Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Continuity Conundrum

I’m used by now to things not going exactly as planned, but the past couple of months have been both frustrating and disappointing, regardless. I really lost the thread of both exercising and writing. Time management has been an even bigger challenge than usual, and the fact that it’s turned into a nasty-humid, vicious-hot summer so far hasn’t helped.

It hasn’t been entirely unproductive. I’ve been working with my good friend N.W. on a Secret Project. This time I’m not just being goofily coy; this is something I need to keep under my hat for the time being*. Partly because right now, there is no news, and it’s possible nothing may come of it – whether or not it goes ahead is up to a third party. But if we get that “yea”, it will be very exciting, and represent a major step forward for both me and N.W. I’ll give real details when I can.

That being said, I have yet to make real headway on the novel. The first draft is on the go, but still not much more than 25% done. I’m hoping to break my logjam and move forward over the rest of the summer; I finally got back to it today and managed to add about 500 words. That represents less than an hour of work, so if I can swing devoting more time than just my lunch hour to the project, I might actually start getting somewhere.

However, time management isn’t the only issue that’s been keeping me from working on the Novel. The other big point goes to the heretofore cryptic title of this post.

I haven’t really made a secret of this, but I also haven’t come right out and said it: The Novel started off as the prose feature that I developed to add more content to the site for Cold Iron Badge, the webcomic I do with co-creator/artist extraordinaire Patrick Heinicke. (You can read it at www.coldironbadge.com) As such, it was set it the same world as the webcomic, but was a side-story with different characters. So far, so not-a-problem, right?

Originally, I thought that what is now the Novel would be a series of short stories. I thought they’d take place in the same city as Cold Iron Badge the webcomic (which I was being deliberately vague about anyway), and that the casts of the two stories would occasionally cross over, much as they do in the Law & Order spinoffs that were such an inspiration to me in creating Cold Iron Badge. That means that, among other things, they could share a villain.

In the course of writing, all of that changed. The hypothetical series of short stories became the Novel when I realized that I was telling a bigger story than I originally thought. The Novel now explicitly takes place in Toronto, while the webcomic is clearly set in Vancouver. So the characters in each will doubtless be aware of one another – they belong to the same organization – but they won’t cross paths as often as I thought at first. And the villain…

The webcomic has a Big Bad, a scary elf crime boss/sorcerer/swordsman named Nobody. I planned to use him as a menacing background figure in the short stories. But although I imagined that he’d frequently be the cause of problems that the characters in the prose stories had to deal with, I didn’t expect that he’d appear directly – or that there’d be an overarching Big Bad for the only loosely-related stories at all.

Then I realized that the Novel wasn’t the short stories, but the Novel. And I knew it would need a Big Bad. At first, I figured Nobody would still do the trick. He’s involved in a lot of villainous stuff and there’s no reason his plots couldn’t encompass both Vancouver and Toronto. And he’s a great character. But then, I started thinking about resolutions.

Specifically, and I apologize if this is way too obvious: If stories contain heroes and villains, as both the Novel and the Cold Iron Badge webcomic do, then there needs to be some sort of resolution around the conflict between them**. Equally importantly, the heroes and the villains need to be active, credible participants in the resolution***. We can’t have somebody else in a parallel story taking place offstage bust the villain when the heroes’ backs are turned. That’s called a deus ex machina, and it’s Very Bad Writing. So I can’t use the same villain in otherwise separate stories with separate characters and separate resolutions.

Not really an issue though, right? Nothing that can’t be solved with a little judicious rewriting. I already know who the new Big Bad for the novel is, and she, he or it**** is a doozy. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I’m still serializing the story that has become the Novel on the Cold Iron Badge website.

It is, as noted above, about 25% done and people have, I presume and hope, been reading it. And that material includes Nobody mentioned as the Big Bad, explicitly. I can easily make a course correction, but I’ll be pulling aside the curtain and doing it overtly and explicitly for the readers. And I don’t want to go back and rewrite the material that’s already been posted; that’s the path of endless noodling madness where I get obsessed with fixing a story that isn’t even written yet and therefore, never finish it. So do I just abruptly change the story I’m writing with an awkward retroactive change to the continuity (what we geeks call a ret-con), and act as though the new Big Bad was the Big Bad all along? I can’t incorporate the changeover into the story as a plot point; eventually, the original villain is going to be rewritten out of ever having been there. I’d have to just abruptly switch villain-gears.

Figuring out what to do about this has been taking up a lot of the brainspace that should have been devoted to the actual writing, and it has to stop. I’ve finally decided on “awkward ret-con”, which will be… well, awkward. And embarrassing, because I hate showing my work. But them’s the breaks, I guess. I suppose I should have known going in that issues like this were potentially a part and parcel of writing a serialized longform story. But it’s frustrating! I don’t know how guys like Dickens managed it without losing their minds. Did he never think to himself part-way through, “Screw Oliver Twist. This is now a story about a cat who can shoot laser beams out of his eyes and fights crime!”*****

So, ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts; we’ve got a painfully obvious ret-con ahead and there’s going to be some bumpy reading. We apologize for any inconvenience.




* Hmm. What kind of story could have a character named ‘The Time Being’? Because now I really want to do that…

** Unless the lack of resolution is an important part of the story, of course.

*** Yeah yeah yeah, unless that’s an important part of the story.

**** That’s me being cagey. As cagey as I get, anyway.

***** ‘Laser Cat Versus The Time Being’. I’m not sure I want to write that story, but I do want to live in a world where that story exists.


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