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October 29, 2015

The World’s Spookiest Post?

I’d imagine that with Halloween right around the corner, people are flooding the internet with skeletons, ghosts, zombies, vampires, werewolves, jack-o-lanterns, and other nightmarish ephemera (even though it’s plainly obvious that there’s nothing scarier than the creatures lurking in the ocean).  This would be the part where I play into that -- or more appropriately, do a post about something super-spooky.  A scary game, for one.  But I just did a hefty post on Crimson Peak, and it kind of feels like I’d be double-dipping.

So I asked myself, “What would be the scariest thing I could offer up to anyone who stumbles upon this post?”  And the answer to that is simple: art by someone who has no business trying to do art.  Because there’s nothing scarier than someone without talent shoving his lack of talent in people’s faces!

Mediocrity, ooooooooOOOOOoooOOOOoooooooooo!  How chilling!

So anyone who’s been sticking with this blog for an irresponsible amount of time may know that I’ve tossed some art out here before.  It’s been…passable, I guess.  But in an effort to try and render my cast of characters as directly and stylishly as possible, I’ve been trying to get better with my art.  Jury’s still out on how much I’ve improved, but it’s something.  The cringe isn’t in such full effect.

I’m bringing this up because, incidentally, I’ve revived my DeviantArt page.  Inasmuch as one can revive a DeviantArt page; after all, I only started using it about a year ago, and let it fall by the wayside after a couple of months.  But in an effort to spread awareness about Cross-Up -- and me, by extension -- I picked it back up and started uploading things again.  The idea is to become a bigger part of the community, but I’m facilitating that by creating a drip-feed of art.  You know, files and such from archives I’ve built up over the months and years.

But that’s over there, and this is here.  So pardon me while I tip my hand.

I guess you could file stuff like this under the “Draw This Again” meme that’s floated around for a while now.  Just as well, though; all of my characters are in flux, so it’s only natural that they see changes as the years pass.  The changes are more than aesthetic, though, as expected of an aspiring writer, not an aspiring artist.  Iteration of the art means an iteration of their characters, skill sets, arcs, worlds, and stories in general.  What are the final products are going to be like?  Who knows? 

I mean, just look at the dates down there.  The newer art’s from 2014.  We’re about to enter 2016.  That’s a pretty big disparity -- so it’s no small wonder that that art is now useless for pretty much every purpose besides showing off iterations.  I don’t have up-to-date art for every character, but I have it for a couple.  That is, I have the new art actually drawn and colored for a couple of characters; I’ve still put some heavy thought into what the others will look like, at least on a conceptual level.

It’s led to some interesting situations.  Characters have changed dramatically since their inception, and in ways I never would have imagined.  We’re talking heroes that have leapt across barriers in age, gender, race, and even species just ‘cause.  Not that I’m complaining, of course; setting aside the fact that my guys are more diverse than they’ve ever been, every change brings them closer to the ideal form  Also, I always find myself getting super-hyped whenever there’s a change -- however temporarily -- that has potential.

I hope that at some point, I can have all my main guys in up-to-date art.  It won’t be for a while, probably, but I’ll get there.

Like I said, DeviantArt is where some content will be going for a good while, and it’ll link back over here regularly.  Since there’s a journal option, I’ve started cutting out “previews” from posts and using them to advertise Cross-Up’s wares.  We’ll see how well that works, since I imagine I’ll also have to spend time in the forums and the art pages of others to make even a modicum of progress.  But again, I’ll get there.  And who knows?  Maybe my art will actually -- as they say -- git gud.

With all of that said, there’s something that’s been on my mind recently.  Obviously, my mission objective is to become a writing hero -- a guy whose stories put smiles on the faces of the people.  Consider it a consequence of that pesky thing we call “dreams”.  And by extension, I’m a guy who puts a LOT of care into his characters.  It tends to start with me coming up with superpowers they could have, but from there it’s not uncommon to try and build entire worlds around their personas and potential.  If I press on, I’ll reach my goal eventually.  But thanks to the art I’ve done, I’ve been mulling over one question quite a bit.

Why would anyone ever care about my characters?

I ask this because lately, I’ve been wondering if my methodology was wrong this whole time.  I’m on the road to getting published, but obviously, it’s been a long and hard one.  I’ve seen some rejections, and the sheer (and typical) lack of feedback gives me no clues as to what went wrong -- whether my stuff really isn’t a fit for their agency/publishing house, or if it’s a problem with my actual writing.  I’m usually inclined to assume it’s the latter, but who knows?  I don’t -- and thus, we have our guessing game.

There was one instance a couple of months ago, though.  In a stark deviation from the norm, I got a response the day after I made a submission.  Rejected, of course, but I got some…interesting feedback.  On the plus side, I earned some brownie points for getting right into the middle of the hero’s quest -- a real attention-grabber, arguably.  On the minus side, I apparently didn’t give enough of an insight into the main character and his world.  And I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little salty about that.

Previous versions of the story took heat for starting off much too slowly.  Once upon a time, it took several chapters for the plot to start in earnest, and for any supernatural elements to figure in.  (In its final days, that previous version got to the spooky stuff at the end of the first chapter -- maybe thirty or forty pages in.)  So in this new version -- one built around the same general story, but several orders of magnitude different -- no time is wasted.  The hero’s already starting his quest.  The supernatural stuff kicks in pretty fast, i.e. he meets a serial killer while there’s a dimensional distortion.  There’s setup afterwards, and it’s made very clear that something bad is on the way.  But apparently, that wasn’t enough.  Here’s the thing, though: I’m a little bitter about that rejection, because you don’t get to claim that you didn’t see more of the MC and his world when according to the submission guidelines, you only read the first ten pages.

I mean, I agree that it’s ultimately a legitimate complaint; my guess is that if I want to avoid a situation like that again and/or make the story stronger, I need to add in an establishing shot that shows more in one shot.  (That’s especially true, since some guys are only asking for the first five or even first three pages of the manuscript.)  On the other hand, it’s not as if I just barreled through to the first big encounter.  Those ten pages weren’t filler. 

Those ten pages were as much about leading man Arc as they were about his mission in progress.

It starts off with him alone in an alley downtown, wrapping up his hands as he explores gang territory as part of his mission.  He takes time out to be contemplative and confused, because not only is the world around him distorting, but he’s left puzzled by the sudden suicide of a jolly guy he knew at his school.  He’s forced to think about death, but presses on regardless for the sake of his mission -- and despite his concerns, he stands strong in the face of opposition. 

When gang members inevitably appear, he keeps his confidence and his poise.  And even though he throws out the sarcastic quips, he tries to diffuse the situation with reason (albeit with a harsh edge) instead of violence.  When it does come to blows, he proves that he’s a very competent fighter…but he’s also one with established weaknesses.  He’s a fragile speedster through and through, and knows the odds -- six big bruisers against one scrawny scrapper -- are against him.  But he takes it like a champ and gets ready to fight on, even as one of the thugs pulls out a knife.

That’s all within ten pages.  I made sure of that.

Historically, I’ve struggled with the setting -- coming up with one, and describing one as well.  I’ve gotten better about it, though, so I’d think that I’m at least competent.  So even if the alley Arc starts off in is…well, it’s an alley, there’s still some flair to it.  It’s a cool and dreary day, full of clouds and fresh with rain.  The urban sprawl makes its presence known, along with the dilapidation.  The world of New Line City is no squeaky-clean land of tomorrow; feelings of apathy and melancholy grip it and infect the environment.

It’s no disaster zone (not entirely, at least…yet), but it’s obviously not at its best.  The “city of broken dreams” is rife with decay and degradation, with dismal sights and disarray.  Stains, graffiti, trash, erosion, and more all make their presence known.  And the supernatural elements kick in fast; Arc gets a tease of it at the outset with a few dissolving numbers floating skyward, but once he meets the serial killer Selberg things go into overdrive.  Speaking of, the entire point of his early appearance is to not only set the stage for Arc’s mission and give him direction, but to completely undercut Arc as a character.  Our hero’s a smart guy and a skilled fighter, but he barely has the power to decisively beat a thug; now he has to meet (and eventually chase after) someone with powers miles beyond his own.  In more ways than one.

Selberg shows up just a little after the ten-page mark.  The file I’ve got has him show up on page eighteen -- which means technically it’s seventeen, because the first page is a cover, and the second has the standard manuscript space for scribbling on.  And depending on the format -- i.e. the font used -- it could be even sooner.

But not soon enough.  So maybe it is me this time.

My guess is that I’m the locomotive-type.  That is to say, I’m what they call a slow starter, and I only get moving (or good) once I’ve built up enough momentum.  As you can guess, my story -- Dead on Prime -- is a long one, which means that there are a lot of places where both the characters and plot go.  Events, changes, and more might be more appreciable in the long run or by the story’s end, and not so much in the beginning.  In other words?  There’s no point in building up a story or planning every turn ages in advance if you can’t even hook them in ten pages or less.

If I take that one criticism to heart -- and I have, to my dismay -- it’s that I need to land a reader on the hook in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  Read ten pages, and then BOOM.  Loyal to the end.  How do I accomplish that?  I don’t know.  I thought I did, but these days?  I’m not so sure.  Dead on Prime is a darker and often sadder tale than, say, I Hraet You, so it’s not as if I can go full ham with it (all the time).  And Arc is no Lloyd; he’s a more complicated person who pushes the story toward weighty avenues, with a trajectory that takes him to some serious lows -- and that’s all before getting to his backstory.  But backstory and trajectory don’t matter if he doesn’t appeal from the get-go.  It sure as hell doesn’t matter if he doesn’t appeal, period.

So why would anyone ever care about Arc?  Why would anyone ever care about any of my characters?

That’s what I intend to find out.  And it starts with this.

Even if it’s almost guaranteed to garner negative pageviews, my plan is to revive the D.O.X. is Dead feature on this blog.  If I’m going to fulfill my ambitions, then I need to answer some of the hard questions -- if not with the help of others, then by myself, and for myself.  Heavy deliberation over the particulars with a fresh perspective might be just what I need to make some important adjustments.  If I can learn something new about these characters -- something that’ll help me in ways I never would have thought possible -- then I guess I need to give it a shot.

I’m not going to commit to a dedicated schedule just yet.  And I’m not going to act like I know what form the posts will take (i.e. how long each one will be).  But this “Season 2” of the feature is coming, and I’ll at least do what I can to make it entertaining.  Hopefully, I can get something going sooner or later -- and when it shows up, I hope you guys reading this will take the plunge with me.  An echo chamber will only do so much, I’d wager.

So that about wraps it up.  Thanks for reading, come back soon, and have a happy Halloween.  Now go out and make your dreams come true.  Or just, you know, eat lots of candy.  And try to avoid these things if you can.

Uh…hey, God?  You listening?  Ocean creatures OP.  Pls nerf.

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