Just about to go off into town to toast Ram and Ryan, who both had their first Image books released. VOID TRIP and PARADISO had an advert in the last two issues of WicDiv, and they're real showcases of new talent.
But first, I'll do a newsletter. Observe! I am totally doing it.
Ananke In The New World
Notes of Writers.
Spoilers: It's about spoilers.
I'm in one of those times when everything that's arriving in my inbox is a joy. I just gave notes on Star Wars 42, which is where I think the book starts to sing – like most of my stories, I tend to backload, so to see it come together is always a relief. Lots more stuff. Layouts for Spangly New Thing. The last pages of Uber Invasion 13 from Daniel, hitting some of the precisely horrific stuff I'm looking for. Emilio just running rampant with Aphra, with this thrillingly verdant cartooning.
Oh, and Aud Koch, who is just being a perfect collaborator on the WicDiv 1923 special. I can't rave enough.
Here's the inks of the first
She wrote saying – basically - “hey – I decided to try some ink-washes for the sea. Hope it's okay.” to which I could only say “I AM ALL ABOUT INK WASHES!” Suffice to say, I think this will be a good one. Or at least a pretty one, if I've fluffed it entirely.
Oh – and the comps for The WicDiv Xmas special arrived.
Out next week. Christmas orgasms for everyone.
The Writer Notes for The Wicked + the Divine 33 are here. Er… 6000 words or so? Heavily spoilery. It was good to get this out there.
In response to a fairly casual question in my asks, I wrote an essay on the concept of spoilers, audience guessing plot beats, how a creator feels about it and what response (if any) they should make. I think it’s worth including here. It better be, or else you’re going to be terribly bored. Scroll down! Scroll down!
Q: As i’ve seen this happen more than once, what goes through your mind when a big plot twist or piece of the puzzle gets unintentionally spoiled by the fans theorizing the future of the book? Does the rest of the story gets put on temporary hold to try to figure out how to write something new or is the story set in stone no matter what may happen? If someone were to spoil the ending of the entire book completely unintentionally and you were able to experience the reaction, will it change a thing?
A: Oh, god, no. Never change anything if someone’s guessed something. Nothing good lies in that direction.
Okay, let’s talk – with no specifics – Game of Thrones. If you go into the depths of fandom, Game of Thrones is – to some degree, in some areas – a solved problem. There’s a good selection of fan theories (some of which have come to fruition) which have so much meat on them it was clear they had to happen, or the book would break its structure and become unsatisfying.
These twists are available to anyone who wishes to google for them.
The vast majority of people don’t. So… why change the direction of the story? What’s the point of fucking over the enjoyment of the vast majority of people (i.e. making your story make less sense, as you’re abandoning the already existing thread) for playing gotcha on a tiny fraction of your audience?
(As a quick aside – compare and contrast theorising in a fanbase with actual events in the text that’s being adapted. Clearly, anyone who is watching GoT could have googled the synopsis of the book. Equally, anyone who’s read the books knows the big beats. Does the adaptation change the big beats? If surprise to everyone in your audience is all that mattered, you would. We don’t.)
It’s also worth noting that, while obviously some complain on the nature of the adaptation, most fans of a book generally complain that they wish it was more like the book. In other words, things that surprised them (i.e. differed from their knowledge of the text) were less satisfying. They wanted to see the big dramatic beats, even if they’re stripped of their surprise.
Surprise only matters the first time you read something. For me, any worthwhile piece of literature exists to be reread, and will open up more upon rereading. In other words, knowing the twist should add to the rereading of the book. If it doesn’t, and renders the story less than it was, it’s probably a bad twist – which is one reason why I don’t tend to call them “Plot twists” to myself. I call them reveals. The plot doesn’t contort. It’s merely revealing something in the nature of the world the reader was unaware of.
(As an aside, this means that someone who has guessed successful the direction of the plot is actually effectively skipping to their second read of the book earlier.)
There’s the other side of this as well – not just whether a plot beat has been guessed, but the almost inevitability of a plot beat being guessed. GoT fans have had twenty years to puzzle this out. In that period, a mass communication device emerged which allowed fans to talk to one another and share ideas. This machine would have torn apart any plot.
No one individual needs to guess anything. People can make one step in a chain, and then that step is exposed to thousands of minds. If even one of them can make the intuitive leap to the next step, then it continues. No one person needs to be clever enough to see the whole thing. The internet hivemind is Miss Marple, seeing through the most contorted of machinations.
(In passing, this is one reason why Alternate Reality Games are hard to do, because the mass hive mind will figure almost anything out, almost instantly. Equally in passing, the failure to understand this is another reason why Ready Player One is bad, but that’s irrelevant.)
In other words, the reason why twists are guessable is the same reason they are satisfying. A twist that isn’t foreshadowed sufficiently to give the possibility of being guessed by someone is not a satisfying twist, as it – by definition – came out of nowhere.
To make this specific to my own work. In the case of the biggest and most intricate of my current books, WicDiv, we sell about 18k in monthlies and sell 18k in trades (in the first month of release). That’s our hardcore devoted readership. How many people of them actually read the essays in the WicDiv tags? I’d say 500 at the absolute maximum, and likely a lot less. So for a maximum of 1.3% of our readership, we’d derail a still effective twist for everyone else? No, that would be a bad call.
Especially – and this is key – the people who have chosen to engage with a fandom are aware that they may figure something out. They are trying to figure something out. Why take that pleasure away from them?
In a real way, I think, in long-form narrative, pure plot twists which no one in the world guesses are dead in the Internet age, at least when dealing with any even vaguely popular work of art. You can do them in short-form narratives (like a single novel, a single movie and perhaps a streaming TV show they drop in one go) but for anything where you give a fanbase the chance to think, it’s just not going to happen. A creator should be glad their work is popular enough to have enough fans to figure it out.
Yes, I may have overthought this.
But that’s only half the question.
How do I actually feel when someone guesses something that’s going to happen?
I’d say you sigh “Oh, poop”and shrug.
And then you get over your ass, because you know all the above is true. Writers are often megalomaniacs who think they can control everyone’s response to their work. We don’t. We can’t control everything. We can barely control anything. We really have to let go. I’ve said WicDiv is a device to help me improve as a person, yes? It would include in this area. I have to learn to let it go, and internalise all of the above. If I can make most of my readership have the vague emotional response I’m looking for, I’m winning.
I’ve mostly succeeded at this. I’m certainly better than I was two years ago.
(I’ll probably write more about spoilers and twists and stuff down the line. I’d note that setting up twists that are easily guessable by the hardcore is part of the methodology. Having a nice big twist foreshadowed heavily is a good way to hide another twist behind it. “Hey – pay attention to this less subtle sleight of hand while I perform the actual sleight of hand over here.” In which case, there’s less of an Oh Poop response and more of a cackling evil mastermind response.)
The sigh can occasionally be accompanied with a “Hmm. I wouldn’t have posted that” or – more likely – “I wouldn’t have posted that THERE.”
To stress, what follows isn’t about my work per se, but culture generally, and is very much personal. This is stuff which good friends disagree with me on.
As a fan, I never tweet my own fan theories. I only tweet joke ones. Even my crack theories I don’t tweet, as they’re normally so bizarre that if they actually DO happen, I wouldn’t want to take the thrill away from people. Even in person in conversation I make sure we’re going into a deep fan hole before sharing them, aware that they may be true.
In a real way, the more likely I think something is true, the less likely I’ll say it. As this is my job, I tend to see basic structural ways stories are heading way in advance of most people. I’m a composer. I know how music works. You have a vague sense of what way they’ll go.
(One day I’ll write down my crack theory for the end of the previous Game of Thrones season. Maybe after next season, as it’s not impossible that they may end up doing it, though it’s increasingly unlikely.)
If I had a really good theory I’ve gathered evidence for? You can guarantee I’d put it beneath a cut. That’s the stuff which bemuses me. It’s a cousin of posting major spoilers about any piece of culture the day it comes out. The worst is one regular twitter trope – I’m always bemused when people do a “Calling it! XYZ will happen” tweet. Which strikes me a little like standing up in the cinema 20 minutes into a film and shouting out that you’ve guessed the ending. This ties back to the stuff I wrote above about twists being less effective in the modern age, except in a place where you can control the context and conversation. People may message in movies, but they rarely message everyone in the room.
(In passing, as it’s vaguely on topic – you may remember the research from a few years ago saying people who know a twist enjoy the story more than people who don’t know a twist. Even if this is true – and a single study should always get an eyebrow raise – it strikes me as a confusion over what “enjoy” means. All pleasure isn’t equivalent, and you can only have surprise on your first time through a work of art. That’s novelty. You can have that and then gain the “not surprise” experience second time through. If you spoil a work, it means the “novelty” experience is something you will never have. You may enjoy something more if you know the twist but you can always rewatch it to get that pleasure. If you’re spoiled, the individual specific pleasure of that first watch has been stolen.)
But that’s a conversation of social mores. Really, it doesn’t change anything in terms of how we act… and sometimes, I even grin when someone gets a twist in advance. The machine is working as intended. It’s actually kind of worrying if no one is thinking something is up in an area you’ve set up to be iffy. And… the alternative is worse – hell, there’s buried twists and details in Young Avengers that no one’s managed to figure out yet.
Twist ending: oh, no, I was a ghost all along.
You saw this piece about Sci-fi turning people into bad readers? As in, literally. A readers’ perspective of the literary merit of the text will make them read it less attentively, which is born of whatever prejudices they have. While I want to pick over the methodology of the work, it does seem intuitively true. When I entered comics I was a little tired with the post-Vertigo Everything Has An Introduction model, as I felt they felt like an admission we have to talk people into taking the work seriously. Why should Sandman need an intro? Most novels don’t do intros. Why the special pleading? It feels like we should have more confidence in the work. This research has me thinking that actually, no, making moves to reset people’s reading is worthwhile.
(I’m trying to decide whether to go Full Watchmen with Spangly New Thing and have a bunch of relevant quotes, so all this feeds in.)
My friend Joshua Ellis reminded me of his song, Silent Girl, he recorded years ago. This sort of thing always makes me happy, even without the Be My Baby drumbeat.
David Brothers arguing Comics Are Comfortable in Tokyo. Er… as in, they’re comfortable everywhere, not just in tokyo. He’s doing the speech in Tokyo. Short form spoken essay. Good stuff.
Cool Ghosts is your new favourite videogame comedy web-review show. It’s excellent stuff.
I went to Dragonmeet at the weekend, so RPGs have been on my mind more than usual. We’re in the process of putting together a streaming group of comic creators doing a game in a new year, which should be fun. Meanwhile, a couple of kickstarter rewards have paid.
The long awaited but genuinely triumphal Alas Vegas, which I spent about two years thinking was actually called “Alan Vegas.” Still trying to work out how I should run this one – it’s a rotating GM game, across four sessions, in a Lynch-in-Vegas mode, so I want to make sure it plays to its best possibilities.
Bluebeard’s Bride has a similar “how best to do this one?” problem, but more so. It’s a one-session game where all the players are controlling Bluebeard’s latest Bride, making her way through the mansion towards whatever terrible fate awaits her in the final room. Each of the players is an aspect of the Bride’s personality, with control moving between them as the game progresses. Basically, it’s a gothic take on Pixar’s Inside Out. The problem isn’t just the intensity of the material – it’s that I’m not sure that I should be running it. It’s such an implicitly feminist game I kind of feel like I would be intruding, and it’d be better for me to set up the game and get the hell out of there. Hmm.
Also, here’s a picture of Lemon sitting on my painstakingly ordered miniature pieces.
Work? It continues. WicDiv 34 went over to Jamie. I finished a draft of Uber Invasion 14 which I’ll be finishing tomorrow morning. I’ve taken a break from scripting Spangly New Thing to jump on top of the aforementioned Uber and (next) Star Wars 45, and to leave a little more space for researching issue 3. Issue 3 is the point where Spangly New Thing gets weird.
I may write more about that, and my relationship with Killing Your Literary Forefathers next time. Also, possibly a picture of the pile of books to the right of this monitor, because it’s getting kind of stupid.