Two years after finishing Chapter 1 of Herogirl, I’ve finally finished the second chapter! When I finished Chapter 1, I wrote up some reflections on problems I ran into and lessons learned, and I’d like to do it again here.

  1. Just do it & stick to your deadline

    I told myself this last time, and I’m telling myself this again. This, by far, was probably the most important thing in helping me complete another chapter. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still a beginner at all of this, but completing 1.5 chapters of Herogirl did not make it easier to make pages. I still balked and second guessed myself about pretty much every page. However, no one can tell you what to do. It’s your story. A more experienced person can jump in and give you tips of dialogue here and camera angles there, but they can’t tell you how to write your story (otherwise, it wouldn’t be yours!). So, the only thing you can do is keep going and learn by doing — not just through sketches and scripts but also by forcing yourself to commit to plot and character by posting the stuff you make.

  2. Build your world around simple concepts

    This one is another throwback to Chapter 1 reflections. There, I talked about I used the idea of Spheres to come up other storytelling elements — for example, to explain why Auto is “the chosen one” and why Lothar is after her.

    In Chapter 2, we start to learn a little more about the Heralds. I knew in the beginning I wanted some sort of pantheon for the heroes to interact with in some way (a la Okami), but just throwing giant magical animals into the story seemed kinda boring (and totally out of nowhere). After doodling a drawing of Auto holding a banner, I thought about heraldry and realized I could use various ideas relating to heraldry (such as the animals and attitudes/positions and history of design) that I could use to give the Heralds a bit more dimension. The results of using this as inspiration hasn’t really cropped up yet, but it’s nice to have a solid place to draw ideas from.

  3. Know your storytelling strengths and preferences

    A big reason I had such a huge break in Chapter 2 was because I was unsure about what should happen between Gear and Auto leaving the Citadel and arriving at Martencrown. I had this rough script where they run into some corrupt Herald monster things, but I kept putting off drawing the pages for that fight because I reallllly didn’t want to draw fight scenes! Eventually, I realized that I’d much rather draw Gear and Auto solving mysteries and interacting with people, and re-wrote the story a bit to showcase them doing that.I also had to think about the purpose of including or excluding scenes — I originally had written in a fight scene to showcase how awesome Gear is at fighting, but it turned out it wasn’t that important to show (at least at this point in the story). It didn’t advance the plot, so I had to throw it out the window. Instead, we get to jump straight to some scenes where Gear is explaining some stuff about the Heralds, which advances the plot and shows that he knows quite a bit about what is going on. As Robert McKee would say, scenes should perform double duty!

  4. Write in arcs

    If there was one thing I think went well with Chapter 2, I think it would be that I successfully wrote the chapter in a self-contained arc. We have a central cast of characters related to the arc that meet Auto and Gear, a setting where all the action takes place, and a problem (super scary Winter Lion) that is resolved by the end of the chapter (Winter Lion goes away) which also advances the overall plot (Auto and Gear’s quest to find all the Heralds). Having these mini-stories per chapter, I think, keep the story interesting, allow for a fresh set of faces and characters with each arc, and make it easier for me, as the writer, to not freak out about the larger plot so much — I have a smaller story to focus on.

  5. Think about page-level stories, too

    Another thing I think I got better at this time around was having miniature stories on each “page”. I think this is really important, especially for webcomics, because potential new readers will see one page before they decide to read any more of your comic. For this chapter, I tried to create pages that a) posed a question, b) advances either the plot or knowledge of the world, and c) ended with a response to the initial question, which could be another question.

    This page is an example of how I tried to do this. The beginning of the page sets up a question that followed from the previous page (the characters unsure or anxious about potential danger Gear had mentioned). The middle of the page provides us with some information that gives us a little information about Martencrown and Warrick. Finally, the end of the page “answers” the question of potential danger by upping the stakes a bit — Mina has disappeared, presumably having gone to the place of danger.

  6. Have character sheets and location references

    A practical note — have something that show full body designs of your characters! Do the same with locations — draw rough maps and layouts of places the characters are going to be. I did not do this (and still haven’t because I’m terrible) and I spent a lot of time flipping through past pages to remember whether Auto was wearing boots or regular shoes or how the shrine area was laid out. Not a good use of time, and helps with the balking problem, because you’ve already thought about how to draw the setting and characters before you start on any pages.

  7. Take some time to build up a backlog

    In November, I decided to draw two pages a week. THIS WAS A GODSEND FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON. By doubling my work for a little while, I had a small backlog built up that kept the comic going while I was travelling around. I didn’t plan it that way, but I now know the value of having a sort of comic “emergency fund” that I can draw into in case stuff comes up during the weekends (which is my usual comic-making time).

  8. Promote yo’self

    I had already started doing this during Chapter 1, but it’s a really good idea to promote yourself! Not only to get new readers, but because seeing new readers come and stick around is really motivating for posting pages on time! I’d feel bad if I skimped on comic-making time each week because of all the nice people that commented on Herogirl saying they enjoyed the comic. So, thanks, readers!

    Currently, I promote myself through Project Wonderful and Google Adwords. These cost money, but you can get a pretty good audience boost just by spending $10 a week. Google Adwords also occasionally has coupon promotions that give you a free $100 in credit if you’re a new user, which can last a long time if you set up caps in how much you want your ad to spend each day. I also listed my comic on The Webcomic List and Top Web Comics because why not? It’s free to list yourself, and a great place to find other comics to read. :)

That’s all my thoughts this time around! I hope this was helpful… on to Chapter 3!