Three Sneaky Ways To Make Your Readers Feel Like Experts

2015 Artwork Make Your Readers Feel Like Experts sketch

Let’s face it, everyone likes to be good at something. If you can make your audience for your story or comic feel like experts of some kind, then they’re going to be more interested in the things you created.

To use a related example, this is one reason why many modern mega-budget First-Person Shooter computer and video games are apparently a lot easier than old FPS games were.

In the good old days, FPS games were fiendishly difficult and you had to put in years of FPS gaming practice to be good at games like “Doom II”, “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” or “Duke Nukem 3D”.

You had to start by playing on the lower diffculty settings and learning the “rules” of these games (and how to use them to your advantage) before gradually moving up to the “intermediate” difficulty settings. This is why these old games are still so much fun to play, even more than two decades after they were originally released.

These days, of course, FPS games are apparently a lot easier. Your character’s health points regenerate frequently, the levels are often completely devoid of puzzles, your character always has more than enough weapons and there’s very little variety when it comes to the enemies that you fight. This is all done to allow the player to have the feeling of being an expert at playing FPS games without actually being an expert.

But, this isn’t an article about computer and video games. No, this is an article about how to make the readers of your story or comic feel like they’re experts at something. So, how do you do this?

1) Sneaky tips: One of the best ways to make your readers feel like experts is to occasionally show your narrator or one of your characters doing something that your readers don’t know how to do (whether it’s something realistic or something fantastical) and giving the audience (or the main character) some advice about how to do it.

A good televised example of this is probably an American TV show called “Burn Notice”. This is a light-hearted thriller show about a fugitive spy called Michael Weston who often ends up solving problems for people.

Throughout the show, Michael will often improvise spy gadgets or use clever spy techniques and these are almost always explained to the viewers via voice-overs. After watching a couple of episodes of the show, you almost feel like you could be a spy yourself. Almost.

A word of warning here though, it’s usually not a good idea to give your audience realistic advice about how to do anything seriously dangerous and/or criminal. It’s also a good idea not to research any of this stuff online either.

You can usually give the impression of giving this advice by either leaving things slightly vague (which gives the impression that your character knows what they’re talking about, even if you don’t) or, in some cases, just making it all up.

This is also a good thing because it means that you won’t actually have to research some of this stuff and can just rely on your own imagination or things that you’ve seen in other books and movies (since, depending on where you live, researching certain things online may actually be illegal in and of itself).

2) World Details: There’s a good reason why both the science fiction and fantasy genres have much geekier fans than any other genres do. Because these genres are often set in entirely imagined worlds, there are often a lot of interesting background details that fans have to learn about in order to fully enjoy the story.

For example, any “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan will probably be able to tell you what a replicator is, what a warp core is (and what it’s powered by) and what the Prime Directive is. Any “Dune” fan will be able to tell you what spice melange is, what a mentat is (and why people use them) and how to distract a sandworm.

Any “Song Of Ice And Fire” fan will be able to tell you what valyrian steel is, what a sept is and what the chorus of “The Bear And The Maiden Fair” sounds like. I’m sure you get the idea….

Usually, these details are introduced in a subtle way throughout the story – but, as well as adding atmosphere to the story, they also give the readers the experience of learning new things and becoming an expert in something.

3) Expert characters: Often, the easiest way to make your readers feel like experts is to just make some of your characters experts at something and to show them using their expertise in a variety of cool ways.

If you do this, your audence gets to vicariously experience what it feels like to be an expert, without actually really learning anything. It allows the audience to imagine themseleves as that character or to imagine what hanging out with that character would be like.

Don’t ask me why, but there’s something absolutely mesmerising and inspiring about seeing an expert at work. So, include expert characters in your story or comic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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How To Make Your Readers Feel Like They Belong

2015 Artwork Stories Belonging sketch

Although this is an article about sci-fi/fantasy storytelling and building a fanbase – I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows for a while. This is because, at the time of writing, the most recent thing I’ve become almost obsessed with is an old TV show. So, it seemed like the best example to use when talking about how to make your audience more interested in your work.

Anyway, at the the time of writing, I’m absolutely fascinated by an old sci-fi show from the 1990s called “Babylon 5“. In case you’ve never heard of it before, it’s a show about interplanetary politics on a space station – and, yes, this is actually a lot more interesting than it probably sounds. Just don’t judge it by the first episode alone.

Like “Stargate SG-1”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Game Of Thrones” and a whole host of other sci-fi/fantasy TV shows, it’s very easy to geek out about “Bablyon 5”. And, well, I thought that I’d take a look at one reason why, in case it’s useful to you.

One of the main reasons why shows like these attract such a large fanbase is because they’re often focused on things that are greater than any one individual character. Yes, the characters are usually extremely well-written, but they’re also often parts of various organisations or teams.

To use an old example, Captain Kirk might have been the most recognisable character in the original “Star Trek” TV series from the 1960s. However, he’s also part of Starfleet and he has a large crew of other interesting characters (eg: Bones, Uhura, Chekhov, Scotty, Sulu etc…) that he works with. If the show had just been about Captain Kirk, then it probably wouldn’t have the fanbase that it does today.

So, why do stories about organisations and/or teams often attract a larger fanbase than stories about individual characters?

Well, it’s all to do with belonging. Whilst these kinds of stories often turn up in other genres (eg: detective shows such as “NCIS”), they’re most popular in the sci-fi and fantasy genres and there’s probably a good reason for this.

According to a popular (and not entirely accurate) view of modern history – up until relatively recently, the people who have been ardent fans of sci-fi and/or fantasy were often… well… nerds and geeks (of one kind or another).

They probably weren’t the most popular kids in school when they were younger. They probably weren’t people who really “fit in” or were really seen as “cool” by the mainstream standards of the time. In other words, they didn’t really feel that we belonged.

Of course, this experience is hardly exclusive to nerds and geeks – there are many other valid reasons why someone might not feel that they “belong” to the culture, school, religion, social group etc… around them.

And, well, sci-fi and fantasy stories that revolve around organisations, teams, noble houses etc… rather than individual characters give us a glimpse into an imagined world where people do belong to the things that they belong to and actually benefit from belonging to something.

They show us things that we ourselves would actually want to belong to (eg: it’s no coincidence that Star Trek fans are famed for dressing up in Starfleet uniforms at conventions) and, because these stories revolve around an organisation rather than a character, it’s very easy to imagine ourselves as part of that organisation. In other words, these stories are so popular because they make us feel like we belong.

So, if you’re writing a sci-fi/fantasy story or comic, then it might be worth thinking about setting it within a group or organisation rather than focusing on a single character. Of course, this isn’t possible for literally every story – but it’s certainly a way of making your fans more interested.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Adding Easter Eggs To Your Comic and/or Story

2013 Artwork Easter Egg sketch

I’ve already partially covered this subject in my articles about crossovers and geeking out about your story, but it probably deserves it’s own article too – although some of this stuff is probably fairly obvious anyway.

In short, an easter egg is something amusing, fascinating or just plain cool which is hidden in your story or comic. It’s like an in-joke, but less obvious. Not everyone will see it and not everyone will probably understand it. Still, if you get a chance, it can be worth including easter eggs in your stories and comics.

How often you do this is a matter of personal preference, but as long as they don’t get in the way of the story – add as many as you want. Interestingly, I haven’t really added that many easter eggs to this blog (the only one I can think of is the hidden poem within my article about writing poetry) although they turn up very occasionally in my other works.

So, how do I add them?

Since stories and comics aren’t usually interactive in the way that DVDs and computer/videogames are, then you’re probably going to have to hide your easter eggs “in plain sight” so to speak. In prose fiction stories, this usually means burying them in descriptions, dialogue or lists.

In comics, this usually means hiding your easter egg somewhere in the background (eg: a film poster about one of your other comics in the background of a panel where your main character walks past a cinema).

You can also add easter eggs to chapter titles or add secret messages to your story by italicising certain letters (kind of like the “Smithy code” ).

In fact, codes and cyphers are a brilliant way of adding easter eggs to stories and comics (Dan Brown is notorious for doing this in his novels…).

Even something as simple as a few lines of ROT13 code hidden within some random text on a computer screen in the background of part of your comic, is a brilliant way of adding an easter egg.

Another thing about adding easter eggs is that they have to blend into the story too, they have to feel like a natural (if slightly amusing/random/geeky) part of the world of your story and/or comic. They have to be camouflaged within the world of your story/comic. Of course, there’s also something to be said for including totally bizarre easter eggs for comedy value too.

One other way of hiding easter eggs in things like short story collections and interactive fiction novels (eg: “Choose Your Own Adventure”/”Fighting Fantasy”-type stories) is to make your easter egg a short chapter which is not mentioned on the index, or an entry in a interactive story which can’t be reached from any other page.

But, all of these are obvious places to look for easter eggs. When it comes to hiding easter eggs in your creative work, then you have to be more imaginative.

Of course, if you’re writing any kind of online fiction or webcomics, then you can do a lot more imaginative things – like hiding a link to an easter egg in a single pixel on your website which is only active for one day every month and then requiring a ridiculously bizarre password like “mzzyzplex” or “drowssap” and large quantities of biometric data in order to access it.

Use your imagination. Be fiendish.

Why bother with adding easter eggs at all?

Because they’re fun.

No, seriously, why should my story/comic include easter eggs if most of my readers aren’t even going to notice them?

Most of the practical reasons for including easter eggs are the same as the reasons for including crossovers in your story and/or comic. Namely that they provide “added value” for fans of your work and they also ensure that it’s more worthwhile for people to re-read your story and/or comic (eg: if they notice something when they’re re-reading it which they didn’t notice the first time that they read it).

In other words, even if (for some bizarre reason) you don’t really like adding easter eggs to your stories, it can still be a good thing to do in order to keep your fans happy and to reward people who look at your story/comic closely.

But what else can I do with them? Any other tricks?

Another cool type of easter egg is to add a hidden “clue” or “preview” to what your next story or comic will be about. Ways of doing this include hiding a central object from your next story in the background or just a brief reference to something in it (for example, if your next story/comic is a seafaring adventure story set aboard a ship called “The Trout”. Then either include a painting of The Trout on a wall in the background of one panel of your comic, or mention the name of the captain of The Trout briefly in your story amongst a list of random names or something like that).

This differs from ordinary foreshadowing, since it gives your reader a subtle clue about something which happens outside the story/comic they’re reading and/or something you haven’t made yet. Of course, this type of easter egg requires a fair amount of advance planning (so it might not be useful for people like me who hardly ever plan stories/comics in advance) and it should be very well hidden too.

It should be so well-hidden in fact that, ideally, your readers shouldn’t notice it until you’ve actually published your next story. Then you can reveal your easter egg to your readers, much to their amazement, shock and delight.

I’ve mostly heard of this particular technique being used in videogames and films, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use it in your story or comic too.

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This article was probably mostly stating the obvious, but I hope that it has been useful nonetheless.

How To Give Your Story or Comic That Special Quality

2013 Artwork Quality Sketch

Although I’ve partially covered this subject in my articles about emotions and creativity and geeking out about your stories, I thought that it was worth devoting an entire article to it. The only problem is that there isn’t really a word for what I’m trying to describe here and the specifics of it probably vary from person to person (since it’s fairly subjective), but I’ll try to explain it as well as I can. Hopefully it’ll at least make some kind of sense.

One thing I’ve noticed with all of my favourite computer games, films, novels and comics is that they have a certain quality to them. When I read/play/watch them, it almost feels like they’re a second home of sorts. Like a kind of sanctuary of sorts, another world which I can visit.

For me, works with this quality often also seem to have a very unique atmosphere too – it can be either futuristic, gothic and cynical or it can be kind of warm, loving and intriguing. Although it’s usually a combination of the two. They also, always show the world from a slightly different perspective too. They sometimes, but not always, have LGBT characters. They’re also works which I feel I can relate to as well. They often involve magic or sufficiently advanced technology. I could go on for a while……

Anyway, if something has all or some of these qualities then, chances are, I’m probably going to be a lifelong fan of it. Ok, let’s be honest here, I’ll probably fall in love with it.

The fact is that you probably have your own version of what this quality is.

But, if you’re not sure, then go and look at all of your favourite films/novels/games/comics etc.. and try to think about why they feel so special to you, why they fill your with a warm glow whenever you experience them and/or why they seem like the coolest thing in the world. Then write down a list of your answers to these questions.

Ideally, your answers should be general qualities which can apply to any story rather than just descriptions of particular parts of your favourite stories. For example, if you really like a particular character then try to think why you like them. What is it about that character which really appeals to you? What general quality about them or general thing about them? Is it their personality? Their sense of humour? Their fashion sense? etc… Just try to think of it in terms of general qualities.

Ok, now that you have your list of general qualities which make a story something that you really love – just try to include them in your own creative works. It’s as simple as that.

Just make sure that they are your own creative works – writing fan fiction can be fun, but for something to really express the unique blend of qualities which make a story feel special to you, you have to make it yourself. I mean, there’s only one of you on the planet.

The fact is, you won’t end up creating something which everyone will love. It probably won’t be a lowest-common-denominator mainstream story or comic. But, more importantly – you’ll end up creating something which you love. You’ll end up creating something which feels meaningful in the way that a lot of more mainstream things don’t. You’ll create something that is uniquely yours which you can share with the world. And, best of all, the people who really love your works are probably like-minded people. If you have fans, then they’ll be cool fans (and, remember, “cool” is what you personally find to be cool – not what the media tells you is “cool” at the moment).

Yes, some of this stuff is fairly obvious – I mean, most writers/artists tend to make things in the same genre or style as the stories they really like (it’s an almost instinctive thing). But, I hope that this article helped you to improve this process or at least clarified a few things about it.

How and Why You Should Add Crossovers To Your Stories and/or Comics

2013 Artwork Crossover Blog Sketch

I love crossovers (where something or someone from one story appears in another story), both when it comes to reading or seeing them in other people’s works and writing them myself.

Crossovers can range from being so small that you barely even notice them (eg: as an in-joke or a background detail in a comic) or they can be the basis for an entire story (such as the excellent “Star Trek: The Next Generation”/”Doctor Who” crossover comic). However, they can sometimes be difficult to write well and it can be difficult to know when and when not to include them.

They turn up surprisingly often in my work and there are numerous crossovers with my other comics in “Somnium” and even episode four of “CRIT” was basically just a geeky excuse to write a crossover story with an unpublished sci-fi story I wrote in 2009. Not to mention that the title illustration for this article also includes Suzy from “CRIT” too.

I could devote an entire article or series of articles to listing all of the crossovers in my comics and stories, but I might save that for another time. After all, this article is about helping you to write your own crossovers.

This article will focus on writing crossovers between your own stories rather than crossovers with other people’s stories. Whilst some very small crossovers with other people’s work in your own published may be covered by “fair use” and/or “fair dealing” exemptions in some countries, this is quite a complicated subject from all I’ve read about it. Larger crossovers with or between other people’s work are probably likely to be ok most of the time in non-profit fan fiction or fan art which is properly labelled as such though. However, for both creative and legal reasons I’ll be focusing exclusively on crossovers between your own stories.

There are ways to use other characters from other stories, for example if they’re from works which are out of copyright (eg: “Alice in Wonderland”, “Dracula” etc…) or if a character is clearly a parody of a character from another story (but has a different name and appearence) or if a character from another story is only alluded to briefly but never really named or shown. But, even so, I’ll only be focusing on crossovers between your own stories for artistic/creative reasons.

One benefit of adding crossovers to your story is that it subtly introduces your other stories to new readers and it is also a fun bonus (but hopefully not a service…) for fans of your other work too. Plus, crossovers are fun to write, in fact they’re either an essential part of or a natural extension of geeking out about your stories.

As well as this, crossovers also contain a sense of connection between your works. This helps the reader, as well as you, to see your entire body of work as a single thing with lots of different parts to it. The human brain works by making connections between neurones (or is it neurites or neurons? I’m really not sure), imagination often works by connecting two different ideas and the internet works through connections too (both between sites and between users). Connection is a basic part of humanity. Crossovers are connections.

The thing is that writing a good crossover can be more difficult than it looks. Although, if you read a reasonable amount of stories and/or comics or you watch a lot of TV, you’ve probably worked some of this stuff out for yourself anyway:

1) Sometimes “less is more” if your stories are very different: This is a good rule to follow with crossovers. If it isn’t appropriate to the general tone and storyline of your story, then it can be better to make your crossover quite subtle and small. Just have your other character standing in the background, or a memorable object from your other story appear briefly in one of the settings or have another character briefly mention or refer to (either directly or indirectly) something or someone from one of your other stories, without showing it.

This works best if you’re writing a crossover between two stories in very different genres or vastly different fictional universes. For example, having a character from your serious contemporary police procedural stories appear in your historical fiction stories about 16th century Europe would look incredibly contrived. There are, of course, ways of writing these kind of storylines, but on the whole, they only really work as novelty storylines, non-canon storylines and/or if they’re played for laughs.

However, you can use it for serious stories if you’re really clever about it. Going back to my earlier example, a good way to do a “serious” crossover between those two stories would be to have the protagonist in your realistic detective story (and I’m going to assume that it’s set in America, because many of the famous “police procedural” TV shows are usually set there) being called out to investigate a murder at a Renaissance fair where either the victim and/or the suspects bear an uncanny resemblence to the characters from your historical fiction stories, even though they’re technically different people.

In short, if your stories are very different – then you have to either play it for laughs, be very subtle or be very clever about how you write it.

2) Know your characters very well: This is essential for storytelling in general, but it’s even more important when you’re writing a crossover. One of the main appeals of reading crossovers is that you get to see how characters from different stories would get on with each other if they ever met. This means that you, the writer, have to have a very good sense of who your characters are and what their personalities are. If your characters suddenly start acting out of character during a crossover, then this can be extremely noticeable.

If you do this well, then it also helps to add characterisation to both of your characters at the same time and you can use it to subtly reveal things about one or both characters which may have been more dififcult or incongruous to reveal in each character’s induvidual storyline. Again, this can either be done seriously or for laughs or both.

3) Stories with crossovers should still work as standalone stories: What I mean by this is that a reader who has never read any of your other stories should still be able to understand and appreciate your crossover story. This may sound fairly simple, but ignoring this can confuse and alienate some of your newer readers. However, there are quite a few ways around this. Either make your crossovers small enough so that they won’t really be noticed by new readers or give a small amount of background for the character from your other story if they’re a main character in your crossover.

This doesn’t have to be their entire life story, but it should briefly give a new reader a sense of who they are and why they’re in your story. This can be done either by having the other character introduce themseleves or having the characters from your story briefly talk about the other character. Or some of the other character’s backstory can be briefly mentioned via dialogue with the main characters later in the story.

This can also be done by either pretty much just presenting the other character as a new character or by making their personality obvious from the context of the storyline. For example, in part of the first volume [“Preludes and Nocturnes“] of Neil Gaiman’s excellent “Sandman” comics, the main character needs to find a bag of magical sand which he has lost several decades earlier. In the end, he enlists the help of a private detective who specialises in the occult. This private detective wears a trenchcoat, is reasonably cynical and smokes like a chimney. His name is John Constantine.

If you didn’t know this last fact, it’d still work very well as a standalone story – but fans of “Hellblazer” (which, regrettably, I’ve only ever read a couple of issues of) would instantly recognise this as a crossover. By doing this, Neil Gaiman is adding something for “Hellblazer” fans, whilst still ensuring that people who have never heard of it before won’t end up being totally confused by this storyline.

4) Have a small motif or common object in many of your stories: This is an extremely subtle type of crossover, but it can work if you’re writing lots of very different stories or if a character-based crossover wouldn’t really be appropriate. It’s something which your fans can have fun finding and it’s something which marks your stories as being yours.

This doesn’t have to be anything major, in fact it works best if it’s something totally mundane (but with a rather distinctive name), but it provides a very subtle sense of connection and continuity between your works as a whole. Plus, it’s just good fun to do too. Some examples from my own comics and (mostly unpublished) fiction include Tangerine Frost [an orange ice-based drink, occasionally with vodka], a heavy metal band called “Twilight’s Requiem” and an old book called “The Forgotten Art of Oneiromancy”.

These don’t have to appear in literally every one of your stories (if it doesn’t fit into the context of your story) and it’s usually good to have at least a couple of them to choose from, but it can be a fun way to add your “signature” to your work.

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Anyway, if you didn’t already know this stuff, then I hope that this helps you to add crossovers to your work. If they’re done well, then crossovers can be a real treat for both you and your readers.

How “CRIT” Began…

I’ve always liked “making of” features on DVDs, they’re essential to any artist or writer or film-maker. Or maybe they’re essential for any artist, writer or film-maker? Or maybe both? Anyway, earlier today, it seemed like a cool idea to write an article about how my “CRIT” comic and fiction series came into being. Every creative project starts out differently and has it’s own story behind it and I thought that it may be interesting to show “the story behind the story”, so to speak….

"Overpass" by C.A.Brown - The drawing which would eventually become "CRIT" (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

“Overpass” by C.A.Brown – The drawing which would eventually become “CRIT” (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

It all started one night in late November 2012 with a drawing called “Overpass”. I’d been watching the music video for “This Corrosion” by The Sisters of Mercy on Youtube and I really loved this atmosphere of this video. In fact, it kind of put me into a 1980s kind of mood and it made me think of “Blade Runner” too – so I decided to draw something which captured this exact feeling and ended up with a drawing called “Overpass”.

Later on that night, I started daydreaming about a TV series I’d love to make if I could. My original idea for it was: ” ‘Blade Runner’ + ‘NCIS’ + Goths = Win! “, to quote my notes at the time.

I spent a while daydreaming about it and even I made a few notes at the time about what would be the perfect opening scene for this TV show:

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“We start with a panorama of a grimy industrial futuristic city. The buildings are complex. The sky is orange. There is dreamy synthesiser music in the background. As the camera pans across, it finally rests on a handsome man with blond/brown hair and a blue jacket leaning on some railings on the top of a building and looking dreamily into the distance. Slowly, the camera moves closer to his face, he is clearly thinking of something. When it [the camera] gets to a close-up, it lingers there. The music does not change.”

“After about ten seconds, it begins to zoom out/move away. As it does, a red spot suddenly appears in the centre of the man’s forehead and a slow motion crimson starburst of blood explodes from the back of his head. The music does not change. He begins to fall, muffled screams can be heard in the distance as the screen fades to black and the opening credits roll”

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At the time, I thought it would probably fall into the category of “good ideas I’ll never follow up on”. A while later that night, I did another 1980s-style cyberpunk drawing called “System Core” which would feature a character who would later become Darius:

"System Core" by C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

“System Core” by C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

The thing was, I just couldn’t get this idea for a TV series out of my mind and, the next night, I drew a storyboard illustration of the opening scene I’d described in my notes (although it isn’t particularly gruesome and is in black and white too, I decided to label it as “mature content” on DA since it’s basically a comic about someone being shot in the head).

Later that night, I did another drawing based on the same idea called “A Heartless Crime” – it was kind of different to my original idea for the TV series and it kind of looked more like a scene from a more conventional cyberpunk comic/TV show/videogame than the gothic kind of TV show I’d originally envisaged. I decided to include the character from “Overpass” (who would later become Suzy) as well as a random goth guy (who would later become Jake). The thing was, this drawing seemed to have more of a story behind it than most of my drawings do and it seemed intriguing enough to make me want to draw more things related to this idea.

"A Heartless Crime (Concept Art)" By C.A.Brown  (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

“A Heartless Crime (Concept Art)” By C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

The fact was, like with any good idea, I only had the vaguest and haziest idea about it when I started. This may not be the case with every writer or artist, but for me, finding a good creative idea can be like playing a 1990s stragegy game. When you start out, you can see a small part of the entire map, but most of it is covered by fog or darkness and the map only reveals itself gradually when you explore more and more of it.

I had a general sense of some things, like what the world of this TV series would look like and what the main characters looked like, but I had no clue what their names were, what the backstory behind the series was or what it would even be called. But, driven by curiosity, I spent the next couple of weeks drawing lots of “concept art” (this was also kind of how “Damania” got started in spring 2011 and summer/autumn 2012 too) which kind of helped me to look at possible storylines for “episodes” of the show as well as work out what the ‘world’ of this untitled series would look like. I was fascinated. I could even vaguely imagine what the DVD boxset for the first series would look like.

Somewhere along the way, I also decided to incorporate the two mega-corporations (Dextek and SYL-Corp) from an unpublished novella called “Ephemera” that I’d written in 2010 and then I decided to add a third mega-corporation which the main characters would work for. I eventually decided to call this corporation “Makerton – Riyadi” and it was kind of inspired by the “Weyland – Yutani Corporation” from The “Aliens” movies.

If anyone is interested, all of my concept art can be found here – although it may contain spoilers for possible future “CRIT” storylines (you can see the beginnings of episodes 1,2,3 & 6 in this gallery). The only new addition to this gallery since I started making the comic is a short animation showing some of the backstory to the series.

However, I started to get quite frustrated about the fact that I didn’t really have the knowledge or money to make a TV series and, by the time that the gold pencil I’d been using to colour in a lot of the backgrounds was only about an inch long, I felt completely worn out. I wanted to draw other things. So, I abandoned the idea and consigned it to the category of ‘great ideas which will never get made’ .

Then I got back into drawing comics again.

It started with “Damania” and then “Anachrony” and by about mid-December 2012, I thought that I’d have time to make another comic before Christmas. Of course, my untitled sci-fi series idea came into my mind and I looked at my concept art again and facepalmed a couple of times. It had been a comic all along!

But, I still couldn’t think of a title for it. Eventually, distraught, I decided to distract myself with sarcastic reviews of old videogames on Youtube. Anyway, when I was watching a review of “Dino Crisis 2” (which I’d played in early-mid 2010), the reviewer made a sarcastic comment about the special forces unit which one of the main characters belonged to (called “T.R.A.T” ). For some reason, this name stuck in my mind and it wasn’t long before my mind had come up with something which sounded similar to it.

And, after that, the rest is history….

2012 CRIT Episode 1 - Cover small

Geek Out About Your Stories

2013 Artwork Geek out blog sketch

This is probably fairly self-explanatory and I’d be extremely surprised if it hasn’t been said before – but an imporant way of imbuing your stories (whether they’re told through art and/or prose)… with a real sense of passion and depth is really simple…. Geek out about your stories. I mean it. If you aren’t the most obsessive fan of your own work, then how can you expect anyone else to be?

Maybe this applies to some genres more than others, but the basic principle is still quite important – you have to be the number one fan of your stories, you have to be a walking encyclopedia of every small background detail in your stories (even the ones which never make it into your actual stories), you have to get excited about every small amusing background detail (and feel a sense of excitement when you add them too, maybe more than people will feel when they read it), you have to imagine what your stories would be like if they were made into a film or a TV series (even down to what film certificate the DVD boxset would probably get – by the way, “Somnium” would probably get a 15 certificate. Whereas “CRIT“, “Yametry Run” and “Anachrony” would probably get a 12 certificate etc…), what a videogame adaptation of your stories would look like, what the Wikipedia & TV Tropes pages about your stories would look like etc……..

If this all sounds slightly strange and you don’t quite feel (and, yes, it’s more of a feeling when it’s at it’s best) what I’m talking about, then it’s fairly simple really. Think about whatever really fascinates you, whatever you could give a one-hour lecture about without any notice, what really animates you when you start talking about it etc… then imagine feeling that same emotion about your own writing. It’s really that simple. Probably.

What this all really comes down to is immersing yourself in your stories and the world of your stories, the mythology of your stories, how they relate to your other stories (and crossovers can be seriously fun to write) with a sense of absolute enthusiasm. This is what makes great stories. This is what makes stories feel real – like an actual place which people can visit, another world which people can dip into for “just five minutes” and then emerge an hour later. This is the kind of thing which will make other people want to keep reading your work and, most importantly, to geek out about it too.

It also comes down to enthusiasm too – you have to be enthusiastic about your own work and this, of course, leads to the rather old and often-repeated advice about writing the kind of stories which you want to read. It’s a very good piece of advice and about the only way to really produce your best work. The fact is that geeking out about your stories is a really really good way to stay enthusiastic about writing (or possibly just a byproduct of already being enthusiastic – or possibly both of these things), even on days when you’re not really feeling that enthusiastic about writing/drawing any more of them – and any writer/artist who says that they never experience this is blatantly lying.

Plus, I’ll let you in on a secret – it also makes you feel wonderfully, for want of a better word, omniscient when you do this too. Seriously, being the one person in the world who knows the most about your stories, who even knows everything which didn’t make it onto the page, who knows everything about the world of your stories (ok, this probably applies more to sci-fi/fantasy stories…), who knows what is going to happen before your readers do, who knows exactly what all of the characters are thinking etc…. Trust me, really geeking out about your stories is worth it just for this feeling alone. It’s really something.

Then again, if you write, draw comics or tell stories in any format then you probably know all of this anyway….

(Although, I should probably point out one side-effect about this. You may end up talking about your stories a lot . Some people might find this to be annoying. I’m really not sure what advice to give about this, but I thought that I’d mention it anyway.)

(Wow! This blog entry almost wrote itself, this didn’t happen with my last blog entry. I guess I was geeking out about this one a lot more.)