While at AX, we paid a visit to the webcomic panel. One of the questions asked there was 'do you have a plan for your comic or do you make it up as you go along?' Predictably, of course, there were both answers among the panelists. But it made me think about it, because Phoenix Feathers is pretty much made up as we go.
This webcomic was born from the wish for a website and the doodles I'd been drawing for a while of various quotes made by my friends. The pages of quotes only multiply, so there is plenty of material to work with. However, I wanted Phoenix Feathers to have a plot as well, which it does (now), although it is rather vague at the moment. The benefit of having a pre-planned story, of course, is confidence - I have once or twice got to the point of having to create next week's strips without actually knowing what was going to happen, although I usually have a vague plan for about four strips ahead. However, I rather like the flexibility in an unplanned story. One or two of the small story arcs in Phoenix Feathers were pre-planned, and on one occasion I found that the style I was using didn't work. I didn't have much choice but to carry on using it until that arc was over. I should think, really, that the best way is to have a plan but not have fleshed it out too much, which is what I have with the First Story. I know what will happen, but I don't know the entire sequence of events that will make up the story leading to the climax.
The disadvantage there, of course, is that the story will end. Dan of Angel Moxie has said he has an ending although it will take a few years to get there (and with the rate at which I'm producing the First Story, that'll take longer). I don't currently have an end in mind for Phoenix Feathers.
That's another thing about stories. The basis for a story is very important - if the story is based, as many fantasies are, on defeating the Big Nasty Demon, then once the BND is defeated, no more story. Slayers suffers a little from this - every series has to improve upon the previous one, and drag a bigger monster out of somewhere. Stories that are based on character relationships, while they may have a BND, are much more capable of continuation. I think in reality, most stories have a bit of both, which is why Slayers can get away with it (just) - the Slayers characters are great fun to watch. The same is true of David Eddings books, although your mileage may vary.
And in any case, I have a firm opinion that it is the characters themselves who make the story, not the presence of bigger demons and worse dangers. The relationships and development of the characters are what makes a story really interesting for me. That's why I can cope if a book has an obvious plot, which many fantasies do, if only the characters are interesting (although I like new plots too!). Many Mercedes Lackey books have a fairly predictable series of events, but because I like the character descriptions and development, I enjoy reading them (again, as with David Eddings, your mileage may vary).
So I'm trying to make all the characters in what we do as interesting as possible. I didn't realise how awkward this can be in a medium like a webcomic, although I doubt it's any easier in any other medium..
- Sun Kitten, 13th September '02