Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Digital art of a monarch butterfly caterpillar in the middle of pupating. The style is cel-shaded with delicate thin lineart. The caterpillar's striped body is split open like it has a seam starting with where the head used to be, with the hard green shell of the cocoon poking out. The caterpillar's stripes alternate chaotically between peach, white, and black, with some transparency showing the shell peeking out of the thinnest parts of the skin. The very top of the caterpillar, its very hind legs are wrinkling up with discarded loose skin. A watermark below the artwork reads 'http://hmcgill.art'.

Cocoon Year: Allowing Synopses to Build on Each Other

As I write, I learn new techniques for visualizing entire stories. Learning to understand synopses has been really important for me. One important thing I’ve learned about them is that they’re good for sharing with other people for quick reads. I’m learning some other good techniques that rely on synopses to work.

Sometimes, a story will have a lot of good things going on — but too many good things. I would rather explore these things in the context of a one- or several-page synopsis than I would across a whole draft of a story. I can try out bits of the script in first draft format to see if the story is going to work. By ‘working’, I mean be easily read, with audiences able to retain important information from scene to scene. I don’t want to overwhelm readers or be too ambiguous.

Over the past two weeks I was able to ‘bounce’ two synopses off of each other and figure out which parts of the story needed to go. This was in light of other simplifications and tightening of requirements on the concept of Warlock’d. The whole process started when reviewing my past drafts…

Stylized map showing the way the setting 'shrank' with consecutive story drafts. A red world represents the generic unknown fantasy world that my first draft took place in. An orange outline represents the rough batch of territories the next draft took place in, mostly around modern day France, Spain, Italy, and bits of England and Scotland. Yellow represents Frankish territory of the third draft. A green circle marks Paris in the fourth draft. Original map used under a creative commons share alike license as seen here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blank_map_of_Europe_1190.svg

(1) Initially, Warlock’d took place in a nondescript medieval fantasy world. (2) Then, Warlock’d took place across a bunch of different kingdoms near Europe, in order to expand the medieval world beyond Just White English People, Particularly Men. The scope of the project with all these kingdoms was much too big for me to handle in my projected three-book plan, which turned into two books, which eventually turned into one-book-with-maybe-additional-stories. As I’ve combatted the scope, I notice that I usually reign in the setting first. This story’s scope went from a whole world, to a continent, to a (3) single territory (no countries in medieval times lol!), to a (4) single city. I thought maybe this would be the smallest I could go while still having interesting stakes.

Most recently through this process, I wound up with two synopses that both seemed like they could work while solely set in Paris, France, but aspects of both of them left me feeling uneasy about how much I was asking of my setting, my characters, my own creative attention span, and the attention spans of my readers.

 

Synopsis One:

“CLERIC STONE’S student, a girl named MARGOT, is found dead on the grounds of Notre Dame. A demonic barn swallow named MARGO approaches Stone. She swears she’s Margot’s lost soul, and her mother (BRIANDE) did not murder her. Stone must figure out who truly murdered Margot to clear Briande’s name. Briande owns an inn in a lucrative part of town. As a widow who inherited the property from her late husband, Briande’s ownership of it is vulnerable.

A lost pilgrim badge at Notre Dame leads Stone to wonder who dropped it. Was it Briande’s loyal bouncer, LEBEAU? It could also have been Lebeau’s twin brother, FERRAND. However, both twins still have their copies of the badge. They point Stone to their uncle, LIEUTENANT GRIMWALD, as all three of them picked up matching badges in Genoa.

Grimwald hates the way Briande runs her inn, and is also missing his badge. Stone escalates his investigation up to the ROYAL PRÉVOT. The Prévôt is like a king-appointed mayor of Paris, and Grimwald is his top lieutenant. The Prévôt refuses to entertain Grimwald as a suspect. Margot had been living in the Prévôt’s fortress for a few months because he wasn’t sure if she was his daughter. Margot was found dead of poisoning. The Prévôt didn’t want news to break out of a poisoner in his fortress, so he ordered Grimwald to hide the body somewhere.

Stone investigates Margot’s room and finds a smudged chalk circle there – an attempt at necromancy! Was Margot the subject of a curse? Stone finds Grimwald’s name written as the subject of the curse instead. When Stone is overly familiar with a nearby grimoire, the Prévôt suspects him of foul play. The Prévôt throws the book into the fireplace and kicks Stone out of his fortress. His ultimatum: Find the poisoner, or be accused!

Margo dives into the fire after the book, but is too small to drag it out of the flames. She rips out one page from the book and frantically double-checks it against the spellwork in the room. She complains that she did everything ‘right’, but the curse isn’t hurting Grimwald at all, just her mother. Margo flies to Stone’s side and demands he chew out the demon in charge of the curse. She takes Stone directly to Hell, where they meet the demon DEHYDEMES and its magic orrery that it uses for watching people on Earth.

Ferrand dies in a brawl with a living nativity scene, right in front of Briande’s inn. To determine Briande’s fitness to run her inn safely and morally, the Prévôt reluctantly calls for Judicium Dei, or trial by combat. Lebeau represents Briande. Grimwald represents Paris. Lebeau cannot afford to fight the only authority figure who somewhat accepts them, and forfeits, which means the inn’s deed gets signed over to Grimwald. Grimwald, still grieving Ferrand, disowns Lebeau for their display of cowardice.

Stone and Margo dismantle Dehydemes from overseeing the curse, and return to the inn to help Briande. Briande’s inn lies under siege by Paris’s own Night Watch. Briande burns the inn to keep Grimwald from seizing it for himself. Inside of the burning inn lies the drunk Lebeau. Dehydemes meant for Lebeau’s death to torment Grimwald with unresolved regrets. Stone convinces Lebeau to take a heroic last stand instead. Lebeau kills Grimwald.

Word spreads that the inn is protected by unearthly forces. Briande is allowed to retain its ownership. Margo gives Stone the missing page from the book. It reveals that Margot wasn’t savvy enough to omit a booby-trap ingredient in the spell, and died of aconite poisoning. Stone feels obliged to keep Margo around, not only as a reminder to walk his students through dangerous magic more carefully…but also as his friend.”

…But this synopsis seemed all over the place in practice, with not enough time to appreciate or explain any of the characters. As I tried out scenes in rough draft form, I was having to explain so, so much: How demons worked, how medieval justice systems worked, introducing tons of characters, having issues with tone because I couldn’t decide on how closely I wanted to hew to my own research.

The things I liked and wanted to keep were basically Margo, her death, and Cleric Stone being a paranormal investigator who happens to be able to talk to the deceased as he goes. The rest of this plot seemed too … I’m not sure how to describe it. Ingrained? Like the creeping ivy in my yard, pretty enough but full of thorns and impossible to rip out for good.

When everything is important in a story, nothing is important.

I set out to simplify, give the scenes more space to immerse the reader. Give them not plot points to remember, but feelings to experience.

 

Synopsis Two (which is greatly truncated due to placeholders and in general not being very coherent):

“Cleric Stone has a huge crush on Baron Jean of Nubicuculia. Stone gives Jean a knife to take on crusade, since Stone has been tasked with minding the family goldsmithery and must stay behind in Paris. Jean is found dead, stabbed by Stone’s knife.

Stone then has to solve the mystery while things go wrong at the goldsmithery. He leaves town out of shame that he can’t solve all of these problems, only to encounter a strange dog-headed woman in a river who teaches him how to summon demons. He isn’t able to call upon Jean for, you know, plot reasons, but instead calls upon Margot, who just recently died investigating the people who murdered Jean.

Together Stone and Margo uncover a heretical cult determined to…placeholder crises here.”

This synopsis also seemed strange, as it made Margo seem like a forced-but-necessary-element to the plot. Margo is often the character people enjoy the most in my rough drafts, so while I’m not going to force her into anything, she also needs to belong to the story in a natural way.

The villain of this synopsis had nothing to do with Margo personally, so that also bothered me.

Monochromatic digital sketch of a borzoi head with wet eyes, big long wet nose, furry neck, curly ear, and a cashew earring dangling off the ear. Even though this was drawn digitally, the pencil effect makes it look like graphite.

I did, however, enjoy my new cynocephalus lady character. Cute little cashew earrings, since spirits wear food like jewelry.

The problem with both of these synopses is that they add so many different characters and details to the mix, they distract from both Cleric Stone and Margot. I thought about it really long and hard and have come up with a new plan. It may be slightly referential to Chaucer but I have to say, not necessarily fond of that guy, it’s just a format that feels medieval.

Remember how I said that the main thing I cut when controlling my scope was the setting? It turns out that Paris is not the smallest I can go.

No, no.

I can make a whole graphic novel take place inside of one inn.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Allowing Synopses to Build on Each Other As I write, I learn new techniques for visualizing entire stories. Learning to understand synopses has been really important for me. One important thing I’ve learned about them is that they’re good for sharing with...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Finding the Character in Objects Writing progress became confused, dismal. I figured something out between the way I approach problems and the way my spouse approaches problems. When we play a puzzle game called Picross together, we often mess up the...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: A Retrospective of Drafts I really wish this wasn’t already halfway through the year. I’d hoped to have gotten started on the art part of my project instead of languishing on writing like I always do concerning Warlock’d. For both weeks, I decided to do a...

Want to chat about this?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Digital art of a caterpillar suspended upside down, beginning to pupate. The style is cel-shaded with delicate, thin lineart and naturalistic (but not entirely accurate) proportions and details.  The caterpillar's body appears stuffed full like a sausage, to the point that the chrysalis inside seems to have popped the body's seam along the head. The caterpillar's antennae dangle limp from the sides of is head, its feet appear to be deflating, and its butt is scrunched up like a dirty sock. It's like the body is going to slip off the shell. You're welcome! Watermark at the bottom: http://hmcgill.art.

Cocoon Year: Finding the Character in Objects

Writing progress became confused, dismal. I figured something out between the way I approach problems and the way my spouse approaches problems. When we play a puzzle game called Picross together, we often mess up the puzzle and have to backtrack to solve it. My spouse will carefully walk it back, check all the options, and sometimes fudge things around a little bit. I wish Picross was that easy for me.

No, no. My way of solving problems? Throw it all out.

Start again.

Reset that Picross puzzle, look at step one from a clear board.

It’s a strategy I can’t always take. Social situations, for instance, rarely get a reset. But it does feel very good to look at the beginning again, especially if it’s not turning into something coherent.

At least with writing, I’m working with a backlog of character development tumbling in the back of my mind — I have better ideas about what they want, what sorts of things hold them back in interesting ways, and can be less depressing while writing as a result. The main thing missing from this most recent draft was a solid awareness of Cleric Stone as a character. As I was writing and all the plot threads tangled up like spaghetti noodles, I realized he needed an even simpler story, one about how Cleric Stone transcends worlds, and why he might personally need those other worlds.

So, I reviewed my hoard of visual reference. I think Stone definitely could be a materialistic character, not in a bad way, but in a way that makes the comic persuade readers that the setting is actually gorgeous. For this accountability update I’ve decided to share my favorite visual reference I’ve collected over the years and what they might add to this character and his story. 

For the purposes of this blog, I don’t have precise dates on everything, nor can I remember where I took some of these photos. I hope that readers will forgive me forgoing the academic aspects of recording these objects in favor of writing descriptively and accessibly instead. I only had enough time and energy for one or the other. Besides, many of these photos are from museums and books and can be safely researched there. I took all of these photos myself, not that they’re great photos, but just to be clear I’m not in the business of yoinking other people’s hard work and putting it on my blog without permission.

Photograph of a photograph in an old, black and white book of many medieval keys. They are all hand-crafted in alien shapes compared to modern keys. Moire dots are visible in the printing.

First off: Keys! I researched locks and keys for a recent anthology submission. Keys from the Merovingian/Gothic time period look so crude, and yet, obviously they worked. My biggest question, though, is always whether the keys started out looking so bent and worn, or if it’s aging or mistreatment that causes them to, for lack of a better word, droop? They almost all look like they were crushed under a wagon wheel.

This photograph is from a very old book that claimed one of the first ‘locks’ ever invented was live crocodiles surrounding a chest in India, so honestly I have a hard time taking that book seriously. (Of course there were zero citations for this crocodile lock thing, you don’t even need to ask.)

Photograph of a small, delightful medieval iron key mounted on white fabric. The key is handmade and highly decorative. The ring of the key has an abstract bent to it, with three small floral knobs, arrow scratch marks, and a 'handle' for a small hand to grab. This hand forms an 'arm' that turns into the blade of the key. This disembodied, gripping arm has holds in a dangling sleeve that resemble branches and flowers.

Here’s a medieval key I had the pleasure of seeing in person at a museum, and see? It’s not all droopy like the other keys. Maybe a little droopy. Clearly handmade, but made with care. I just love that the blade of the key is a little arm with a hand that grips the ring.

Photograph of a reliquary designed to hold the arm bones of a saint. This reliquary was made with silver. It depicts a hand reacing upwards with two fingers and thumb pointing up, and the pinkie and ring finger pointing down. A cloth sleeve has been fashioned around the wrist, followed by a bigger sleeve covered with spiraling latticework. A large clear round cabochon is embedded in the sleeve. Overall the effect is like a robot arm.

Seeing this reliquary, that contains a saint’s arm bones, in conjunction with the above key has me wondering about the significance of a disembodied arm. Would a monastery, in possession of an important pilgrimage artifact, have been cheeky enough to commission keys shaped like their featured reliquary? 

Also love that I can see the seams on the hand, where the metal was bolted together. I wonder if they constructed this around the bones themselves or if they slotted the bones in and sealed it up afterward. Honestly, pretty amazing technical work overall.

Photograph of an ivory chess piece. This depicts the queen in some sort of vehicle that appears to be half coliseum and half bathtub. Perhaps she is out to smite her enemies. There's a bloomy lighting effect over the image that might just be from finger oil on the camera lens.

This might be from later than the 12th century but I do love the idea of a ‘battle tub’ that a queen might ride into a warzone to slay her foes. How relaxing!

More seriously, though, that carving is incredible. Her face looks so lifelike.

Photograph of a heavily-inscribed, metal object on display. Unfortunately I don't know what this object is. I took the photo and chose to display it here because of the cool geometric patterns set in a strict grid of four panels with decorated gutters running through.

I’m not sure what this is, it might be an iron piece for decorating a doorway? I really love the roughness of it, whatever it is. The grid with four panels is so clearly planned, and the symbols inside are very deliberate. I also spotted a psuedo-hexafoil on  this down there in the lower right panel. I thought this was European when I found it in my files, because the decorations look a lot like the decorations on their jeweled books and other media.

Photograph of a serving bowl with seven hexagonal indentations. Every surface is decorated with some sort of floral pattern, except for four of the indentations, which each features a fantastical, stylized bird. The whole bowl is done in earthy terracotta paints on white clay, although it's unknown if the coloration was that way when the bowl was first painted. The pigments were over 800 years old so they may have aged.

I was really enchanted by this platter. A nice storage container for sorting different objects, maybe coins, jewelry, pigments, or fruits. In particular the aesthetic of there being mathematically gridded panels and each panel absolutely covered in some motif — love to see it. Want to work that into comic panels.

Photograph of a museum display featuring a metal eucharist holder fashioned in the shape of a dove, overlooking a book with a fancy gold, jeweled cover. The eucharist holder was the point of the photograph so it will be described more. It's a fairly lifelike dove, though a little stiff, fashioned with gold and painted with bright colorful patterns. The bird stands upright in a flat dish suspended by chains. Those participating in communion would grab wafers from underneath the dove.

One of my favorite finds! The metal bird is a eucharist platter. It would have little wafers at the feet, and be offered to worshipers. Someday there is definitely a scene somewhere in Warlock’d where Margo must hide behind one of these. Somewhere…even if it’s just my dreams.

The other stuff in the picture are incidental, but props to the museum display artists for creating such a cool display. It wasn’t even behind glass so I got to snap photos of this bird from all angles (not shown here).

Photograph of the top of a staff. This is some incredible crystal carving -- it almost looks modern for how smooth and precise it is. The carving depicts a great big decorative leaf curling in on itself. The crystal is clean and clear, and it looks like glass or ice.

Now, crystal work was a big surprise for me during this museum visit. I’d never even considered it. I think this is 13th or 14th century, but the material was so interesting I just had to take a shot. That doesn’t look handmade at all! It’s so clean and clear.

Photograph of a peculiar round cylinder made of crystal, supported by a gold aparratus that looks sort of like a desk or a table. It's hard to describe but if I was asked I would never guess this was from the 12th century. It looks like a Victorian object!

I didn’t do much doublechecking of dates on most of these photos, but on this one I definitely checked it. This is a 12th century container made of crystal. My jaw dropped. It looks so modern. I also have no idea what this is used for, but in context of my story it could host all sorts of entities. This would be such a cool way to create a medieval demon Tamagotchi.

What? “Medieval demon Tamagotchi” is the best possible way to describe the concept I have in mind. I don’t think there is a clearer way to pitch it. It might not make it into this draft either, but, oh, I have plans.

Photograph of two lead pilgrim badges mounted on a fabric backing. The lead is so old it is corroded and black. The pilgrim badges depict a stylized adventuring man as well as a masked mummer who appears to be crucifying Jesus, but, citation needed on that, I don't actually remember what these depict.

Pilgrim badges! These were a plot point in a previous draft. They may be a plot point in a future story but they don’t fit into the simpler story I’m working on now. My favorite thing is that weird sun-face mask. Absolutely must adopt that imagery somewhere.

Photograph of a small golden rectangular object that may be cloisonné at first glance but it could also be painted gold. I can't tell. The painting depicts two birdlike dragons, one with blue wings and one with green wings, facing off.

There’s horse girls, sports girls, gamer girls, and… of course…dragon girls.

I will always be a dragon girl.

Photograph of a closeup of some object -- I can't remember what object it is -- but I was enchanted by the borders upon borders of metalwork. There is a small human figure at the bottom, surrounded by either painted gold or cloisonné of plant forms, with a big round clear cabochon sun. The next border looks like belt buckles between floral engraving The border on the outside has thin abstract lines engraved in it, depicting scenes from another world.

Okay so this is what I mean by borders and patterns being a whole thing. Would love to have some layered effects like this in my comics, gem included. I just need a good story reason why some panels might look like this. Hmm!

Photograph of a rare depiction of a building. I can never find any medieval art of architecture so this really stood out to me. The building is a fortress with three towers and detailed, engraved brickwork. If I had to guess the metal used for this piece I might say iron. Inscrutable Latin lettering is inscribed in the base of the castle.

This stood out to me as very weird because most medieval representative artwork omits architecture. To be fair, my inner baby artist agrees, nobody likes drawing buildings. I still wish there were more representations of old buildings that aren’t around anymore. It’s sad that they didn’t get recorded. I guess most people just figured, if you want to go look at the building, go look at it right there.

I mean, buildings are tough to draw. They’re not organic beings and it’s not like perspective was a common theory around that time either.

Photograph of old medieval stonework strewn about a garden. The garden is small but busy, with short green plants, orange flowers, and maroon-leafed plants. Behind the garden, modern-day Paris bustles about. The stonework is covered with mosses. It's a sunny day during summer.

Now this was from Paris, where I just looked at the old buildings that were right there. Love this aesthetic but I have to keep in mind, these weren’t moss-covered rubble back in the day. They had form and function.

Photograph of the remains of medieval stonework that was not dated, but it definitely looks gothic to me. Only a little bit is left over, and it's been bolted to the wall of the cathedral. Vines grow playfully at its base.

Also enjoyed seeing the remains of what’s clearly Gothic architecture, although I have no idea if this was part of a revival or not. Mostly into those geometric floral shapes at the top being so delicate but obviously holding something big up at one time.

Photograph from a cathedral interior depicting various wildly-painted surfaces, up closely-packed columns all layered on top of each other. From left to right: There is a white column with delicate red and green vertical zigzag lines. A red column has a border with repeating checkerboard floral motifs, in red and green on a black stripe with white borders. The next column is very very thin and features drooping leaves on red fines, all on a gold background. The next column is forest green with horizontal zig-zag stripes, alternating between white and gold. A thin red column with a gold vertical stripe down the middle is next. There is one more white column with evenly-dispersed red crosses on it. The final column looks just like the first one. I just liked these patterns all being in such close proximity to each other.

Okay! Now this, this is peak panel inspiration. Really enjoy the different patterns coexisting like this. I understand this is probably a restoration or recreation, but it looks so much like illuminated manuscript  borders that I think it would be safe to incorporate into my comic without being too misleading. 

I also really enjoyed this flat, horizontal treatment on the walls. It does look very machined and perfect. Probably the closest thing I could compare it to is the Arts and Crafts movement in America and how it co-opted illuminated manuscript motifs, but this was in Paris, so, who knows. This is giving me some very big and very scary ideas for Warlock’d’s web design layout. These are all repeating tiles so it would work out for sure.

A larger shot I took with more focus on the painted ‘bricks’ than on the red wall. This was a very dim photo so I had to lacerate its contrast in photoshop, and I think the cracks are a lot more apparent in the photo than they are in real life.

Finally…Again, don’t care that this is probably historical reconstruction…Look at all those vivid patterns and colors coexisting. Being in here felt like being inside of an illuminated manuscript. It’s kind of interesting how the different aesthetics crossed from books, to jewelery, to buildings. It’s like there was a universal cultural aesthetic that everyone wanted to push.

Having gone through all of these I think I’m ready to make another outline, and make it something I actually want to write. I should look at my visual reference folder more often. There’s so much stuff in there, and it reminds me of why I like this setting and these characters. I’ve come to the conclusion that Stone, while following the local culture, is also more worldly and aware of different ‘worlds’ than other people. So this will give him depth and power.

Care to read more?

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Weeks 27 & 28

Cocoon Year: Allowing Synopses to Build on Each Other As I write, I learn new techniques for visualizing entire stories. Learning to understand synopses has been really important for me. One important thing I’ve learned about them is that they’re good for sharing with...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Weeks 25 & 26

Cocoon Year: Finding the Character in Objects Writing progress became confused, dismal. I figured something out between the way I approach problems and the way my spouse approaches problems. When we play a puzzle game called Picross together, we often mess up the...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: A Retrospective of Drafts I really wish this wasn’t already halfway through the year. I’d hoped to have gotten started on the art part of my project instead of languishing on writing like I always do concerning Warlock’d. For both weeks, I decided to do a...

Want to chat about this?