other characters. Nat’s character arc, and, to a lesser degree, Perry’s, were about the power of science and understanding.

When I started B&B, I also wanted to tell a story about people who were like me, and when I started B&B, the people I was like were cishet white males. Two years, some critical analysis, and a lot of self-discovery later, I’ve learned that telling a story about people like me is less important than telling a story about people whose stories don’t get told as often. Now – that self-discovery’s also led to me realizing I am neither cis, het, nor male, so I will be telling stories about people like me because those stories don’t get told as often, but I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough for representation. Nat’s biracial and bisexual; Perry and Noora are black; Noora’s blind, Muslim, and … I haven’t decided if she’s gay or bi, but she’s not straight; Danielle is trans and Jewish; Luke has a schizoaffective disorder; and Nat, Perry, and Noah are all on the autism spectrum (although Noah’s the only one with a diagnosis) … but I don’t think any of that changes the fact that of the main cast of B&B, two of them are probably-straight blond white boys, one of whom is a focal character, which I’d make a crack about being “totally unrealistic!!1!” if that wasn’t also a super pretentious and white thing to do. I decided to make Noah trans and slowly reveal that that’s what made him so desperate for control, but he’s still fundamentally, an Angsty White Boy (and, oh, yeah, it’s parental, baby), and even if he wasn’t a white boy, I really don’t want to write transgst. (This is a word. Trust me. I’m a writer.)

I think, honestly, the fundamental problem with Beechwood & Bloom is … Bloom. I’ve said before that Noah was the Dipper to my Alex Hirsch, but I think a more accurate statement is that Noah is the parts of myself I don’t like, and I don’t feel like I can write a character I loathe that much. If I hated Noah, it’d be easy - I could sink my teeth into his villainy and grapple with him, but … I really just loathe the kid. Noah is my egotism, my pretense, my self-loathing (why do I play him for laughs? This is stuff I do and it’s not funny in real life!), my parent angst (not that my parents are necessarily justified, merely that dwelling on it is self-destructive) … honestly, I think he’s the parasitic remnants of my masculinity. Noah is the part of me that would turn into John the Hunger from The Adventure Zone and spout a speech about life, existence, being horrible. I just … don’t like him. It’s hard - his design has been with me for years now, as James Namagucci, Jack Bluehawk, Tanner Cain, Arthur Calvin Winter … but I think he’s going to go with them into the pit of unloved drafts.

So, here’s where I stand, now, and with this question left: What’s the best way to recover from this? I feel like it would be crappy to just launch into episode four with “Hey, guys, Noah got so angsty he just vanished. This, like, black opal stuff streaked down from the sky and gobbled him right up. Absolutely vored the guy, really. Anyway, Perry is the Bloom in Beechwood & Bloom now,” but on the other hand, I also feel like it would be crappy to say, “Hey, that one guy you connected with? These adventures you’ve enjoyed reading? They’re gone now. Never happened, not canonically. They might happen again, they might not. Who knows? The last two years never happened.” Maybe it’s a sunk-cost thing, but … I’m lost.

I'll be pausing B&B while I figure out what to do. Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

user comments

June 6th, 2017, 9:56 pm

PabloKitsune

Comics are hard. I don't think enough people appreciate that, especially us comic creators ourselves.

We don't realize that more often than not we're just a one person team; we're our writers, our artists, and even our editors. It's hard to account for every single thing and make sure no mistakes slip through the cracks, and they do. We make mistakes and either we fix them and/or we make sure we don't do it again. But the thing about being a one person team is only you can notice when something isn’t working anymore, whether it’s a character, a storyline/arc, etc, and it messes with the whole story and wrecks your mind trying to figure out how to resolve it. When you’ve already started a webcomic and realized something major needs to be fixed, it’s a lot like trying to replace a tire on a car in motion.

There’s no shame in realizing something doesn’t work anymore. Our stories are supposed to make us happy and we’re supposed to want them to be good. You’re right when you say B&B deserves just as much as your other stories, because everything you’ve created and will ever create deserves that love, regardless of it’s your first try or you second, third, fourth, and so on.

I started my first webcomic with no real plot. Sure, I had ideas where my characters would go and what they would do, but no ending in sight. At first that was enough for me, (in my defense though, I was twelve) but I realized, “I can do better,” so I did. I stopped, and started from scratch. I improved my art, and even improved my characters! However, I still didn’t have an ending set in stone at all and that led to me no longer enjoying the project since I didn’t have a real path to follow, and putting it aside when I started Color Blind with the hopes I could one day give that story justice (which I still hope to someday do!).

Don’t get me wrong though, I thought I was a failure for leaving it behind, it was my first comic! Didn’t it deserve more? And of course it did, but so did I. I didn’t deserve to be stuck doing something I didn’t know how to fix at the time, and stressing myself out over it. I deserved to be doing something I loved.

Not to say Color Blind has been without it’s road bumps and tire changing, I’ve had to fix things for it while I was still rolling, doing my best to fix plot strings that weren’t working anymore or just needed to go. My ending for Color Blind is not exactly the same as when I began, but it’s definitely what I think both the story and I deserve. I’ve scrapped two characters and their entire story arc because I realized it was unnecessary to the major plot, and the important elements it introduced could be done different/better. A major plot chapter has been completely changed content-wise because I realized it just didn’t work originally, and now it’s something so much better. Four characters have switched moral alignments with each other, not sure how that happened but it worked so much better for them and the story. And hell, over a year ago I had a friend going over my whole outline for Color Blind and she suggested something for one character’s arc that I never would have thought of myself and now it’s entirely canon.

I don’t think I can say what’s the best way to recover from this because I don’t know, and even if I did know a solution it might only work for me and not for you. It’s hard when we realize our projects doesn’t make us happy anymore, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong in fixing it. Having a problem like your’s with one of your main characters is no easy fix, and while having Noah be vored out of existence might be funny, it won’t really work. I know this is suggestion is rather taboo in the webcomic world, but you might consider starting over? Beechwood and Bloom is a great webcomic and has a lot of potential, I think you could definitely do it different and even better if you wanted to, (and you could make Noah a minor character or just remove him all together if you wanted). You could also bench B&B to work on other projects and in that time learn what to do with B&B.

The only other thing I can really suggest is what has definitely helped me; having someone there to help me, whether it was by offering a sound board to bounce ideas off of, or giving me suggestions and pointing out what doesn’t make sense and what I could fix. And if you need that person, you do have my email :)

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