I gotta tell you...

Making a short story long ;o)
thip at 11:10AM, Feb. 24, 2011
posts: 11
joined: 11-24-2006
Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public. (Winston Churchill)

We just flung'im ;o)

Six YEARS after the start of my humble web-comic “Purgatory”, the damn & wonderful thing's done. I'd have given long odds against that, but ya kind readers skewed the odds in the story's favor ;o)

Had anyone told me in the autumn of 2004 that I'd be working on “Purga” until almost-spring 2011, I'd have laughed at'em. All I wanted was to vent my pent-up storytelling drive, and do it for fun and profit, DIY ;o) Had wanted it for a long time, but I just didn't HAVE the time, being but a poor bloody amateur with a day job to mind.

Any readers who may have checked out Purga both on DD and Renderosity.com may have noticed that the numbering of the pages is different - and wondered why, since the CONTENT is the same. Going back to the very first postings on Renderosity reveals the answer.

When I started Purga, I cunningly told myself I could do a story with minimum effort and maximum fun if I used Poser and the ol' newspaper strip layout. Fine excuse for leaving out big shots and detailed backgrounds and just do a lot of talking heads. Right?

In the beginning, yes. I outlined a story loosely, turned the first handful of scenes into detailed script, and pitched in. Having once tried hand-drawn strips, I found doing strips with Poser reasonably easy. I could do in hours what used to take days. Readers were kind, comments were encouraging. Enough to nudge my ego into deciding to finish the story. Dead easy. Just flesh out the outline and keep comin' up with a few strips a week and hook them poor readers. Right?

Wrong. My readers had taste ;o)

Before the first two weeks of near-daily strips were out, reader attention was dropping. And as I sat down to flesh out the script, I realized why : the story suggested a large world of desert planet, star empire, spaceship fleets, all the usual suspects of space opera. But the images always only hinted at this. Never SHOWED it. And the old maxim of good storytelling is, after all, don't tell - SHOW.

So page fifteen in the old sequence was no longer just a strip, but a full page, albeit in landscape format to fit a screen. Now there was room for all the big shots and detailed images I had chosen the web-strip format to avoid :o( And when I was careless enough to do shots that showed more and hinted less (no jokes, please!), reader interest went up. When I started posting from the beginning here on DD, in full pages (an hence new page numbering) the stats spoke for themselves. That's the curse of reader stats - no editor to soothe your bruised ego, the readers tell you right up front if they like it or not, by voting with their feet. They read your stuff if it's good and someone else's if it ain't.


I realized it wasn't the READERS who were hooked - it was I. Telling a story to an audience that actually bothers to read the stuff, and even provides feedback, that's addictive! And, if I wanted to follow the golden rule of “do unto others”, it is a responsibility. We all hate to get into a story that's never finished. Happens often enough on the www, and probably for the best of reasons, but it's a pain in the a**!

But the script was GROWING; the characters and world were taking over and taking off, insinuating themselves into my desperate wish to keep the thing simple. The initial guesstimate of fifty-odd pages expanded to a hundred, then two hundred, then beyond. My ego recoiled, lazy bugger that I am ;o) My superego, however, felt obliged to both myself and my readers to finish the damn thing. And my poor ol' Id just had to do the actual work ;o)

How can doing something you want to do be work?

Try doing it for six years on a once-a-week deadline WHILE minding your day job, and then we'll talk! ;o)

I grew to shamelessly love that story and the characters. I was scripting whereever I went, in my head, on scraps of paper, on the PC, anything that could be used to jot down ideas, oil squeaky plot turns or come up with a snappier bit o' dialogue. I'd lose sleep, my eyes would glaze over in the midst over conversation and I'd quote lines from my own script to the point of seeming either insufferably narcissistic or plain old off my rocker.

But doing the actual pages..! Every time I learned how to make things a bit easier, I got more ambitious. It's not up to me to judge the actual quality of the product, but the PRODUCTION of each panel grew from Paintshop Pro image files with a half-dozen layers to ones pushing fiftly layers (sometimes even more). I enlisted help by using lots of matte images and fx from Renderosity's Marketplace, that's like having your own virtual ILM at your fingertips - but neither Poser nor that virtual ILM will set the scene, pose the figures, arrange the lights or choose the shot, to say nothing of the ever-growing postwork I grew addicted to.

Somehow, I kept things going. Even on my our vacations in odd foreign places, I would drag my long-suffering wife to the nearest internet café on Saturdays

“Just a few minutes so's I can post this week's page, dear.”

“We're on VACATION.”

“Now lemme see, what server did I save the page on – uh, did you say something, dear?”

We're still together. She's the forgiving type ;o)

Then, at the end of summer of 2010, I realized that the game was up - I was at page two-hundred-something, with multiple storylines and an entire orchestra of characters running roughshod over all the rules of a well-rounded story. As Danny Kaye famously said : “Operas have a beginning, a middle - and sometimes an end.” I had been dragging myself and my trusting readers through five-plus years of beginning-and-middle; I owed all of us an ending ;o)

Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, FINISHING a story was something I knew very little about ;o)

So I had to get tough with myself. And I realized just why there are so many unfinished stories. Either you grow to hate the story and don't want to finish it - or you grow to love it and get afraid you won't be able to finish it properly! What if I screw it up? What if I pulled my story ALMOST to the finish and then blew it with a flat ending? What if I dragged my trusting readers through years of story and then badly disappointed them?

I have to tell you, THAT almost burnt me out. You see, when you START a story, the ending seems easy. But the further you go and the more choices you make about what happens and where things are headed, the more you restrict your choices further down the road.

And here I was, with spies and cons and mercs and aliens milling about on the planet and TWO battlefleets in space above it and an Emperor and his guards somewhere in the middle! How did I pull that off?

I didn't.

Should have learned by then to trust the process, but I used up a mountain of paper scraps and drank gallons of coffee until I couldn't think of another damn thing to try. Nothing seemed to add up. And then the characters tapped me on the shoulder and told me how things would wrap up. They had known it all along, I just had been too busy planning A story to listen to THE story. My poor ego ;o)

It's a funny thing. You plan and write and re-write and wring your brain and build up a nicely structured, by-the-book, tick-all-the-right-boxes plot - and say yuck! And give up. And then the whole thing pops into your head, like the fond memory of a movie you've enjoyed, all there, just waiting to be written down and rendered up. I hate it! I love it ;o)

So there you are. The ending may or may not be what you imagined or wanted - but it's the ending I like, the ending the characters said WAS the ending, so I stand by it.

That goes ditto for the whole story. As a DIY storytelling and publishing experiment, Purga has failed. It hasn't been easy and “for fun & profit” ;o) But I've so enjoyed telling the story, and I've super-enjoyed the feedback from people telling me they've enjoyed reading along. You readers may not have made the story, but you made my day ;o) You made it imperative to complete the thing. Your comments and suggestions enriched the plot and your turning up week after week made it an obligation to take it all the way, no matter how desperate or burnt-out I'd feel en route.

Thanks! Thanks loads!!!

Whence now? For me, I have no definite idea. I'm not cured of the storytelling bug, but how I fight it in the future remains to be decided. If I have learned one thing from Purga, it is that I am not quite so much in control of storytelling as I naively thought I was, way back six years ago ;o)

For you, I wish for you that you find lots'n lots of enjoyable stories in the future. And do keep up the feedback to creators - if I may quote my own comment on the final Purga page : “That's what keeps one going late at night when the coffee's cold ;o)”
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:27AM

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