The Way of the Word

25. February 2010

Price, Value and Comics Piracy

Filed under: comics,Commentary,general,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 09:48
Tags: , , , ,

Over on Twitter, a comics creator frequently rants on about how media pirating is illegal and how they steal from him. I’m not disputing that. Pirating media through P2P sites is illegal, and technially theft, and the people who actually produce the comics lose out when pirates up- and download comics instead of buying them.

Yesterday, he said something with which I disagreed: he said that the publisher determines the value of the comic, not the customer.

I suppose it depends on your definition of value. From where I sit, the publisher determines the price. That can be done objectively: you know how much it costs to produce the comic, you know how much it will cost you to distribute it, you factor in a bit of a profit for yourself, and you have the price.

Value, however, is a very subjective thing. It’s not defined by a price tag. You can say that the comic on the table is worth $3.99. All that means is that it’s worth that much to you. For me, it might be a priceless gem, or something that I wouldn’t even use as toilet paper.

Since this is my blog, we use my definition of the terms: price is a more or less objective worth assigned to a product, while value is a very subjective worth assigned to an item.

So what does that have to do with online comics piracy?

I don’t have any empirical evidence. Obviously, nobody has done a proper survey yet (to my knowledge).  So take this with the proverbial grain of salt.

Based on my gut feeling, there are several types of comics pirates:

– There are those who feel entitled to get their comics as cheaply as possible, preferably for free. So they download them. The question is, is that really a lost sale? I wouldn’t be surprised if these people didn’t buy comics anyway but instead read them in the store and put them back on the shelf after reading.

– Then there are the addicts. Those who just have to keep up with their favorite fictitious universe. Only they can’t afford to buy all the titles that come out. So they buy those to which they assign the greatest subjective value, and pirate the rest. These are lost sales, because these readers would probably have spent a lot of money on more comics.

– Then there are those who follow the buzz. They hear about a big comic book event and want to check it out. I don’t think these are lost sales, because if they weren’t downloading the comics, they would either check them out in the store, or not bother at all. However, these might be added sales. If they follow the buzz and check it out, they might end up buying a comic (as a single or later TPB) they otherwise wouldn’t have.

– You shouldn’t ignore the protesters. These are readers who download comics because they want to protest… well, something. Maybe the cover price, maybe don’t like the creative team, or the print format. These fall into the lost sales group. Because for all the bluster with which they pretent to be voting with their wallets — they can’t bear to stay away. Without the option of downloading, these readers would still buy the comics, but with the mindset that they are actually buying the right to complain about them.

– It’s similar with the computer geeks. Those who download comics because they want to read them on the computer. Because, you know, actual physical comics are either icky or so 20th century. They want their comics digital, or else. I think that these too are lost sales.

If you wonder about yours truly: I stopped reading monthly comics some time ago. It wasn’t just that they were getting too expensive, I also didn’t get the bang for my buck that I wanted. When I spend $3.00, I want to get more than just 2 minutes of entertainment out of something. It didn’t help matters that the comics creators told stories that I wasn’t interested in reading. I still keep up with two regular comic book series, and I still buy the occasional TPB, but other than that I’m done with comics. I’m not interested in downloading comics, because reading things on my computer doesn’t match my comic book reading habits.

Random aside: these days, I’m more incined towards Francobelgian comics. Which are also way too expensive. So I either buy them from resellers (a lost sale to the publisher, but I refuse to pay €12.00 or more for what is, essentially, a 48 page comic) or I read them without buying them — at the library.

So, what can be done about comics piracy? One thing is clear: you can’t just keep shouting at everyone that it is theft and illegal. Everyone already knows that. All you accomplish with this is that you make yourself look stupid and out of touch with the modern world.

My suggestions would the this:

  • Do not insist that you, as the publisher, decide the value of your product. All you decide is the price. Acknowledge that it is the customer who decides if your product is worth the price you charge. Respect your customer that much.
  • Gather round all the little downloaders. The Minutemen and the DCP pirates. Talk with them about why they do this, and find out just why people download comics. You need to understand the mentality if you want to do something about it. Sure, you can shut them down with the force of law, but is that really a long-term solution?
  • Offer good quality, preferably DRM-free downloads of your comics at a fair price. If you want an example for how to do it right, check out Alex Decampi’s and Christine Larson’s Valentine.
  • Wait, you cry, if I remove the DRM, then anyone can make illegal copies of my comics! I need to prevent that. Heh. Yeah. As if you’re doing such a great job right now, right? Don’t consider DRM-free an invitation to pirate. Anyone who will want to do that will hack your DRM and put it online, or perhaps even just scan a physical copy. If you can advertise your digital comics as DRM-free, however, you can use that to convince your customers that they actually own the digital product they buy from you.
  • Make sure that your comic is actually worth what you want for it. Remember, as the publisher, you do not decide what the value is. That’s up to the customer. All you can determine is the price.

In any case, one thing is important: don’t criminalize and alienate your readers. You want their money. You want their business. To get both, you need to find out who these people are, why they do it, and what you can do to make them stop wanting to do it.

22. February 2010

Uploads

Filed under: Uncategorized,writing — jensaltmann @ 16:17
Tags: ,

Mankind hadn’t exactly waited for this with baited breath, but the human elite — the rich, the beautiful, the powerful — seized the moment anyway:

The day when immortality became practical. This specific kind of immortality, however, meant that those who chose it had to leave their bodies behind. Instead, they would digitize and upload their minds to the global computer network.

It didn’t bother them that it was an immortality of the mind. Well, it didn’t bother most of them. There were a few professional beauties who balked at the idea of literally losing their looks. For most of the human elite, however, it was far more important that they could preserve their essence. Their minds.

Their influence.

Some people wondered if uploading a human mind with all its knowledge and experience really had to be as expensive as it was. Most of those who wondered concluded that no, probably not.  The steep price, which made Uploading unaffordable for the regular working Joe and Jane was, they believed, merely the elite’s way of keeping it exclusive.

A year after Uploading began, the elite had abandoned their bodies. Their minds roamed cyberspace. From there, they saw everything. They heard everything. They controlled everything. Even the politicians and the captains of industry were surprised at how much more powerful they had become in digital form.

Until the day when someone uploaded a virus that erased the digital minds and crashed the global network beyond restoration.

19. February 2010

Stepfather of the Animation Age

Filed under: Animation,Commentary,general,movies,TV — jensaltmann @ 10:20
Tags: , , , ,

My wife and I translate Japanese anime for a living. This month, we had worked on two very different anime series. One was from the early 1980s, the other was from 2009. My wife asked me about the target groups for those two shows. Specifically, the ages. Because the anime from the 1980s was much, much simpler. Not just the design or the technical aspects. The voice actors made far less effort towards realism, there were hardly any sounds like sighs or grunts or groans. The stories were simple and straightforward. The new show was essentially a regular action-adventure show, only animated instead of live-action. The characters and themes, the entire storyline, were complex and thought through. I guessed that the old show would be tagged for ages 12 and up, while the minimum age for the new show would be set as 16.

Animation really isn’t for kids anymore. It used to be, though, when I was young. Back then, animation was for children. And rightly so. There were programs like Sealab 2020 and Star Trek the Animated Series and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. Or, if you prefer, Scooby Doo and Casper. Or even Captain Future. The following decade saw shows like Thundercats or Transformers. But even in the 1980s, these shows were fairly simple matters. By todays standards, they were childish.

Disney had absolute dominion of the feature animation market, and made sure that their animated movies were suitable for even the youngest children.

When you grew into your teens, you had become too old for animation. At least you wouldn’t admit to liking it. But that was okay, animation didn’t seem to age with you, so you left it behind for the younger generation.

These days, however, most animation is on a level where adults can enjoy it as much as children. I am not only talking about anime, which has grown up considerably. Or would you let a child watch something as scary, complex and bizarre as Paranoia Agent?

Instead, modern animation is written on different levels. The Incredibles, Up, Wall-E have layers that a child can enjoy, while adults can enjoy these movies as well, if for different reasons. Even the standard Disney animated movie is far more complex and even violent than its predecessors.

What happened?

Now, bear in mind that I don’t have insider knowledge, so I can’t know for certain. I’m operating from my own memory here, and I can only speak for the western world. I’m sure that in Japan, anime simply became increasingly adult and complex to meet the demands of their evolving marketplace. I imagine it was a process similar to the increasing complexity of US comic books.

I believe that what happened here in the west was Ralph Bakshi. Fritz the Cat

Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, to name just three of his earlier works, were quite anarchistic and subversive films that used animation as a form of expression. The films taught their audience that just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it has to be for children.

When Bakshi served the audiences with The Lord of the Rings (1978)

and Fire and Ice (1983),

he went beyond the fringe movements and entered the mainstream. Suddenly, everyone got to see that animation was capable of a lot of the same things as live-action movies. Teenagers, who used to think that animation was beneath them, rediscovered a whole new world.

If you look at the release dates of these movies, one thing becomes obvious: the people who were young when Bakshi’s movies came out are now themselves working in animation. (Even if, like me, they only translate anime.) Modern animation doesn’t just reflect the different technological possibilities, it also reflects the altered perspective of a generation.

16. February 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

Back to the drawing board.

I have procrastinated for quite a few days now. Until I finally admitted yesterday that I simply don’t want to go back to finishing Revenge of the Walking Dead.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that the third act of the story bores me. If it bores even me, then what hope is there for the reader to enjoy. So I took a long hard look at my outline yesterday, and decided that I need to revise the third act on outline level.

The problem is that while I have spent the first act slowly building towards the rise of the walking dead, and the second act setting up what I have called my zombie apocalypse… there are simply too many problems with the third act:

– My zombies aren’t very scary.

– My protagonist is too passive.

– I veer too far away from the zombie aspect of the tale, and go too deep into the voodoo aspects.

The last thing is easily explained: when I did my research, I became increasingly fascinated by the scariness of voodoo and hoodoo. When I wrote the outline, that fascination crept into the story. Unfortunately, when I reached that point in the story, all that voodoo hoodoo didn’t really make for an exciting conclusion. Zombies are a physical menace, and spending the third act of the novel looking at a priestess doing magic doesn’t really fit into the story.

The other problem is that my zombies aren’t really scary. I based them on the voodoo research I did for the novel, filtered through my own ideas. So what I have here is an unstoppable army of 50 slow-moving zombies that kill their victims without spawning more zombies.

The question is, how can I make them scarier? I could make them move faster, which I don’t want to (I prefer the slow-moving kind, for various reasons). I could increase their numbers (which, for various reasons, is impossible), or I could make them infectious (which, as I have set things up, is equally impossible).

Off all of the above, the scariest (and easiest) solution to the problem would be to make the zombies infectious. Which would also resolve the problem of making the third act less esoteric. It does, however, raise the problem of how to defeat the zombie threat.

I actually have some ideas on that, I just need to figure out how to make them work.

Another problem is that I really need to kill one character who, in outline, was supposed to survive.  That character has a rollercoaster history: I initially created to kill him. When I outlined, he became somewhat sympathetic, so I let him life. When I wrote his scenes, I remembered why I had originally wanted to kill him.

So, basically, I need to rewrite the third act to

– make the zombies scarier

– reduce the voodoo esotericism

– make my protagonist more active

– and kill that one particular character.

Shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

12. February 2010

Taking in the Trash

Recently, I got it into my head that I wanted the movie MegaForce on DVD. The movie hit the big screens when I was a teenager, and I remember liking it. I remember liking it in a similar way to the Mad Max movies and their Italian rip-offs.

Actually, I’m not sure the Mad Max movies belong in this category. Well, the third one does, but not the first two. Anyway.

Some research turned up a Dutch DVD of MegaForce. Armed with that knowledge, I went to my favorite DVD store here in Hamburg, Hard to Get DVD, and asked them to get me a copy.

“Did you already call me about this?” “No, why?” “Well, somebody did. That’s why I know it’s no longer available.”

The first question had given me the thrill to know that someone else shared my questionable tastes.  The second crished my hopes at revisiting this trash gem.

“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” the store owner suggested. He was right, of course. As I said, I was still a teenager when I saw it and liked it perhaps because it was so stupid. The fact that I remember it as stupid should tell you something. As should the fact that I also liked Buckaroo Banzai. And why I think I should be ashamed, let me point to two other movies that I used to like back in my teens: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and The Werewolf of Washington. I had seen each of these movies only once, KISS/Phantom at the cinema, Werwolf on late-night TV. In both of these cases, I eventually found VHS tapes as an adult. I bought them gleefully, popped them into my VCR…

“I used to like this? What was I on?”

That’s easily answered: I was on puberty and its aftereffects. Seeing those movies 15 – 20 years after I originally did, I no longer saw them with the eyes of a teenager, but rather through the (I would like to think) more refined tastes of an adult. An adult who knew much more about good storytelling. An adult who was far more demanding of his entertainment than the teenager was.

Although, to be fair, I have retained my love of trashy entertainment. I’m still working on completing my set of Gojira DVDs, for example. My all-time favorite movies still include Howard the Duck and Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins.

I have learned two things from this: one is that I think I have a better understanding and higher tolerance of teenagers who run into and love movies that I consider awful and horrible. I used to run into and love movies that I now consider horrible. So what if kids today love, say, Transformers, even if I (and everyone with anything resembling good taste) hates the movies? The franchise is not made for me. It’s made for the generation that, when I was a teenager, would have gone to see MegaForce or Kiss and the Phantoms. I need to remember to be tolerant. They will eventually outgrow that, as I did, and then it will be their turn to be shocked and appalled at the horribly braindead stuff their children will go to see.

The other thing that I have learned is that while I might have outgrown MegaForce, I still retain enough love for B-, C- and Z-grade trash movies that there is still a little bit of hope that I might still enjoy MegaForce if I got to see it again. Just like Buckaroo Banzai, or Fire And Ice. It seems there is still enough of that teenager left in me to truly enjoy such simple, trashy movies.

11. February 2010

Decisions, Decisions

Last year, I created, wrote and even drew the webcomic Made of Fail. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, chek out those links to your right. Take your time. I’ll wait.

Done? Fine. Let’s continue, then.

After almost 50 strips, I quit. I wanted to write a novel. I’ve written novels before. Some of them were even published. I missed novel writing, plus I had this fun idea. But I couldn’t manage to continue Made of Fail and write a novel at the same time. Both are very much full-time pursuits. At least, considering that both are unpaid efforts, they are full-spare-time pursuits.

So I made up my mind. I stopped doing Made of Fail, but in such a way that I retained the option to get back to it some other time.

Some developments in the months since then made me decide that yes, there will definitely be more Made of Fail, probably starting in May. I want to finish the novel first, which I expect will require another month, then there’s something else I need to finish, then I’ll sit down again on Made of Fail Season 2.

One of the things about Made of Fail is that it’s based on real life. Every character in the strip is inspired by at least one person; some like Amy combine character traits of several real-world people. A lot of the situations I describe in the strip actually happened, if not excatly like this, then similarly. Or at the very least they comment/spoof/snark on something that really happened.

Yesterday, I considered changing my schedule. I’m currently in a bad place in regards to Revenge of the Walking Dead. And when I sat down yesterday to read the newspaper, I discovered two articles that were full of Fail. So much so that I was tempted to just drop the novel and get back to Made of Fail right away. I could hardly wait to spoof those two events.

But. I know me. If I drop the zombie novel, I’ll never get back to it. So I had to choose: relaunch Made of Fail with these absolutely incredible Fail stories right now, or follow the initial schedule?

I decided to sleep on it. The decision wasn’t really all that hard, when push came to shove. I’m going to stick to the original schedule. If the ideas from those two articles are really that strong, they’ll keep. They are general enough, not topical enough, that I need to do them right now or risk that nobody remembers the real-life events by the time I get around to it. I clipped and filed the two articles.

There was also the factor that I need some more time to decide where I will post the next Made of Fail strips. If I had jumped the gun, I would have had to decide right now, without the opportunity of considering/tryring out other options.

So, I’m afraid that Made of Fail Season 2 won’t launch before May, just as I had already decided. I’ll finish Revenge of the Walking Dead first. Watch this space for further developments.

8. February 2010

Mystery-ous Ways

Filed under: Commentary,review,writing — jensaltmann @ 10:18
Tags: , , , , , ,

I won’t name the novel or the writer that inspired today’s post. I didn’t finish reading the novel, so I don’t think it’s my place to write a proper review.

Let me just say that the novel is by a popular writer in the mystery genre. It’s a mystery novel. According to the sticker on the book cover, it’s a bestseller.

So why did I not like it? Why did I put it down and stop reading at about the halfway point?

It’s not that I don’t like the novel’s approach. It’s a bit reminiscent of Agatha Chrisie, and I like the Queen of Crime’s work. In this novel, there are a handful of suspects (plus the victim) in a remote, inaccessible place. Nobody could get in or out without a major effort. (The investigating police officers are helicoptered in.) It’s therefore obvious that the killer has to be part of a small group of people.

The novel clocks in at not quite 500 pages. The writer spends the first hundred or so introducing the characters. It’s obvious almost right away who the victim will be: it is of course the one person who is hated by everyone else. The writer takes her time to show the relationship of the victim-to-be with the various other people in the remote place. Then the backstory is wrapped up, the police arrive, and the story begins.

It sometimes happens that I start to read a novel, and then put it aside, and whenever I think of picking it up again, I find reasons not to. It usually takes a few days until I realize that I simply don’t want to read the novel. That happened with this one. Now, as I said, I had no problem with the approach. I actually like this kind of mystery. Usually. The writing style was a bit old-fashioned, but okay. I did, however, at about 200 pages in, start to pay more attention to what could have been edited out.

When I decided to give up on this novel, I peeked ahead to see if I had correctly deduced the killer from the clues planted in the first 100 pages. To my surprise, I was wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t always get it right. But… The novel had some fringe characters. You know the type. They are in the background, completely unimportant to the plot, their only purpose being to provide a bit of local color.

Perhaps the writer thought she was being original by making one of these fringe characters the killer. One of those characters who are mentioned once or twice, given perhaps one line of dialog, and then vanish into the background.

Knowing this changed the game completely. Because it meant that the first 100 pages of this novel hadn’t set up the crime, they hadn’t laid subtle clues for the reader to detect the killer… The real purpose of those first 100 pages had been to set up the red herrings. Everybody except for the character who turned out to be the killer had been given a motive for killing the victim.

From where I sit, this could be made to work — if the writer had just dropped those first 100 pages. If the detectives had found out all of the red herrings in the course of their investigation. While I’m sure that the next 250 pages would have provided all the clues needed to reveal the actual killer, I felt more than just annoyed at having wasted my time on reading 100 pages of, essentially, filler. When I realized that, I understood why the novel had bored me. Even if I had not consciously noticed, a part of me had felt that the novel was being padded, as if a required word count had to be met. This novel is one example for something that would have been much stronger and more enjoyable at half its length. As it was, it overstayed its welcome, and I felt… well, kind of cheated. Tricked.

There is a truism about writing that says, “start the story as early as you have to and as late as you can.” That truism is broken here. This story would have been stronger if it had started with the arrival of the police, after the murder had already been committed.

The writer in question is rather famous in her genre. After this experience however, I don’t think I’ll read her work again.

5. February 2010

Review: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

USA 2010. Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Jake Abel. Based on the novel by Rick Riordan. Runtime: 119 minutes

You take one part Harry Potter and one part Hercules – the Legendary Journeys. You shake, rattle and roll. You let it stew for a while.

Then you get Percy Jackson.

In The Lightning Thief, the first Percy Jackson adventure, we get to meet Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman). A less than ordinary teenager. He is dyslexic and has ADD. His best friend, Grover, walks on crutches. His mother is married to one bastard of a stepfather. Stepfather? Yup. Percy has never even met his real father. Then his life is suddenly turned upside down, when monsters out of Greek mythology come to kill him. The reason is that someone has stolen Zeus’s (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, and for some unexplained reason everyone is convinced that Percy is the thief. Percy’s mother (Catherine Keener)  and Grover (Brandon Jackson) take him to Camp Half-Blood. This is where the children of gods and mortals are trained. This is where Percy finds out that he is the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). When it turns out that Hades (Steve Coogan) has taken Percy’s mother hostage and is willing to trade her for the lightning bolt (which, remember, Percy doesn’t have), Percy goes off on a quest to rescue her. Grover, who is really a satyr charged to protect Percy, and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Athene, join him. The quest takes Percy across the US, forces him to fight various monsters from Greek mythology, takes him to Hades, and finally leads to a confrontation with the real lightning thief.

The basics seem familiar: a young man with a deeper history than he thinks is taken to a special school for children with his abilities. He goes on a quest with his best friends, one a boy, the other a girl, and fights impossible supernatural odds. So far, it sounds like Harry Potter. It is, however, a classic YA template. Percy Jackson goes one step further than Harry Potter, because he has to save the world right away: If Zeus doesn’t get his lightning back, there will be war between the gods, and the result would be the destruction of the world. The story has a suitably epic feel to it. The cast is solid, talented and engaged. Liam Neeson will have a problem in matching Sean Bean as Zeus. Steve Coogan’s Hades and Rosario Dawson’s Persephone have so much fun and chemistry that you forget there’s anyone else in the movie in the scenes they are in. Logan Lerman, despite his age not exactly a newcomer, is terrific as Percy Jackson. Alexandra Daddario shines as Anabeth. The only thing is that Grover is not as funny as he is clearly supposed to be, but that isn’t the fault of Brandon T. Jackson.

The sets work incredibly well. The Hades that our three heroes visit comes across as a truly creepy and sad place. Olympus is impressive.

I haven’t read the novel this is based on, so I have to rely on hearsay in regards to how much the movie deviates from the novel. As someone who came to this series without preconceptions, it worked incredibly well for me. It was fun and epic feel, it had a sense of drama and hight adventure.  The movie knows its Greek myths and legends, but approaches them playfully, similar to the way Hercules – The Legendary Journeys did.

There are five Percy Jackson novels, and if this movie does well, the others will also be filmed. After seeing The Lightning Thief, I hope it does well, because I want to see this team film the other novels as well.

If you like Harry Potter and/or Hercules – The Legendary Journeys and/or Disney’s Hercules, then this movie is for you.

Verdict: very recommended.

PS: Wait for a minute or so after the movie ends for the epilogue. It’s worth it, and they are smart enough to not make the audience sit through 10 minutes of end credits for a 30 second epilog.

4. February 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

I looked at my January numbers yesterday and found out that I only wrote a bit over 5 000 words in January.

That’s not a lot. At least not on the surface of things. Basically, I had hoped to do 5 000 words a week.

So what happened?

One thing is that there were some personal things that kept me from working for about two weeks. Well, not entirely from working, I still did the paid work. But they kept me from doing unpaid, spec writing. (Spec writing being the type of writing you do when you don’t know if anyone will buy the manuscript when you’re done.)

The other thing is that I actually wrote a lot more than those 5 000 words. I wrote two or three times that amount.

The way I work is that I revise constantly. I don’t just hack out the first draft and fix things in revision when the novel is done. I can’t make myself do that.  Earlier this week, I wrote the start of a chapter three times. I deleted it twice and started from scratch before I realized what was wrong. So I went back, deleted a longer passage in a previous chapter, rewrote it, then returned to the chapter I was actually working on and, lo and behold, now I got it to work.

By the time I returned to that chapter, I actually had fewer words than I had had before. The revision had actually shortened it.

When I called it a night, the manuscript was about 600 words longer than it was when I had started. But they were good, useable words, not just chaff that I would need to fix in revision. Those 600 words were the result of writing, deleting and revising a lot of other material. I think that in total, I wrote at least twice those 600 words.

When I finish the manuscript, it will technically be the first draft. But because I constantly tinker with it while I progress, it’s actually closer to being the fourth or fifth. When I’m done with this draft, I will print it out and revise it once more. I need to do that for continuity and cohesion. In one of my first efforts at writing a novel, I had a character whose age ran from the mid-40 to the mid-50s, depending on which chapter you were reading.  The final revision will see me fix a lot such continuity errors. I’ll also fix phrasings where I feel I have a better way to put it. Then there will be one more revision when I apply the printout revision to the manuscript, and then I’ll be ready to look for a publisher.

3. February 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

“Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me today?”

Sometimes things look good on paper, but they don’t work in practice.

Let’s take my idea on humanizing the zombie tragedy as an example. Revenge of the Walking Dead has 50 zombies. Not all of them are named. They don’t need to be. But I had the idea of taking 10 or so of them and writing one or two pages that introduce who they were in life. When I wrote the outline, I had also put in that there would be a couple of nights in-between the first and second zombie outbreak.

Neither worked.

By the time I introduced the fourth zombie, I got bored with introducing their backstories. They provided a human touch, but they didn’t advance the story. So I changed things a bit. I expanded their chapters, presenting the initial attacks of the second outbreak from the zombies’ perspectives. That worked better, but it quickly became old as well. So I decided to quit while I was ahead and get on with the story. Since the zombie-centric chapters both advance the story and make clear under what rules my zombies work, I decided to leave them in. But any more would have slowed everything down too much.

As the story progressed, I also discovered that I had to drop the “several nights later” idea. The timetable didn’t work. Things had developed in such a fashion that my characters would have drifted too far apart by then. Christopher Price, the protagonist, would have been long gone. The Hoodoo witch would have had time to prepare something to fight the apocalypse. And that would never do. I needed Christopher in Jaquard, and I needed Mama Loa at least a bit unprepared. The solution was obvious: I needed to step up the timetable. Instead of a few nights after the murder of Tom Gillette, the zombies rise the next day, and do their killing until that night. Instead of being stretched over a few days, the main story now takes place within 48 hours.

That turns out to have another advantage: the story moves faster. The characters are forced to react without being able to plan or prepare, and events move so fast that their plans get screwed up anyway. The shorter timetable makes the story more exciting.

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