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 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: 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 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: Weeks 23 & 24

Cocoon Year: Weeks 23 & 24

Digital art of a caterpillar attaching itself to the stem of a milkweed plant. The style of the illustration features crisp uniform outlines, some colored and some black, as well as stylized cel shading. The point of view is from underneath the milkweed plant, up at the caterpillar under the nearest leaf. The caterpillar is curling around itself, dangling from a bit of 'glue' it used to hang itself upside down. The milkweed plant towers into the sky.

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 retrospective of past Warlock’d drafts and see if I could glean anything for use in my latest draft.  I’ve had eight major changes in story done, on and off, through the years.

Draft 1

My very first foray into this story was an outline I wrote in 2016 on my small Macbook Pro. I had never plotted or planned a story out before. The initial idea was a fantasy world where demons operated according to Asimov-like, “I, robot” rules, to set up mysteries that the reader could think about and solve while reading. Demons also conferred magic according to their sinful natures. It had a demonologist, a magical bird, and a knight. The setting was also random forests, random fields, all bland stuff I don’t really enjoy seeing in fantasy but was all I really knew about.

My motivation was, freewheeling fantasy adventure seemed like something people wanted in a longform story. I liked demons and wanted to flesh them out, make them make sense beyond typical horror film tropes. I had drawn nothing but user interface elements and simple dinosaurs over the past years and wanted to expand my drawing skills. The demons would give me wiggle room for exploring creative designs, and the human characters and settings would require me to return to fundamental drawing and coloring skills I’d been neglecting for years. All of these things were what I wanted from a project, if not money.

I looked into demons in a shallow way, turning up the assortment of names from the Victorian occult revival. I liked the idea of finding something different about them from further back in history, before movies and video games made demons into a particular rubbery, goat-hoofed entity. The Ars Goetia is a touchstone for a lot of investigations like this. I also looked into angel names because demons are fallen angels in literature. Again, a lot of this gets portrayed in Victorian revivals, often invented in the 1800’s but said to be a lot older.

The research wasn’t ever to be super accurate or academic. I knew so little about anything that actually interested me, and hadn’t ever seriously delved into any particular topics before. I had nothing in me to write about. It really felt like I was reviving something dead inside of me all by myself. I knew it was bad so I decided not to share it specifically with anyone, but I also chalked it up to being a beginner and not totally understanding what I was doing anyway. No reason to be even harder on myself. The way I learn is to do it the wrong way first and then see how other people are doing it.

What I learned from this draft when I started talking about it with people at writing meetups, very casually and not sharing anything, the sin-as-magic aspect had already been explored by other media. It wasn’t that unique or interesting of a concept. One person expressed absolute horror that magic would at all be evil or have some sort of cost. They chewed me out for exploring the idea. However, based on their fantasy writing sample that they chose to share, I think that person was going through some personal stuff so that may have provoked such an extreme reaction.

Draft 2

I decided to turn my outline into a badly-drawn comic, just to see where I was in terms of skill level. There is this concept of ‘ashcan’ comics, which are cheaply printed because people are going to chuck them after reading them. I decided, to remove the blockade of perfection, I would view this draft as chuck-able when I was done, and see what I’d learned. I also wished to avoid the common pitfall of a webcomic’s art changing as the pages progressed. I like looking at projects as a whole, complete thing — just working into the ether means I lose track of where I’m going.

I remember feeling like ideas were random, collecting like lint on my characters. I’d go out walking and think through something, then return home and add it into the comic. My story drastically wandered away from my original outline. Characters obtained traits that didn’t build into any sort of story, but exploring messily is kind of the best way to figure them out. I eventually learned that I wasn’t able to hew strictly to an outline, anyway.

The idea of a trilogy airily presented itself, but I wound up with a full book and the beginnings of a second book. There could be a ‘demons’ book and an ‘angels’ book, I thought.

I shared the finished product with trusted friends and learned the truth. In the end, my overall skill level was very low and no amount of edits could have saved this draft. The structure was fundamentally un-sound. My layouts were fine, but the writing didn’t work at all. There was no sense of buildup or conflict, or even an idea of what was going on. It was for the best that I did not invest much in the artwork. Some individual ‘moments’ were coherent, but it really meandered.

One comment that sticks with me is, to make a story, you make a character, then you give the character a goal, and then you put entertaining obstacles between the character and the goal. I felt so embarrassed for not realizing this.

A really important specific thing that I learned is that it’s not actually pleasant for magic to have a huge psychological cost — at least not when I’m making something that’s kind of more sincere than a lot of Dungeons and Dragons type stuff. I think some people can write this sort of tone enjoyably but I guess I wasn’t jaded enough to pull it off. The setting, the characters, the plot — it was at once too much and also weirdly empty.

At this point I’d spent a whole year creating this ashcan comic. It was time to start seeing how other people made their longform stories.

Draft 3

This is the draft where I started to read more. While it’s recommended to read current fiction, I was reluctant to go dive into contemporary fiction that was like what I wanted to write. The oddest thing I learned, as a child growing up with well-loved Narnia and The Last Unicorn and Catwings, is…that I actually don’t like fantasy as a genre that much!

Subject matter? Absolutely adore weird forests, dragons, heroes, mythology, spirits, old castles, everything.

But presentation? It’s rough out there.

I remember, at the age of fourteen, thinking I was definitely reading through a massive book with a castle and stained glass windows and maybe a mage on it, but I don’t remember what the book was called. I was outside on a lawn during an intermission of Twelfth Night and I remember just, understanding absolutely nothing that was going on in the book. I’m not sure if I finished that book. It had characters in it. They were doing stuff! A plot was happening. I wasn’t sure how I could have a college-level vocabulary reading score (according to my school) and still not understand this book. It was a total mystery to me and ever since, I rarely pick up books in the genre.

So what makes fantasy so poorly-written, or maybe just poorly-comprehended to me? I imagine because it isn’t written for other people. When someone writes a fantasy, they, too, are escaping, and I think fans of the genre are (necessarily!) forgiving of that. Story structure and familiarity is not a priority in fantasy fiction, nor should it ever be expected to hew to popular fiction norms. Typical story structures are also eschewed in a lot of sci/fi/fantasy communities, too. That’s totally fine and nice. Being creative and making something, and someone finding enjoyment in that despite rough edges? That’s not fantasy, that’s straight-up real magic. I love that connection between a writer and a reader. Writing the odd things and loving the odd things. I have absolutely no problems with that joy.

The point, though, was that I didn’t think I should reference other fantasy books, even if what I was writing felt like fantasy. I dug deeper into the general genre of ‘writing’ as well as medieval life. I don’t want to make something that’s only for me, or only for a specific (and extremely forgiving, or at least tenacious) audience.

For this draft, I switched up my software. Everyone said ‘Go Scrivener!’ and in the age of cloud payment plans this was a one-off purchase of $30, so that was an easy purchase to make. I explored it first on my own and found sectioning bits of story off into their own chapters to be helpful. Having nothing to reference, I arbitrarily set up a story in ten parts and wrote it all out. I had a lot of ideas for demons and magical birds and a rival for my demonologist investigator, but nothing coherent.

Mostly, I felt very alone during this draft.

Draft 4

This draft I ported out of Scrivener and back into Google Docs. It, of course, became a different story as it went. There was some subplot about a demon with a mirror for a face, and a cavern full of gold, that weren’t working out at all. I had all these clever ideas for setups and payoffs but nothing was materializing into anything read-able.

What I really wanted was a space for sharing my work and finding readers who could maybe do an equivalent exchange of reading and critiquing. I tried a general writing meetup but it was mostly nonfiction writers, so I felt uncomfortable sharing a silly story about demons. I turned my attention towards adjunct learning…something with a low barrier to entry. I typically don’t like courses geared towards beginning creative skills since they usually require generating new ideas to participate. However, when I landed on a course at the local community college that seemed geared towards existing long-form work, I decided to give it a try.

Little did I know, my skills were so inept, all I would do was annoy the instructor and force everyone to suffer through a lot of pointless drafts about an inn and a bird suffering from a broken wing and very little intent. I lacked an understanding of how story events build into each other and feed on each other. I stopped going out of shame.

My next try was the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. There, I found a writing group. It lasted for a year until COVID killed it and there I learned about kidlit publishing, but I think the subject matter and age range was so wide it might not have been as helpful to my writing as it could have been. I didn’t know that some part of writing culture was to be part of some ‘cool kids’ group or else I’d have left earlier. I got encouragement but I definitely didn’t feel right about my writing, at all. The group wasn’t very focused on craft, mostly on socialization/support, and the type of books people worked on varied too widely. I mean, there was even a rule in the group’s bylaws that a draft could only be presented once to the group, then never return — and that’s not how writing works, at all. I need to be better about identifying social situations where I need to duck out sooner. In retrospect I was probably not helpful to anyone in there and for that I apologize. (They seem like the type to snoop so, hello. Sorry about everything. I’ll leave you alone, I promise.)

The one group that offered me a gem of advice was a local science fiction and fantasy group, regardless to my previous aversion to reading fantasy. There was a person there who suffered through my draft and then, with all the brilliance and clarity of Aristotle describing the rules of logic, said that what my story was actually missing was motivations for the characters.

Oh! So a character can’t just sit there and be described in a setting?

That made way more sense.

Make a character…Give a character a goal…Put entertaining obstacles between that character and the goal…

I deeply regret that I could not keep up with the regimen of reading other people’s drafts in that group. Fantasy is not a genre I enjoy reading, for its lack of structural tropes, or on the opposite end, its weird adherence to The Hero’s Journey. Then again, if the group had been more exclusive, I’d have never met that one person who clarified things for me so simply. So, it’s the double-edged sword that all students encounter. Someone who wants to learn something, wants to be around other people learning that thing, but also wants other people to be better at them at that thing. Still, I think everyone in that group was probably better at writing than me. I just lack character and tenacity!

Draft 5

This draft transformed into a romp through Paris.

It all started with an online zoom course through Push/Pull run by David Lasky. It was a shortform comics class. Several people in the class wanted to continue their studies, so we signed up for a six-month course called a Graphic Novel Intensive, which I have written extensively about in the past.

I used Trello and a system of google docs to put this script together. I felt very pleased with myself, like I’d made something worth reading. This draft made it all the way to lettering and then layout phase.

What killed the story wholesale was attempting to explain a scene involving football to my patient spouse. Medieval football always kills me, and my stories. I’m not sure if I want to elaborate further, but it was bad.

I put Warlock’d away for a long time after this failure.

Draft 6

Having had a very successful SAWgust in 2022, culminating in a 48-page graphic novel, I decided to try my hand at Warlock’d again. This time, I made an outline centered around something I thought might have been enjoyable about my story — The relationship between a demon and a cleric (formerly a demonologist). I trimmed the story down to barer bones.

(Not bare enough, but that’s later!)

Problems arose:

The cleric had a name (Pierre) that sounded an awful lot like ‘Prévôt’, which is the title for a mayor-like figure in charge of Paris. I changed Pierre’s name to Stone, specifically Cleric Stone. There’s something that resonates with me about this name.

People couldn’t tell what Stone’s motivation was.

All this time I’d sort of neglected to investigate Stone and figure out what made him tick.

The ‘buddy movie’ beat sheet wasn’t quite hitting the notes I wanted to write, either.

This is a story about demons, about the backwoods of human thought, about things that were cut from the original codex…They’re not cops and they’re not on a road trip.

Draft 7

I made a pitch during a pitch event that gained some interest, positing the story as Murder, She Wrote, but in 12th century Paris, and with demons. I gained interest in it from a few people, but I worry that the Black main character may have been misleading as to who was writing it. Ultimately I have chosen to self-publish because I fear taking a publishing ‘slot’ from someone who might need it more than me.

This outline is the one that I started out with for my Cocoon Year. I thought for sure I was ‘there’, that this would be the story I could finally commit to a layout. I ran it through friends. It basically went like this:

“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.“

I made a beautiful pitch packet with meandering writing because while I made the pitch pages I hadn’t quite nailed down the above outline.

This came so close to becoming a full script, but there was one glaring problem that I’ve been omitting from my past cocoon year posts:

It wasn’t any fun to write.

I passed it around to a couple more people to check it out and my ‘expanded’ outline (where I described various scenes) was also a bit much. I feel like there are elements in this story that are interesting enough for a sequel, but…So too did the previous drafts have elements that would have been good in a whole series.

One thing at a time. Just this one book. That’s what I must create.

Draft 8

The current outline has been stripped down even more. Stories are made of simple scenes. It is about Cleric Stone and why he works with demons, the true nature of demons (not evil!), and medieval folk spirituality, which is so much different from Christianity it’s pretty much not Christianity at all. I’m going to give each esoteric concept enough time to breathe and develop.

I’m still allowing myself to dart around the story to different points if I need to skip a difficult section, but I’m no longer writing the whole thing out of order. This feels better, although I’ve already walked back several scenes and forced them to build on and expand particular themes.

Stone was the main character all along. I’m ashamed that I was trying to make him mysterious by not developing him. I will fix this in this draft. He will have hopes and dreams. He will even be a little naieve. But by the end of the story, Cleric Stone will be the closest thing 12th Century Paris has to a private investigator.

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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: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Digital art of a big, fat monarch butterfly caterpillar. It's covered in a cacophony of black, peach, and white stripes. It has big black feelers on its head and fake feelers on its butt. The remains of leaves that it has demolished in its everpresent hunger are scattered around where it steps.

Cocoon Year: A New Start
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 21

I wrote things. Mostly, I went deep into Stone’s relationship with a new character named Jean. From the most recent discarded draft, I rescued an opening sequence where clerics in 1191 AD discuss that Christians believed the world would end in 1000 AD. I want to portray medieval people as being capable of skepticism. Without knowing any better, I’d say pop cultural belief that they were all unerringly and unquestioningly religious has roots in Victorian misconceptions at best and fascist propaganda at worst. I don’t think there has ever been a time where all humans in a given area have stringently and similarly believed the same things. In other words, ‘everybody was good and Christian in medieval times’ is not really a thing. I know that clerics would often express skepticism although this is a creative process blog so I’m not obligated to cite a particular thing.

I’m trying a new technique where I’ve defined the finish line as 125 pages of script. Screenplays are a lot lighter than prose, and 125 pages is the given length for a 90-minute movie. Since graphic novels are a little bit like movies, and I err towards cinematography rather than literature in mine, the screenplay length makes sense to me. It’s also not something I’ve tried before so the novelty helps keep me focused for the time being. I went through and added pages and page breaks for specific scenes I have in mind. I am also checking a cozy mystery beat sheet and hoping that the connections I’m seeing aren’t just like, when someone randomly overlays a Fibonacci spiral on top of random images to ‘prove’ that spirals are everywhere in art and in nature.

Digital diagram of a golden spiral confusingly laid on top of a photograph of a spiral staircase. The spirals do not match up. The proportions are outlined via number and graph lines, but this still doesn't make any sense, nor is it supposed to make sense.  Photograph by: https://pixabay.com/photos/gaiazoo-spiral-staircase-kerkrade-7844381/ Fibonacci spiral diagram by: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_spiral#/media/File:Fibonacci_Spiral.svg

Legend has it, if you stick a Fibonacci spiral on top of any image, the image becomes well-composed. (This is sarcasm.)

Maybe beat sheets are more like for beginners and once I have a better grasp on how to write well, I can remix them more effectively. That’s also how a lot of compositional rules work.

Already I’m seeing a lot more flexibility as I move chunks of script around. Trello should be more apt for this, right? Well, not really. Trello was probably just making the plots more detailed than they needed to be. Or, they just don’t work with my writing explorations, which are probably also part of my process as well. I’m sure plenty of writers have piles of pages they used to get to know the characters behind their stories. I know I am kind of annoyed when I see someone’s first draft and it’s clear that they haven’t explored anything outside of hitting outline beats. It’s also quite possible that my previous strategy of using Trello is no longer novel so now I’m grasping for reasons why I shouldn’t use it anymore. It’s still possible I might return to Trello or even real physical notecards but that technique would need some sharper rules to keep the scene count from ballooning out of control.

I started doing the final colors on my Troubled Histories anthology. This means taking flats and adding highlights and shadows. I’ve erred towards a lighter touch since these pages will be quite small, chapter-book sized. Overworking images or having too much shading and highlights can make otherwise simple imagery confusing. Having simplified my color selection and shading process helps make these a breeze, so long as I’ve flatted the panel correctly.

Lineart of a king in a throne room toasting a groveling peasant. The lines are thin. There are two other images of process, and the final image will more completely describe what is going on in this comic panel.

Lines. The color was actually added to the lines after I figured out the highlights and shadows, but I’m too lazy to show this in the image itself.

Flatted colors of the above lineart. It's mostly reds and golds, with blue for the focal point of the king. Full description of image is in the version below.

Flats, with some flats acting as highlights and shadows.

Fully-colored and detailed comic panel made with digital art. The style is cel-shaded with special attention to points of interest, and allowance of colors to sit flat with no shading in areas where there shouldn't be much interest. Overall, the panel is very threatening and red in color, with gold accents. A king sits on a throne in a blue cape. He toasts a groveling peasant with a golden chalice in his royal hand. The king is surrounded by helmeted, cloaked knights in crimson capes. This all takes place in a throne room lavishly decorated with red curtains, a podium decorated with paintings and gold leaf, a fancy throne with dragons on the arm rests, and marble tiles in a checkerboard pattern for flooring.

And now I get to define shapes and pull the panel out of ‘flat’ land.

Once coloring is done, the lettering finalization will take place. I am languishing on this project and would like to focus on other things (…Warlock’d…) so I am not feeling anything super fancy or experimental on the letters. This will be a completely normal comic which is fine.

One other thing about this week is that my spouse, in pursuit of mental health, popped open Unity and started doing some hobby-level game dev. I’ve been mildly obsessing over pixel art in my off time so I decided to give him little ‘treats’ in the form of pixel art that he can program to do silly things. We both enjoy games where characters change visually so I’m experimenting with a pixel ‘doll’ that can be dressed up as it goes on an adventure.

Digital pixel art of a naked, doll-like character. It is so simplified it doesn't even have eyes or a mouth, or a bellybutton. The art is intended to be seen at 32 by 32 pixels, but has been enlarged to three times the size so as not to be actually tiny on a webpage.

Nakey 32×32 adventures!

Cocoon Week 22

Digital art of a 12th century lock found on a church at one point in time. This square bronze lock has clearly seen wear and tear, but originally it was an ornately crafted piece with animals entwined in detailed bronzework. It has an enormous crude keyhole in the middle. Dragon heads sprout from its corners. The lock has been posed on a checkerboard-like pattern that alternates between different shades of maroon.

It’s complete! My Troubled Histories anthology entry, ‘We Need to Talk About Locks’ is done. I submitted it this week to remove it from my plate. It helped me refresh my experience with the gaudy Warlock’d palette and how to keep it under control, as well as where and when to expand it. I’m looking forward to seeing this in print although I do wish I’d had more passion for it.

Screenshot of a color palette organized around four bold bands of orangeish red, goldenrod, ultramarine blue, and a very pale, almost neon, seafoam green. There are sixteen other colors gathered around these four main colors, in various shades of darkness, lightness, and saturation. An unimportant hex code remains on the red band from where the cursor was hovering as I took the screenshot.

This is the palette! It’s based on jewel tones used in medieval art. They liked colors. They weren’t sad gray people shuffling around dingy brown cities.

Warlock’d is going interestingly. I’m really slowing down on scenes and letting the writing chew the scenery. Readers can learn more than one thing about a character at a time. Not all of it is important. I can waste people’s time a little bit. I want to give them the sensation of hanging out with a character and really getting to know them, perhaps being fond of them. My points of escalation have also, for lack of a better term, de-escalated, into smaller steps that are more easily portrayed by this little setting. This isn’t an epic fantasy where you need to know a lot about the setting. I’m also trying to be less snarky and more earnest. The humor ought to come from characters remarking on their situations, not from me making fun of weird medieval things.

One thing I’m doing is porting around bits of writing to different sections helter-skelter. If something feels like it should be revealed earlier, then I move it up earlier. Scenes where I don’t quite know what’s going to happen yet become pages with page breaks for later. So far I am sitting at 28/125 pages in my count and hope to make every page count towards the whole. This story may feel ‘slow’ as a result — maybe that’s fine. If I can keep scenes mostly familiar and only introduce some esoteric thing every few scenes that might be better for readers.

I was reading a draft of Idolon, the next story in my Amphiox world, and really hated how many new things I onboarded and explained. I think there’s also something to be said for presenting something without explanation as a ‘well what’s that thing’ and then explaining it later when it’s actually important. But. I do need to write Warlock’d and not Idolon.

So far Margot is a lot funnier as a living character so I hope that her death (and subsequent resurrection as a lost soul) is more interesting as a result. Currently it feels like the antagonistic church forces act too quickly for Stone to work alongside them willingly.

I have also decided that Stone is a burgher whose wealth comes from the gold trade — both selling and crafting. In other stories his status was frequently up in the air — was he an official demonologist? Aligned with the church? Outcast? A random ‘lay cleric’? The way southern kingdoms interacted with northern kingdoms in Europe was through trade. I’ve settled on gold as something that people would immediately recognize as a special part of medieval culture, and that would lend itself to Stone’s background, wealth, and power.

Most people think of medieval caste society as two castes. Royals and not-royals. Looking into this via Wikipedia (bless all wikipedia historians), the society was more formally recognized as three different worlds, that of laborers, royalty, and clergy. Clergy sort of had a subdivision between noble clergy (from the royal world) and lay clergy (from the laborer world). Then, burghers and craftsmen were experiencing more privilege during a mini-renaissance than other times, so this seemed like a good spot for Stone. He only gets pulled into the religious esoterica on behalf of his friend, Jean. The story transforms Stone into a private detective who isn’t beholden to the crown or to the cross. This sounds good to me so far. Who knows if it will change later, but it’s nice to have specifics.

Concerning Lebeau…They’re gone. This poor knight is now sequel fodder. Rest well, my dear enby knight.

In their place is a quasi-love interest and plot macguffin of a character who currently goes by the name of ‘Jean’, pending a name change. Jean is Stone’s close friend. In my head they have an extremely romantic relationship full of physical and verbal affection. Stone, however, is a very private person and would likely not have much in the way of sexual impulses, much less act out on them. So yes, clearly and openly gay, but due to character personalities and situations and medieval people in general being quite affectionate with each other, not a typical romantic relationship concerning sex. I’m really hoping no one misinterprets this as being sex-negative because I’m not, I just find it easier to make Stone asexual. I can understand a lack of interest in sex for oneself. Happy Pride month next week, I guess.

Jean himself seems to be a lay scholar who aspires to the Benedictine order as a monk. He is able to afford a Parisian education, so something in his background out to align with that. He and Stone met as scholars and became friends. That’s all I know about Jean so far. I made an ill-fated foray into researching what people might find sexy about tonsures on Bluesky and found a whole lot of bald thirst. I get what I deserve.

I feel like I need to keep up writing the draft until it is done so that another random direction doesn’t pull me elsewhere. Perfection is a fascist’s tool for keeping control, after all.

Game dev with my spouse has continued. I am having fun chewing on the problem of how to make tiling textures with organic edges. I wish writing problems were this interesting to me. I guess the more I learn the more interesting those problems will seem.

Screenshot of pixel art depicting a forest composed of neatly interlocking 32 by 32 pixel tiles. The trees are in all shapes and sizes and very organic, utilizing a manual anti-aliasing technique. They are a very understated shade of green, almost gray.

To Do Next Week:

  1. Writing!!!
  2. Web design for Codex Apis (short comics collection) (Didn’t get around to this)
  3. Or, web design for Warlock’d? Still haven’t gotten around to it. It still feels so far off!
  4. More pixel art for my beloved

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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: 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?