Location Choices In Short Stories And Webcomic Updates – A Ramble

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Well, since I’m busy making a webcomic mini series for next month and also seem to be spending quite a bit of time playing a computer game (called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d take a look at another interesting thing that playing games can teach you about making webcomics, writing short fiction etc…

One of the interesting things about many computer games is that, although they might contain quite a few levels or even a large “open world”, there are always limits on where the player can explore. Most of the time, this is done for purely practical reasons (eg: a game company might have the time and/or budget to build a large city for the player to explore, but it might only contain 20-100 buildings that the player can actually enter.)

Whilst some games take the “open world” approach, many other games limit the player to exploring smaller areas in order to provide a much more focused and “deep” experience. For example, although “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” contains quite a few complex buildings that the player can explore, it only contains about four “open” areas, each of which only consists of a few streets. This allows the game designers to focus more on making these smaller outdoor areas interesting, whilst helping to ensure that the player doesn’t get too lost whilst exploring.

This focus on a limited number of locations is something that is worth bearing in mind if you’re making webcomics or writing short fiction.

If you’re writing short fiction or making a 3-8 panel webcomic update, then the main focus needs to be on things like humour, storytelling and characterisation. What this means is that you should probably only include 1-3 different locations in each comic update or short story. Because you don’t have too much room, you need to focus on locations that are actually relevant to the story.

So, with short fiction especially, choosing a location can often be a surprisingly important thing. For example, this short story of mine is about a futuristic city that has experienced a power cut. Although other locations are mentioned in the story, the events of the story take place within a single room. This allows me to focus more on both the characters and the story than if I’d tried to write about lots of different things happening in different places.

Plus, by focusing on a very limited number of locations, you can also spend more time describing those locations in detail. Detailed descriptions of one or two locations will make your story more dramatic and atmospheric than if you try to describe a larger number of locations in much less detail.

Likewise, if you’re making webcomics, then using a more limited number of locations can be a good way to save time (eg: drawing the same simple background multiple times is quicker than having to plan and draw lots of different backgrounds) and also to give your webcomic a lot more “personality” too. After all, familiar recurring locations can often become part of what a webcomic is about.

Of course, the problem with doing this in a webcomic is that using the same backgrounds repeatedly can be visually monotonous. But, there are lots of sneaky ways to get around this.

For example, in dramatic panels, you can use a solid black background – this places emphasis on the character who is talking, it’s quick to draw and it adds some visual variety to the comic update too.

Likewise, if a character is talking at length about something, then you can use a “cutaway” panel – just add the narration to a box at the top of the panel and then add a small illustration of whatever it is that the character is talking about. Here’s an example from the upcoming webcomic mini series that I’m preparing at the time of writing:

 The full comic update will be posted here on the 28th November.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 28th November.

So, yes, looking at explorable areas in computer and video games can teach you the value of only including a small number of relevant locations in your short stories and/or comic updates.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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COMING SOON! Halloween Stories & Comic :)

Well, with Halloween approaching, this means that it’s time for my usual Halloween stuff 🙂

This became something of an annual tradition when I wrote an interactive novella and made a comedic horror comic in 2015. In 2016, I made another comedy horror comic and wrote some short stories.

So, what can you expect this year?

– Another Comic 🙂 : Starting on the 20th October and concluding on Halloween, there will be a new daily comedy horror comic called “Video Nasty”, starring the characters from my webcomics. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a panel from my upcoming Halloween comic, which starts on the 20th October 🙂

– Retro sci-fi Horror Stories 🙂 : Starting on the 21st and concluding on the 30th, there will be a daily series of ten “Retro Sci-Fi” horror stories. Think neon, rain, mega-cities, flying cars, crackling radios etc… These were kind of interesting to write and, for the first time in literally ages, I even used third-person narration occasionally. Here’s a preview of the title graphic from one of the stories:

This short story series will run from the 21st-30th October 🙂

And here’s a spine-tingling extract from that story: ‘The air was filled with anguished howls, counterpointed crudely by the furious buzzing of an industrial saw. Above the cacophony, cackling laughter crackled through the air.

So, yes, there’s lots to look forward to here in the days leading up to Halloween 🙂

Four Benefits Of The Non-Interactive Nature Of Art, Comics And Prose Fiction

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Well, I had planned to write another article about computer and video games, but I thought that I’d flip this subject on it’s head and talk about some of the advantages that non-interactive creative mediums (eg: art, comics, traditional prose fiction etc…) have.

And, yes, I know that there are interactive types of fiction out there (like this gamebook-style online story I wrote in 2015,) but I’ll be looking at traditional fiction – in addition to art and comics here.

So, what are the benefits of creative works that aren’t interactive? Here are a few:

1) Flow and control: One of the great things about non-interactive creative works is that they flow seamlessly in a single direction. If you’re looking at a painting, you can just look at the whole painting. If you’re reading a (non-manga) comic, then the next panel is always either to the right of or below the one you’re currently looking at (or on the next page). If you’re reading a novel, then you just have to turn to the next page once you’ve finished a page.

Because linearity is an assumed and accepted part of traditional mediums, they provide the audience with a seamlessly flowing experience. In addition to this, it also gives you (the artist, the author etc..) much greater control over the pacing. For example, if you want to “speed up” a comic page, then include little to no dialogue. If you want to “slow down” part of a prose fiction story, then you can add more descriptions, fewer actions and/or slightly more complex language.

One of the problems with interactive mediums (like games) is that getting the flow of the story right can be way more difficult. If a game is too linear, then it feels like the designers are either patronising the player or aren’t taking full advantage of the interactive nature of the medium. However, if a game is too non-linear, then it can be easy for the player to get confused and/or stuck during various parts of the game – which can lead to frustration and a wish for the game to just get on with things.

Thankfully, in non-interactive mediums, there’s no such thing as “too linear” and no way for the audience to get “stuck” either.

2) What you can show: Since the audience for a non-interactive work doesn’t have any control over what happens in a story, comic, painting etc… they will only see what you, the creator, want them to see. Although this sounds like it would be a limitation, it can seriously increase the quality of a work.

For example, you can give the impression of a large, complex fictional world within a shorter story by only describing one location (where the story is set) in detail, whilst making brief and intriguing references to other locations that aren’t shown. In a comic, you can focus on drawing the more visually-interesting and/or easy to draw locations. In a painting, you have total control over what angle the audience sees the contents of the picture from etc…

In interactive mediums, the designers have to account for the player’s choices. In other words, they have to spend more time designing places that are meant to be explored (rather than seen or described), and which look visually interesting regardless of where the player’s character happens to be standing at any particular moment. They also have to adjust the dialogue and the events of the game to account for player choice. In other words, there are a lot of other things that they have to plan for – and not only does this mean that there’s a greater chance that they will make a mistake, it also means that they can’t spend as much time on each individual element of their project.

So, yes, not having to worry about interactivity means that you can focus more on improving the quality of whatever you decide to show the audience, rather than having to worry about a hundred other things too.

3) Dramatic weight: One of the advantages of non-interactive mediums is that you have a lot more control over how significant or dramatic any element of your story or art is. For example, you can use the lighting in a painting to emphasise particular parts of the image. You can describe your characters’ thoughts and emotions in a story. You can devote an entire page of a comic to a single dramatic image etc…

With interactive mediums, the designers have to account for things like gameplay too. As several videos about game design have pointed out, it’s difficult to add dramatic weight to a violent scene in a game if the player has just spent the past hour fighting countless adversaries. It’s like the old rule about profanity in fiction – the more you use it, the less “dramatic” it becomes.

Likewise, if a designer tries to add “suspense” to a game by placing a time restriction on part of the game, then not only will this frustrate the player if the time limit is too short – but, having to re-play the same segment of the game again and again (until the player wins) will quickly drain any sense of dramatic weight or suspense from that part of the game.

Because non-interactive mediums don’t have to worry about gameplay, they have a lot more freedom when it comes to adding things like dramatic weight, suspense, emotional power etc..

4) The interactivity is more interesting:
Although I’ve described things like prose fiction, art and comics as being “non-interactive”, this isn’t entirely true. Sure, the audience can’t directly interact with these things – but they can interact with them in all sorts of fascinatingly indirect ways.

For example, if a story, collection of art or a comic is good enough, then it’s going to influence other creative people. They’re going to blend the best elements of your work with their own imagination and style in order to create something totally new. And, since it’s influenced by the things you made, you’re probably going to enjoy reading it too 🙂 In addition to this, if you produce something that someone really likes, then it’s possible that it might inspire them to become an artist, writer etc…

Since fully interactive mediums are complex, expensive things to make, the chances of an audience member becoming inspired enough to make something new are a lot more limited. Most ordinary people will be restricted to just modifying existing games etc.. And whilst this does have parallels with modern-style fan fiction and fan art, it doesn’t have parallels with things like original novels inspired by other novels, original comics inspired by other comics etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Complete “Damania Resized” – All Six Episodes Of The New Webcomic Mini Series By C. A. Brown

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Well, in case you missed any of it, here are all six comics from my “Damania Resized” webcomic mini series 🙂 If you want to check out any of my other mini series, links to them (and info about future comics) can be found on this page.

This mini series was an absolute joy to make 🙂 Following the abject failure of the previous mini series (where I’d tried a “back to basics” approach), I was slightly reluctant to make comics again. So, I knew that I had to change something.

In the end, I settled on making my comics larger (but sticking with the self-contained “newspaper comic” format that I used regularly in 2016). The larger size also meant that I had to use a slightly slower production schedule, which actually increased the quality of the comics – both in terms of art and writing- and made producing them even more fun 🙂

In addition to this, I also experimented with using slightly higher-quality watercolour paper for these comics (despite all of the usual digital editing, the grain of the paper is actually noticeable in a few panels).

Note: With the exception of the fourth comic (“Progressive”), the other five comics in this mini series are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. Since “progressive” features direct parodies of/visual references to copyrighted material, it is NOT released under a Creative Commons Licence.

You can also click on each comic update to see a larger version of it.

"Damania Resized - Nostalgia Cycle" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resized – Nostalgia Cycle” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resized - Virtually Banned" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resized – Virtually Banned” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resized - Cafe Writers" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resized – Cafe Writers” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resized - Progressive" By C. A. Brown [Note: This comic update is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence]

“Damania Resized – Progressive” By C. A. Brown [Note: This comic update is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence]

“Damania Resized- Fighting The Loudness War” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resized - Market" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resized – Market” By C. A. Brown

Nostalgia vs. Memory – A Ramble

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Although this was supposed to be an article about creating things (art, fiction etc..) that are inspired by the past, I ended up spending all the article talking about my own experiences with the difference between nostalgia and memory. Likewise, I wrote the first draft of this article before I wrote these short stories. Still, this might help you to think about the differences between the two things more clearly.

A couple of days before I wrote this article, I went through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase. Whilst I can’t remember exactly what prompted it, I ended up looking through my collection of old CD singles again (anyone remember those?) for songs that made me feel nostalgic about the 1990s.

Whilst I bought relatively few CD singles during the 1990s (since I was a kid then, and I tended to listen to the radio and to audio cassettes more), I later went through a phase of buying every interesting old CD single I could find in charity shops when I was about seventeen. So, this wasn’t exactly my first musical nostalgia phase.

The interesting thing was that the songs that made me think about the 1990s the most were pretty much the last ones I expected. Whether it was Geri Halliwell’s surprisingly good cover of “It’s Raining Men”, “Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna or “Brimful Of Asha” By Cornershop, most of the songs that instantly made me vividly remember the 1990s weren’t exactly the kind of “retro” music I usually listen to these days.

In fact, the only songs that genuinely remind me of the 1990s that are close to my current tastes in music are probably a couple of punk songs from The Offspring’s “Americana” album. This, of course, makes perfect sense given that, although I discovered the punk genre in the late 1990s, I didn’t discover the heavy metal genre until about 2001 or the gothic rock genre until 2008. When I was a kid during the 1990s, the only music I listened to was what was easily available in the charts and/or on the radio.

Yet, if you were to ask me to think of “nostalgic 90s music”, I’d probably think of all sorts of cool bands that – to me now – seem very “1990s” but which I hadn’t actually heard during the 1990s. This, of course, is the difference between nostalgia and memory.

But, it’s not just music, it’s lots of other things too. Whenever I try to imagine a 1990s setting for a short story, comic or painting – my first thought is often about old American TV shows from the 1990s. Yet, I’ve never actually been to America. When I want to make something “look 90s”, I think of movies and music videos from the era that I never actually saw back then. When making “1990s style” art, I also tend to think of fashion designs that were a lot more common across the pond than over here.

I think that part of this is due to the fact that my nostalgia about the 1990s is a relatively recent thing. Even up until about 2008 or 2009, I was much more fascinated with the 1980s than the 1990s. So, I’ve had to do a lot of research into a decade that hadn’t quite fully entered mainstream nostalgia. Of course, American TV shows, movies, journalism, fashions etc.. tend to be a lot more well-documented online. So, they tended to turn up a lot more during my research.

Yes, in some ways, this is a little bit annoying. Because, from what I can remember and from everything I’ve seen later, the culture of 1990s Britain was really cool. It had more of a punkish rebelliousness to it than ’90s America did.

Whether it was ‘edgy’ TV shows like “Bits” or “Queer As Folk“, whether it was the cynically humourous attitude of (print) game journalism back then, whether it was the watered-down punk attitude of the Spice Girls (compared to modern pop bands, they were practically punk! One of their music videos from 1997 is also cyberpunk too!) or whether it was gleefully rebellious celebrities like Tracey Emin (I may not be a fan of conceptual art, but she was one of the coolest artists of the 90s) the 90s was a much more edgy, hedonistic, rebellious, creatively free and generally cool decade in Britain than in America. It’s just a shame I wasn’t old enough to truly enjoy or appreciate it back then!

But, is this disconnect between nostalgia and memory an entirely bad thing? No. I really like the stylised “nostalgic” version of 1990s America that I’ve built within my own imagination. It’s excitingly different to the more mundane everyday memories of 1990s Britain that I have. It’s really fun to make things (like this comic) that are based on this imagined version of another decade in another country.

But, at the same time, it doesn’t really have the same level of personal intensity as things that are actually based on memories. Making things that are based on memories, rather than nostalgia tends to have a level of vividness that doesn’t come from trying to conjure up an imagined version of the past. It feels like you are revisiting the formative parts of your imagination.

So, yes – like fantasies and reality, nostalgia and memories can be two vastly different things. But, they can both be good sources of creative inspiration.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The “Rules” Of A Comic Or Story – A Ramble

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A while before I wrote this article, I was watching this Youtube video about game design which included a part showing how a modern videogame broke it’s own “rules” in order to make a dramatic point. It was really interesting to watch because usually this sort of thing is an absolute no-no in gaming, but it seems to work well in the example given.

It also made me think about some of the problems I encountered with this year’s upcoming Halloween comic (that I finished preparing a day or two before writing this article).

Although I don’t want to spoil the story too much, there was one part of the ending that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with. And, thanks to that video, I now understand why. I’d broken an established “rule” of my story. A rule that I’d introduced a bit suddenly in the later parts of the story.

Yes, I’d broken the rule for comedic effect. And, it works as a strange joke, as something for long-time fans of the comic and as a subtle movie reference. But, it was still something that I felt a little bit uncomfortable with for the simple reason that I’d introduced said rule somewhat later in the story. This made the rule in question seem slightly contrived. In retrospect, the rule was something that I probably should have established much earlier in the comic.

This, naturally, made me think about rules and storytelling. Since, although there are very few “formal” rules about storytelling (eg: grammar, spelling, the order of speech bubbles in comics etc..) stories, like videogames, rely very heavily on rules.

However, most of the time, the author or comic maker gets to create their own rules. However, this also means that they have to stick to them and/or establish them properly. They also have to think about how these rules will affect the events of the story too. They also have to think about how the characters will interact with these “rules” too.

For example, one reason why my Halloween comic’s story was let down by introducing a “rule” later in the story is that it was the kind of rule that any logical person would have exploited at the first available opportunity. Yes, I tried to cover this up by including some comedic dialogue and character-based explanations for why the characters didn’t… [you’ll have to wait for the comic].. much earlier in the story. But, nonetheless, this part of the story comes across as slightly contrived because I didn’t establish the rule properly.

In other words, even if your story is set in the distant future, the distant past or in some alternate dimension, you need to have rules. “Realistic” stories have an advantage here, since they can just focus on the ‘rules’ of real life (eg: physical laws, legal laws, social conventions etc..). Likewise, some genres tend to be more tolerant of rule-bending (for example, the thriller/action genre can depict combat in unrealistic ways, because it looks more dramatic). But, less realistic stories still need to have rules.

To use a cinematic example, there’s a brilliant low-budget sci-fi movie from the 1980s called “Trancers“, which is about time travel. One of the gadgets that a character from the future has allows him to create a “long second”, which can freeze time for ten seconds. This device is introduced early in the story and – more critically – it is explained that it can only be used once before it’s battery is depleted.

So, when this character uses it to escape danger a bit later in the film – the scene doesn’t seem contrived. Plus the rule about using it once means that it doesn’t allow the characters to use the device in every dangerous situation. So, the film is able to maintain a decent level of suspense and drama.

So, yes, not only do stories need rules but you also need to establish the rules as early as possible, and construct them in a way that prevents anyone saying “well, why don’t the characters just do this instead?

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Quick Tips For Never Leaving A Comic Unfinished

Sorry about even more recycled title art, but I was fairly tired at the time of writing this article.

Sorry about even more recycled title art, but I was fairly tired at the time of writing this article.

Although I finished preparing this year’s Halloween comic the night before I wrote this article, the last few pages were considerably less enjoyable to make than the rest of the comic was. But, despite feeling my enthusiasm for the project waning, I was still able to finish it.

In fact, since I got back into making comics in 2015, I’ve never really left a comic unfinished (eg: even though this mini series has a slightly open ending, it still has some resolution to the story in the final two pages). But, back in 2012-13, I still used to leave comics unfinished occasionally.

So, what did I do to stop myself from leaving comics unfinished? Here are a few very brief tips.

1) Plan first: One of the easiest ways to avoid unfinished comics is to plan out your comic before you make it. Just make a mock-up of your comic with extremely rough scribbled artwork.

If you lose interest or get severe writer’s block whilst making your plan, then either change it, take a break or try planning a different comic. This alone will help you to avoid comic ideas that are doomed to failure.

If you’re worried that planning will take some of the spontaneity out of making comics, then just remember that comic plans aren’t set in stone. If you think of a better panel arrangement, something else to add etc.. when you’re actually making the comic, then by all means do it. Just think of your plan as a backup that can come in handy if you get writer’s block.

2) Length: A shorter finished comic is better than a longer unfinished comic. So, when you’re planning your comic, try to be at least slightly conservative when working out how long it is going to be (not doing this to the right extent was one of the problems with my Halloween comic).

Remember, if your comic is going well, then you can always find ways to expand it beyond your original plan. It’s easier to expand a shorter plan whilst making a comic than it is to cut things whilst making a comic.

So, plan a short comic and – if it goes well – maybe make it longer.

3) Segmentation: This obviously won’t work for all comic projects. But, if you can make things that consist of lots of self-contained segments (such as stand-alone “newspaper comic”-style comics, short stories etc..) then the risk of leaving the project unfinished is a lot lower because, if you find that you are running out of enthusiasm or ideas, then you can just finish your current segment and leave it there.

Since each segment is self-contained, then there will be some kind of conclusion to your project even if you abandon it before making as many segments as you’d originally planned to make.

4) Endings: An abrupt, rushed, random and/or slightly open-ended ending is better than no ending. Any kind of resolution to your comic, no matter how sudden or badly-written is better than no resolution.

So, if you need to end your comic, then end it. Even if you rush the ending, then it’s still better than leaving your comic unfinished.

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Sorry for the short and abrupt article, but I hope it was useful 🙂