The end of another chapter means another blog post reflecting on what parts of the story went well and what I need to work on! For Chapter 5, I went with a flashback story because I wanted to establish backstories and make the characters easier to empathize with. Within that, I had a few story goals and writing exercises set up for myself with this chapter.
- Build readers’ empathy for characters
This was my main goal for Chapter 5. Prior to this, Herogirl characters haven’t had much chance to interact with each other or face challenges they react to in a personal way — they’ve mostly been along for the ride as other characters face some sort of challenge, and even then, problems get resolved in a very deus ex machina-like manner. The stories I love to read/watch/play through are stories I enjoy because I see characters that do what they can in the face of challenges, and I want to reflect that in my work too!
That being said, not much got resolved in Chapter 5, but I sure as heck set up some unresolved problems that will need to be solved by the characters’ actions (I hope). The major conflict in this chapter was Jovian’s internal frustrations about what he wanted to do (help others) and what he was born/destined to do (fight). I’m happy that this conflict was clear, but I think I could have given it more weight. Nothing was really stopping Jovian from pursuing his dream as a doctor (except for when Lothar appears at the very end). Instead, family pressure could have had Jovian feeling like he needed to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps; teachers could have praised him for his talent; heck, even being explicitly offered a lot of money or cushy perks for being taken on as a patron could have helped make that potential way of life more realistically attractive. Expanding on any of these reasons might have also helped make Jovian’s Showcase opponent’s desperation to win more realistic.
I think I only somewhat succeeded in building empathy for Vestris and Gear. I was able to get a good glimpse of their personalities in this chapter, but (again) they didn’t have a lot of conflict they faced directly which kept them from really showing off what they would do under duress (or when things go well)!
- Showcase Lothar’s villainy
As part of establishing Jovian’s motivations as a character, I had to show why he’s working for Lothar. I’m pretty happy with the way Lothar’s actions interfered directly with Jovian’s ability to resolve his conflict.
In the future, I’d like to showcase Lothar’s scariness more directly. His mad scientist personality has been great so far, but his dialogue alone isn’t going to carry much further into the story. So far, he’s hinted at some Very Bad Stuff he’s done and been vaguely threatening, but I haven’t actually shown him doing anything terrible. Maybe I’m subconsciously avoiding drawing scary things? I also worry about going overboard with the scariness and making him come off as creepy rather than calculating and selfish. Hm…
- Write according to a story arc
A writing challenge I set for myself was to write according to a story arc and stick to it! (It sounds like an obvious thing to do but… well, writing is hard. :P) The overall emotional structure I was aiming for looked something like this:
- Slight downward slope as Jovian struggles with the current state of his world
- An opportunity for Jovian to make a change
- A moment of uncertainty regarding Jovian’s decision
- A positive change for Jovian
- A starkly negative change for Jovian
This isn’t anything special — we’ve got rising action, a climax, and a resolution, but rather than a pattern of “problem, attempt to solve problem, overcome obstacle, hooray”, we have a “problem, attempt to solve problem, overcome obstacle, hit a brick wall” sort of pattern. I wanted to end the chapter at an emotional low so that the main story can work on wrapping up these problems and allow for later character growth.
For the most part, I did manage to stick to that structure and I’m pretty happy about that! It was a very useful tool for making sure I didn’t randomly change up the story while drawing it (which is something I’m tempted to do more often than I like when I’m not feeling confident). This is definitely something I need to stick to doing while writing future chapters.
The difficult part was figuring out exactly how these positive and negative changes were going to play out. I struggled a lot with how exactly Lothar was going to crush Jovian’s hopes and dreams… originally, Jovian was going to force himself to ask Lothar for help in becoming a Shield Sphere to help the Doctor who suddenly become sick/injured (unbeknownst to anyone, due to Lothar’s scheming). But I thought that was a bit complicated and would be difficult for even Lothar to pull off (and also, the Doctor or even another teacher would probably be able to help herself! :P).
- Contrast two different worldviews between characters
A secondary conflict I wanted to explore in this chapter was one between Gear and Jovian. My original intent was to set up a kind of friends-but-also-rivals-relationship-gone-sour, but somehow that got lost while writing the story. Gear was supposed to represent an attitude of “doing what suits you best” and “it’s okay to be selfish”, while Jovian was supposed to represent an attitude of “never abandon your responsibilities”. That conflict was set up when Jovian and Gear go out to the music festival, and I’m happy with the hint of friendship that arose there, but I wasn’t able to get these two characters to clash as cleanly as I liked. Sure, they fought in the end, but the motivations for the fight were only vaguely related to their attitudes toward life.
I think this is partially due to the chapter having focused way more on Jovian than on Gear, when originally I imagined this chapter as focusing on their relationship and interactions. Gear’s struggle stayed mostly hidden except for a few hints, and that made the ending conflict very one-sided and not as painful as it could have been.
- Miscellaneous regrets
- At the end of the music festival scene, Jovian says he comes up with some ideas for his strategy in the Showcase. I really wish I had remembered to incorporate something about that in the Showcase fight scenes! I think that would have been a great way to show some friendship and Jovian’s capacity to change as a character.
- I’m really sad about Gear’s motivations and backstory getting dropped in the writing. I may do a Chapter 5b that’s a few pages long to clarify Gear’s motivations and to show what happens to him at the end of this flashback.
- I’m still being really vague about how Sphere’s work! Also, I wish I had made it more clear that Lothar is eating Jovian’s Sphere at the end and shown why he’s doing that. Maybe I’ll roll this loose thread into Chapter 5b as well.
Overall, I thought Chapter 5 started out stronger than it ended. However, I definitely thought that writing with a pre-written story arc in mind helped a lot in keeping the emotional tone of the story on track. And while not entirely successful, I got a lot of practice writing stories in terms of conflict and opposing forces. The key is to make the stakes of conflict appropriately heavy!
Goals for moving forward:
- Make Auto and Gear more active in the main storyline by incorporating some of these lessons about writing around conflict in future chapters!
- Brainstorm more clearly about rules for Sphere powers! I need to get creative about different types of abilities that might exist and how they affect daily life.
- Netheria is the country that Elysia is at war with, but they haven’t appeared in the comic at all (and neither have the consequences of this war). I need to show this soon and figure out how to tie it into the main story!
- On a more practical level: I found myself worrying a lot of page economy during this chapters (and previous chapters as well, now that I think about it), and I think that made me rush pages and panels because I thought the story was getting too long. For the next chapter, I think I’m going to try and thumbnail the whole chapter before drawing anything to give myself a chance to check and revise the pacing and story before committing to anything, and see if that helps!