How not to Write a Grahic Novel
Submitted by WillieHewes on August 22, 2006 - 15:09
I've finally finalised the rough scripts for Amaranth. I'm nearing the resolution, and I'm pretty sure I'll stick to what I have on paper now. Looking back to when I started, I have to admit it's a completely different story from the one I originally conceived. This is not a good thing. There are loose ends and scenes which, looking at the whole, don't really serve their purpose. Now that I know where I'm going I thought it might be useful to muse on where I went wrong. Perhaps someone else could learn of my mistakes.
My first mistake was a very common one: I tried something that was way too big. Influenced by webcomics, which tend to be ongoing narratives, I planned out the start of a story that wasn't just open-ended, but actively called for continuation. I didn't realise just how much time drawing a comic takes, and didn't think that in the three years I'd be working on it, I might have a better idea. Or, you know, just get a little tired of it. The original 'ending' was not a resolution, but the start: Amaranth chooses to be with the demons (this is after 200 pages of story). The problem was that I couldn't help but imagine what would happen afterwards, which would take at least another 100 pages to explore, and what happens after that? I set myself up to either draw the same series for the rest of my life, or leave it unfinished at some point. Not good.
What I should have done, even if I was going to go for something big, was at least decide on the ending. Yes, you can always pick up the characters again to do some more with them, but don't build up to your sequel or you will be forced to do one. And you know, by that time, maybe you don't want to. Finish your story, then see where else you might want to go.
Apart from never-ending, Amaranth was also very wobbly, thematically. I had the flower fairies that were also demons. I thought that was a cool concept and still do, it's one of the central ideas. But I also had a metaphorical comment on commercialism, and 'the ignorant masses.' All that's left of that is Ivy's rant in the Mall, but it was a huge thing, it was something that was threatening the demon courts and entirely tied up in their nature. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with Amaranth's identity crisis, which is the central driving conflict.
There was also an allegorical dimension to the demons. Ivy keeps saying: It's a metaphor, because the entire demon thing was a metaphor. Each of the demon courts stood for one of the things that is Wrong With the World. Uh, yeah. Actually, it pained me to drop that idea, but again, it had nothing to do with the main character. After I'd focused on her for however many pages, it would have felt forced and a bit bizarre to suddenly slip that idea in. When it came down to it, I couldn't find room for it. I ended up cutting not just the idea, but all the scenes that were tied up in it, including some I'd already worked out to a lot of detail, and really kind of liked. The same happened eventually to His Shadow, the demon Lords' Lord, who was tied up in that metaphor. He had the coolest scene, but I've cut it now because it just would not make any sense to include it.
Not everyone builds their stories around thematic elements, a lot of people simply focus on the action and characters, and there's nothing wrong with that. But if you do have Big Ideas to talk about through your story, you need to make sure they all fit together. That was my mistake, I had all these interesting ideas about the demons (that is, my setting) but they didn't really relate to Amaranth, my main character, so I couldn't explore them through her. It hurts to cut scenes you love. So take precautions and limit your Big Ideas to those the story can actually handle.
Lastly, I trusted that I'd be able to figure out the story as I went along. And as it turned out I did, but because I wasn't sure where I was going, I built up to events and revelations that in the end, never happened. This leaves the early issues with a lot of loose ends I'll never be able to fix. If I'd had more detail in the story when I started to draw, rather than leaving the big bit in the middle blank with a few loose ideas floating in it, I could have avoided that. For now, I want to concentrate on drawing shorter stories (as well as finishing Amaranth). But when I do try to tackle something big again, I'll make sure to plan it out to at least scene-level detail before I start, so I don't have to cover over early mistakes in an ugly way.
All this aside, I'd like to stress that I do believe my effort on Amaranth will have been worthwhile. It has loose ends and is not as tightly plotted as I'd like Ã¢â‚¬â€ I prefer my plots skintight Ã¢â‚¬â€ but I do not in any way consider it a failure. I made mistakes while writing it, but I believe the end result will be worthy. All I have to do is sit down and actually draw it.