I very recently finished Chapter 3 of Herogirl, and after following my own advice to commit to a page a week during my last reflection, I realized that I completed Chapter 3 in about half a year, compared to the two years it took me to finish Chapter 2! I think Chapter 3 had some of the best storytelling I’ve done so far, and I wanted to share some thoughts on what worked and what didn’t during the process!

  1. Plan the story beforehand

    I’ve been creating outlines for each chapter of Herogirl from since the beginning. But for the first time, I thumbnailed out every page of the chapter before starting on actual page work. These thumbnails included a very (very!) rough panel layout as well as a rough dialogue script for each page. By the end, I had a summary showing how the story was paced in both visually and plot-wise, which also made it very easy to revise the story at a high level and make sure I was happy with it before locking myself in with real pages (which was the primary barrier to me completing chapters in the past).

  2. Side stories make your world interesting

    I’ve had side stories for previous chapters — for Chapter 1, Ana and Auto are told the story of the Arcana at the same time by different people, and for Chapter 2, I had Warrick and his grand-daughters as side characters. However, these side stories weren’t really stories — they were merely plot devices to help the main storyline explain itself, and as a result, you didn’t really get to know any of the side characters very well.

    In Chapter 3, one of my goals was to create a mini-story that could stand on its own. Again, I needed side characters to help Auto and Gear resolve a problem they couldn’t solve on the own, but I also wanted to be able to explain why these side characters were special. Why them? What about their situation made them the right people at the right time for the story? And what are their lives like right now because of what happened to them in the past? I committed a lot of time towards thinking about giving these side characters a problem that could evolve along with the larger plot.

  3. Sync up major problems and resolutions

    Chapter 3 starts out with a problem: Auto and Gear arrive at the next area known to have a Herald’s shrine, but the shrine has disappeared into the sea! Enter Tortu and Korall, who also have a problem: the Herald stole something that was precious to both of them, but they can’t find the Herald. Now, anyone can see that this aligns Auto/Gear’s and Tortu/Korall’s goals, which is required for them to be willing to help each other. But that’s not enough!

    While I was writing this chapter, one of my friends mentioned to me that they had read in a writing book that suggested that significant plot points should be tied to something physical. For example, in a story where a child ends up lying to his mother about a misplaced stuffed bear, the finding of the bear and the child’s confession to the mother should go hand-in-hand. You could write an ending that just consists of one or the other happening, but the impact is weaker because the resolution seems to come out of nowhere. A physical item often can act as a very tangible cause of situations that progress the plot.

    This conversation led me to revise Chapter 3 a bit to include a physical item — a wedding ring — that’s presence and absence goes hand-in-hand with Tortu and Korall’s emotional scars. I also had to explain the item, so I included a flashback explaining Tortu and Korall’s backstory and to establish the item’s importance. By the end of the story, Tortu and Korall are able to mend their relationship over the lost precious item, and this resolution actually leads to them getting the precious item back. It’s hard to explain, but I found this ending very satisfying. Chapter 3’s ending was originally going to be about Auto and Gear finding the Herald (straightforward and very boring), but now, it’s about two characters coming to terms with the past (much less boring), which happens to also cause the main story to progress (finding the Herald) as a side effect. Much better!

  4. Stress out your characters

    One high-level problem I’ve been struggling with in Herogirl is the lack of urgency in the story. Sure, Auto is on a quest to save her sister, but there really isn’t a time limit. They could come back to King Lother with the Heralds 10 years later and for all we know (as readers) things would turn out totally fine. So, I tried to think hard about stories I like and how they create an environment that keeps characters moving. For example, one of my favorite stories, Avatar: The Last Airbender, created a sense of urgency by establishing that the characters needed to accomplish their quest before the arrival of a comet that would give their enemy superpowers (a time limit); in addition, they were constantly reminded of the enemy’s effect on the people they met and they town’s they visited during their travels (an emotional limit).

    I decided to go with a time limit (sort of). The most important objective for Auto and Gear are to find the Heralds. One thing that could get in the way of that goal is someone stealing the Heralds from them! So at the end of Chapter 3, I introduced Vestris, who was tasked with capturing the Heralds before Auto and Gear do. I also tried to throw in a bit of mortal danger by having Jovian tell Vestris that stopping Auto and Gear by any means necessary was acceptable, but we’ll see how that works out in later chapters!

  5. Drawing two pages a week is a good idea

    In my last reflections post, I talked about how doing two pages a week helped me build up a backlog of comics that could allow me to continue posting one page a week, even on weeks where I was travelling or busy with work. I am still doing this, and it is still very, very convenient. I’m finding I’m also faster at drawing pages in general, partly because I’m building up those drawing muscles by doing more per week and partly because I have a more solid plan in place for each chapter so I don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing myself!

  6. Promote yourself: Take 2

    I mentioned before that I use advertising services like Project Wonderful and Google Adwords to boost the visibility of my comic to new people. I’ve also begun to advertise myself on social media much more diligently — as part of my ritual of scheduling pages for each week, I also make sure to schedule a corresponding post on my Tumblr and Facebook pages. I’ve built up different audiences on these pages (as a result of my other art activities), and this is a great way to connect people who are already interested in my art to other stuff I do (like Herogirl!).

That’s all for now! Looking forward to Chapter 4! :)