Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Digital art of a well-fed monarch butterfly caterpillar helping itself to more milkweed leaves. The art is done in a style with thin black outlines and cel shading, but is otherwise rendered true to nature. There are three milkweed leaves in the picture and they have been eaten through the middle by the hungry caterpillar, leaving the steps and tips intact. The caterpillar, who is peach with black stripes, peels back the final leaf to nibble its edge.

Cocoon Year: May Woes
I keep saying I’m not going to restart the outline, but I wasn’t having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that’s a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.

 

Cocoon Week 19

I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d and was fairly confident in them, right until I hit the part where Stone returns to the fortress on the edge of town. Something about the character interaction felt lackluster, uninteresting, and not indicative of the world beyond the characters. It felt like a series of events that happen just because. Even though in the summary this part of the story felt solid, the details weren’t building to each other. The suspense wasn’t there. There wasn’t any friction to cause the characters to act in interesting ways.

Feeling lost, I consulted a couple of cozy mystery beat sheets (again) and rearranged my collection of scenes to better match the formula there. I don’t gel with ‘unviersal’ story archetypes such as Hero’s Journey and Save the Cat. However, I find genre-specific beat sheets very useful. Apparently there is such a thing as writing a story, figuring out which genre it is, and then editing according to a beat sheet. For now, and for my lack of expertise otherwise, murder mystery beat sheets make more sense to me. One curious thing I found was that in a murder mystery the protagonists can actually be pretty passive in the first act. They’re reacting to things, not necessarily pursuing a goal.

When first drafting this version of Warlock’d I used a mystery beat sheet. I stopped referencing it when I edited my summary, and edited it more and more. It’s gotten away from its original structure so I return to the beat sheet to make changes. One important thing I learned from this draft was that too much stuff happened passively while Stone watched in the later acts. This draft makes it so that Stone actively participates in an action sequence to save someone from being murdered by a demon. Prior to this he just watched that happen from above, followed by watching other stuff happen without him. This would be bad, to have the character revert to reaction and passivity in the second act.

I managed to finish outlining my Terrible Histories anthology submission. I feel all right about the lineart, but I may regret rushing the crowd scene. The next thing to do is flat all the colors. I know I will start out strong with the flatting but then revert to just getting it done and have to fix things after the fact. I’m confident that I can eventually beat the colors into shape prior to the deadline at the end of this month.

 

Cocoon Week 20

Screenshot of some flatting in my Troubled Histories anthology that I felt went particularly well. It depicts a man looking up at a fortress tower saying 'He thinks he can just take my stuff?

I’m devastated. I’ve realized that there is just too much going on in Warlock’d — and this was the light version of several prior drafts.

I swore not to scrap this draft and start over just because the writing is hard. I swore! And now I must break that oath.

Having gone more into Stone’s character and motivation, I’ve realized that he is not the type of character who can have much about him hidden from the reader. He can’t have some second mystery running tangentially alongside some other storyline.

I realized my own mistakes while watching Outer Range on Amazon Prime. This show is simply terrible: No focus, characters everywhere, strained storytelling and what appears to be un-charming Fargo fanfiction set in Wyoming for no reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if ChatGPT wrote this series, it’s that incoherent. The show’s principal problem is it doesn’t let the audience sit with anything concrete or form any positive opinions about anything. Some stories can do this in a fun way, but this show does not. I looked at Warlock’d in its current state and couldn’t bear to continue struggling with it, for its stories were in a similar state.

What then? Start over from the beginning, again? Well, sort of — There are bits of the current script that I like very much. They were developing Stone’s motivation and backstory. Stone has a missing friend now, and the primary aspect of his character (kindness) has more opportunities to shine. I want an opportunity to let readers sit with the setting, heresy, and the state of Hell as it was presented in the 12th century. What happens when a message that a religion portrays (an apocalypse in 1000 AD) doesn’t work out? The pivot is so interesting to me. Hell is an amendment to an apocalyptic prophecy. I believe a lot of modern evangelism and cults tend to hedge on apocalypses, and they never quite work out, so hopefully that’s something we can have in common with medieval people.

The scene where I stopped working on the current outline was one where Stone sticks up for himself against an authority figure who could easily kill him. It was a sillier scene meant to make a lot happen at once. It just felt…bad to write it. Like it was disrespecting my characters, somehow. I think this could be a potentially interesting scene with characters who are better set-up, but all I could think about was all the other things I wanted to set up and how they weren’t all quite relating to each other.

I took inspiration from a podcast where Saturday Night Live writers were reminiscing about process. Apparently they cut things that they like. While I feel like ‘Kill your Darlings’ is often too strictly applied, resulting in dull writing, in this case killing them feels right. I’m getting rid of things that I like in the current story. They’re going into the Sequel Fodder folder, as if someday I’ll spring them back out. It’s also interesting that the writers I like the most are humorists, as it seems like they’re less likely to try to write well, which results in less self-important stories.

Immediately, lacking a few of the characters who were too complex to onboard into an existing plot, I see a much clearer beat sheet, with more room to let readers experience the fun aspects of the setting — The food, the buildings in their original states, and especially all the folk spiritualities — without it all being something they need to pay special attention to. Not plot points, just details that build on an overall simpler plot. The last thing I want to do is worry my readers with worldbuilding.

Digital art of a 12th century lock with animals woven into metalworking designs. The lock is handsomely colored with gold leaf inlays, coppery hues, and a rich magenta background.

I’ll just console myself that my Troubled Histories anthology is coming together, although some of the flatting on pages is quite ugly and will need revision.

To Do Next Week:

  1. Writing!
  2. Coloring Troubled Histories
  3. Web design for Codex Apis (short comics collection)
  4. Or, web design for Warlock’d?

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Digital art of a spray of milkweed leaves, done in a cartoony cel-shaded style with thin, uniform lineart. The plant has six visible leaves and little bits of leaf scattered about it. Running through the leaves is a trail made by a little caterpillar chomping its way through the plant. The caterpillar at the end of this trail is perched on the biggest, most prominent leaf, and is preparing to crawl onto the other side of the leaf, away from the viewer. The caterpillar's butt faces the viewer. It is peach with dark gray rings around its body.

Cocoon Year: April into May
I re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.

 

Cocoon Week 17

Following advice from several readers, I re-simplified my story beats and made the murder mystery into a main thread from the beginning of the story all the way through to the end. This involved completely re-writing my five-page synopsis but I feel like it’s worth it. It’s the same story, but written more cleanly and without all the edits that I’d applied like a vulture ripping up a carcass. I was advised to arrange specific information in my story in a different format than the extended synopsis and I think that will work out well.

I know I swore never to let feedback rip my project back down to stage 1, but in text format it’s easy enough to do that, and I didn’t completely restart it. It’s still the same story, the mystery just reveals itself at the right time now (the end).

Screenshot of a Trello checklist item that's been expanded. At the top is a summary of the chapter. Appended to the card are multiple checklists of things I want to reveal about characters and stakes.

I have also included checklists of character beats, plot information, and stakes within each scene. Upon writing each of these scenes I’ve thrown the specific checklists out almost entirely, but they still help me keep the three aspects of storytelling in mind. I think if I were to do this again, I would write out the scene, and then list character, plot, and stakes after I wrote the scene.

The story still feels cluttered from glancing at the trello, but whenever I write scenes — it feels very fluid and easy. The scenes are between two and five pages apiece, quick ltitle reads. Writing might be like acting out a play or a script for me. Each rendition, I feel more fluid, like the information I want the reader to know escapes more easily. At its core, the writing has also returned to what I originally envisioned for this project, long ago: Light. Cheesy. Dark and more serious themes hidden offscreen.

I don’t have to have mastered story crafting in order to make something like this. It can be rough, it just has to exist. Otherwise I will never be able to move on. All I need is for the characters to show their motivations, for the interesting details to be clear and interesting, and for me to be able to move on to artwork. I really, really hope that writing gets easier. I can’t afford to spend this much time scripting future projects.

Since Warlock’d is still all about writing, I’m grateful for my anthology pages where I can keep my drawing skills sharp. This week I completed an extremely tricky panel featuring three-point perspective, a cutaway of a castle room, and two scenes going on at the same time but different distances away from each other, and in different parts of the same setting. The worst part about this one was having to bring it back into iPad Fresco several times to get the perspective right on details.

Digital scribble art of a panel, with rough placement for text bubbles and boxes. If you squint you can see a cutaway room and a distant wall, but it's very abstract here.

Initial ‘blorp’ art.

Lighter, whispier sketch lines make the scene somewhat more clear, although the proportions are in question and there's not much detail. The 3-pt perspective is also not quite correct.

Initial perspective blocking-in.

Extremely rough lines based on a 3-pt perspective grid. These look like they were drawn in pencil but it's actually drawn in Adobe Fresco, on iPad. Also seen here is an attempt to make a ghost window like there's a transparent wall there, but I ultimately scrapped the idea for complexity issues.

Initial roughs based on the perspective blocking, but it was still missing important details.

Digital lineart, half sketchy and half polished, of the cutout room scene in 3pt perspective. Some explorations into medieval interior design include hanging tapestries, a fancy desk with a cool wooden chair and angled writing surface, and a bed covered with luxurious fabrics.

Inking attempt #1…Didn’t quite have enough perspective information based on prior sketches, so I sketched in where I needed to re-line this.

One more go with digital penciling on Adobe Fresco. Not everything lined up with the perspective grid so I left a lot of lines off for later.

More perspective blocking-in…hopefully this time’s the charm!

Final lineart of the panel in 3-pt perspective. It features a collapsed tower and panicked soldiers in the background. High up in a cutaway room, a noble lady wonders what that sound was, but a guard prevents her from leaving the room.

Finally, lineart that works. Now may I finally move on?

For this week I’m happy to report small, if meaningful, progress on both projects.

Warlock’d Scripting:
-24 scenes Trello’d out and checklisted

Troubled Histories Anthology:
4/6 pages completely inked

 

Cocoon Week 18

Four ancient playing cards, depicting the six of coins, ten of polo wands, three of cups, and seven of swords. Creative commons image by Countakeshi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playing_card#/media/File:Mamluk_kanjifah_cards.png

Oh boy! I recently discovered what ‘may’ be the oldest playing cards in the world and I’m mightily inspired. I want to draw these as frames for character art for Warlock’d. I really need more Warlock’d art on my timeline because it makes me happy and people can finally get to know the characters.

Photograph of a graphite sketch of Stone in a modern gag sweater. It says

Also, it needs to not be like this (a silly meme). It needs to look less anachronistic. I can’t have people thinking Stone dresses in an 80’s gag sweater. (Don’t get me wrong. He would, but he doesn’t.)

Digital art done in a convincingly graphite-looking style of Cleric Stone, with expressive moody shading. He wears a black cape and a hat with feathers in it.

I also have this sketch of Stone that’s more elongated than the body type I eventually settled on. I’m also still rocky when it comes to really specific human anatomy which means I really ought to practice drawing my own characters more. It often feels weird or wasteful to draw them outside of pitching or an actual comic.

I like these characters! I think other people might like them too. It feels very vulnerable posting them on social media, especially when in the past I wasn’t great at drawing people. I worry that I’ve been inadvertently disrespectful by being incompetent (Sorry, Stone, your first few portraits were not great).

Digital sketches of skulls and mouth studies, messily arranged on top of each other.

Every week, I study human anatomy. So far I’ve gotten pretty good at rendering torsos and just need more finesse on facial expressions and limbs. I’d like to go faster but these are group studies that I host and people can only meet once per week, at best. My drawing study group copies diagrams from anatomy books for artists and it’s really sticking, because I can talk about what I’m drawing and share it with other people. What’s also neat is we have people of all ages and from all over the world who pop in and out. It’s a low-stakes, free drawing group so that means people can take breaks every week or so and it doesn’t hurt anyone.

In terms of writing, I’ve been reliably popping out one rough draft of a scene per day. This isn’t going to move the comic along fast enough for my tastes. I wonder if I can unlock some kind of writer’s high while I’m working on this. A lot of the subject matter just isn’t great for light, breezy writing; it’s actually an examination of justice and what that really means, in the context of a medieval setting. I’m also going to heavily edit before sharing it with a reader or two. I think I’ve got ‘my gang’ of people who reliably look at my work and point out problems in a way that I like.

Additionally, on Troubled Histories, wrapping up each stage of a comic process really takes forever! It’s that last ten percent and maintaining interest in it that does it for me. I’ve learned to accept this and allow my progress to be slow, so that I don’t cut it off altogether. However I’ve wrangled the most difficult panel of the comic so hopefully the rest is less painful.

Warlockd:
11/24 scenes drafted

Troubled Histories Anthology:
5/6 pages inked

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Writing!
  2. Web design for Codex Apis (short comics collection)
  3. Troubled Histories lineart finalization.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

Want to chat about this?