When I started the Discarded Lives project, I faced a couple of very hard decisions :

  • Should I publish as each page as it is finished, or should I wait for the issue to be completed before I started?
  • Should I start the site when the entire project was completed, or did I put myself under the pressure of a “rolling release?”

If you’re reading this site (and if you are, all I can say is “Thanks for your patience!”) then you know the answers to both of those queries.

My logic to proceed as I have was simple:  Volume 1′s entire six issue arc was already planned out.  My notes provided an almost beat-for-beat, page-by-page run for each issue.  The “heavy lifting” of story-telling, I reasoned, was more-or-less completed.  The challenges for this project would be to produce artwork with my chosen tools and to a level of quality that I would accept.

“No worries,” I thought. “I got this.”

This is the part where you point at me and laugh.

Writing, you see, is a tricky thing.  No matter how well-planned the story, the moment a writer sets their characters into action is the moment unpredictable things can — and will — happen.  Some of it is real life intruding on the writer, interrupting him, or forcing changes in plans.  Other times it’s the characters themselves that surprise the writer in the process.  Either way, when a large story project is tackled, the destination often times bears little resemblance to the one written on the map at the start of the journey.

SHADOW WARS

One of my fondest memories was watching the story in the ’90s science fiction series Babylon5  (B5) unfold.  I was fascinated by a TV show that was brave enough to try to be a visual novel.  B5′s creator J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) had a plan for the entire five year arc prior to the first episode being filmed.  The result was a program where each episode felt akin to the chapter in a novel rather than just another excuse to sell consumers more crap they didn’t need.

The B5 experiment was awe-inspiring, and frankly, I doubted JMS would succeed.  Actors fell away from the project, and cancellation constantly loomed.  The story twisted this way and that to manage these pressures, and somehow remained cohesive. Nevertheless, the odds were always against it.  Babylon5,  I suspected, would go down as another one of those “Do You Remember…?” science fiction series that had tried its best, only to be killed by cold market pressures.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

JMS did finish Babylon5.  While its effects may have aged, and the sets somehow look cheaper with each passing year, the soul of the story — and the relevance of the warnings that it contains to our society — only grows stronger.  Babylon5, as the story itself said, endured.

I admire JMS for this achievement.  He did the impossible and — if you don’t mind me mixing my properties for a moment — that made him mighty.  More surprisingly, he maintained that the overall story arc was “essentially unchanged” from his original plan, despite all of the hiccups along the way.  I shook my head in wonder at how he pulled it off, and just accepted that fact at face value.

Then a gentlemen over at the TrekBBS shared the original B5 story arc , and I realized that JMS and I have very different definitions of the word “unchanged.”

The original arc was radically different than the series we saw on screen.  We’re not talking Jeffery Hunter vs William Shatner on the bridge of the Enterprise, here, we’re talking Lucas’ Willow vs Jackson’s The Hobbit.  It was genuinely uncomfortable to read what was originally intended as compared to what we got on the screen.  The original story wasn’t bad, by any stretch; it just wasn’t Babylon5.  Had it not been for all of the problems that JMS had encountered, we would have watched an entirely different series.

Therein lies the surprise:  I am convinced that what we got on screen was far better than what was originally planned.  All of those trials and tribulations JMS faced getting the story to production hadn’t hindered it at all.  It had, in fact, honed it, and provided us with a far better product.

Adversity, it turned out, was the mother of inspiration.

DISCARDING A LIFE…OR TWO

Like many writers, I tend to produce my stories weeks in advance.  When I come back to them I’ve often forgotten what I’d originally written and can edit dispassionately.  Story comes first, and those cows that were sacred weeks before are butchered and grilled without a second thought.  Except, you know, about how good they taste.  Because, you know, burgers? Yum.

Suddenly I want a burger.  Like, now.

Where was I?

Oh, right! Writing.

When I came back to produce issue 3, I ran into a problem:  It just wasn’t very good.  Oh, structurally it was fine, but as the mid-point of the six issue volume it was flat.  Too talky, and still too big on the mysterious.

It had to go.

I scrapped the script and and started over.  When I finished I was happier, but not as much as I’d hoped.  Nevertheless, I knew I was too close to the story, and decided it was time to step away and let my brain reset before diving in again.

A few weeks past.  I went and logged some pilot-in-command time at the local airfield, worked on my garage, and practiced my 3D craft. Eventually, the itch to get back got to strong, and I opened up the script to start building its thumbnails and rendering scenes.

I stopped thumbnailing after page six.  Once again, the story just didn’t work.

I went for a four mile walk to think it over.  What was wrong?  Why didn’t a certain “big moment” feel like it should?

Then I realized the answer:  It didn’t work because a certain character as they had developed in the first two issues would not do what I had always intended for them to do at this point.  I was trying to force character to story, while not allowing the character to drive the story.

So, I went back and started an honest re-write of the issue.

This time? This time, I’m happy. When you read the story, I think you will be, too.

Maybe one day I’ll share the original scripts, much like I shared the script for the 22 minute short that eventually transmorgrified into my feature-length indie project.  Not now, though.  No, let’s get this story rolling.

ENDURANCE RUN

When I started Discarded Lives I’d fully intended to be completed with the issue by July of 2013.

Wow, is that not going to happen.

Despite the slip in deadline, I will finish this project.  I’m enjoying the challenge, and want to see it through to the end.

Honestly, though, I’m beginning to wonder what that end will look like.

Let’s press on, shall we?