April 20th, 2005


userinfo senji
2005/04/20 09:09:00 - Snarking Snarky

(From Gossamer Commons. Click on the thumbnail for full sized pessimism.)

Eric "Snarky" Burns is a notable webcomic critic. For about eight months now he's been commenting in his blog about comic strips that have caught his eye and related issues, with the odd digression into things that have happened to him or other interesting stuff. Over time he's created a new vocabulary to help him. He's also picked up quite a lot of readers and inspired a number of references, such as today's Freefall.

Recently Eric has started writing a webcomic, Gossamer Commons, which is being drawn by Greg Holkan. Now, you'd like to think that someone who's so often right about webcomics would be able to apply some self criticism, but it doesn't seem to be working. So far it's been going for just under a month, and there have been 17 strips (if I've counted them right). And they're quite big strips. To date we have had just one piece of plot (Keith rescuing a fairy) amidst character introductions and even a flashback. This is making MegaTokyo look pacy! One important guideline when writing is that you need a "hook", something exciting or interesting to grab the reader by the neck and force them to carry on reading. I think this is doubly so for webcomics, particularly new ones, because of the delay between each new strip. The hook Eric has given is a mild irritant rather than an irresistible force.

What's worse? He's currently recapping the plot in dialogue between his two main characters.

On the plus side, I really like the art (as much as Trudy gets on my nerves, I suspect she's supposed to). And today's strip, despite spending five panels going over stuff we know already does bring the Funny on the last one. On the other hand, if things don't improve soon I think it's going to be You Never Really Had Me for Eric.
Current Mood: [mood icon] snarky
Entry Tags: comics, websnark

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(Anonymous)
2005/04/20 12:07:15
Bingo.

As well to clear up, too, that the problem isn't that it's 'dialogue' rather than 'events', it's that nothing happens in the dialogue either. It's all exposition, which was bad enough when it was exposition of things we hadn't seen but this strip was totally pointless. It adds nothing at all to what we already knew. It has no reason to exist (bar the joke at the end). We could have skipped over this and just assumed that thingy had told Trudy about his experience -- which the reader has already seen, remember -- and lost nothing.

(Sometimes it can be fun to read pointless dialogue (why else would I see Ros & Guil every time I can?), but only if it's written by a genius, and Burns is no Stoppard).

What gets me, though, is how close Burns comes to self-awareness without actually reaching it. Take the column below http://www.gossamercommons.com/2005/04/08/15 which boasts about hwo much the strip has done: 'And yet, we’ve met Keith, learned about him, learned about the stuff not going right in his life, gotten him into an alley with a trapped Fairy, flashed back to his childhood, met his mother, grandmother, friend Trudy and creepy ass Doctor Glick.' Note that in all that only one thing has actually hapened, only one thing has been shown rather than told about. And that thing was immediately interrupted by an expository flashback and, when we came back to the event... nothing happened. The fairy flew away. And then the guy went to pointlessly recount it to another character.

So near to realising the problem, yet so far from seeing the wood for the trees.

Or writign an entire column (http://www.gossamercommons.com/2005/04/18/20) about how his characetrs always end up sitting around drinking coffee without perceiving that this is not a good thing. Or, rather, that sitting around drinking coffee and talking about nothing, or things the reader already knows, or scenes 'where the military commander and the cultural observer discuss their findings in the ship’s cafe while drinking coffee', are not a good thing.

Witty banter over coffee, great. Emotional decisions made over coffee, great. Separated lovers meeting for the first time in ten years over coffee, great. But not just empty banal conversation.

It makes me want to just sit him down and give him a writing masterclass. Because he clearly recognises all the flaws he's falling into, he just needs them pointed out in his own work so that he can recognise them and fix them.

And it would be nice if 'Websnark' went back to being about webcomics too. Perhaps if he abandoned the idea of having to post somethign every day, and either made it weekly or monthly or only posted when he had soemthing to say, that might help.

S.
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userinfo weds
[userpic]
2005/04/20 15:20:37
And it would be nice if 'Websnark' went back to being about webcomics too.

Well... no. Or are you seriously suggesting that some guy's blog shouldn't be about what the guy wants to write about?

Also, it's been a lot about webcomics. It's just that, some days, it hasn't been, and it hasn't been in *chunks*.
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userinfo agenticarus
[userpic]
2005/04/20 12:13:09
I think I have to agree with you on that - veeeery slow start. Maybe things will get better
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userinfo demiurgent
[userpic]
2005/04/20 15:53:38
I see what you're saying. I'm not sure there's going to be any remedy for it. The story we're telling is pretty solidly longform, and there's a lot of little pieces we're putting out there as we go along.

Does that mean you're wrong? No, not at all. It means that the pace of the strip might lower the overall audience, and I need to be ready for that. There will be times when things happen quickly, but more often they're going to happen slowly, and dialogue and banter is more often than not going to be the point, rather than the method.

Chapter One has two core requirements -- establish what has been, and establish how it's changed. So far, we've established Keith's current circumstance and attitude, his background in fairy matter, and his friendship with Trudy. On the other side of things, we've established some of Trudy's history, we've had him meet said Fairy, and now we're establishing a dynamic between Keith and Trudy.

So yeah, things are happening. The question is, are they the things that would have you keep coming back. The answer to that may be no, and I need to internalize that and where necessary make corrections.

So... um... yeah. "I hear you."
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(Anonymous)
2005/04/20 16:08:40
Um.

This is exactly like the editorial I pointed to. You say things are happening, then provide a list of things which have been established.

Establishing things is not things happening.

And much as I hate it, the old dictum of 'show, don't tell' applies to every page of the strip you've written so far. It begins with a telephone conversation, tell the reader who they will meet; then goes into a flashback, and flashbacks are always a form of telling, not showing (because 'showing' and 'telling' doesn't, of course, just refer to visual versus verbal storytelling, but to conveying information by action versus conveying it by exposition, and flashbacks are exposition).

For instance, you should have let the reader's first introduction to Trudy be the strip with her and the passers-by. Rather than informing the reader in a lame telephone conversation who Trudy is and that she is a musician, you should have had her first appear, playing music in the park. Little obvious things like that.

Then, it's not that the story is being told slowly, it's that so far, there has been no story at all, just background.

Let me repeat that: not slow story, not boring story, but no story. Nothing. If we take Forster's definition of a story, 'this happens, then that happens', in order for it to be a story there have to be at least two events. So far there has been one.

Things happening slowly is fine. I have a long attention span. But at the moment nothing is happening at all. Things are being set up, but nothing is happening.

And -- what was the point of today's strip, then? As the writer you must have had a point in mind for it when you wrote it, a function. Was it to convey the guy's reaction to his encounter with the fairy? If so, I think you need to start trusting yourself and your audience a lot more. Everything the strip, a perceptive reader will have picked up form the earlier strips. Telling it again is unnecessary.


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userinfo demiurgent
[userpic]
2005/04/20 17:11:46
Like I said -- there's every chance GC ultimately won't be to your taste.

Sometimes, the strips are designed to set up a punchline, which was today's strip. Sometimes, they set up story moments down the line. Sometimes, they provide bits of drama. Sometimes, they're because I want to write banter.

I also disagree with your definition of "events." If we need to go point by point on events, then in Chapter 1 Keith went to the Commons, he saw a Fairy, he flashed back, in the flashback we had a story told, we had an argument between grandmother and mother, interrupted by Trudy's father, of whom there seems to be concern. We moved back to the future. We had the fairy rescued. We had the fairy fly away. We introduced Trudy. We introduced Trudy's feelings on Jazz. We had banter, and we had slight disagreement. And we had some punchlines.

The idea that the only story is the linear one is, at best, disingenuous.
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(Anonymous)
2005/04/20 18:39:40
This isn't about my taste, though. I deliberately havent' said anything about whether Gossamer Commons is to my taste or not.

However, this isn't the ideal medium for teaching someone to write better, so I'll just leave it with a couple of points.

Going to the commons isn't an event, it's set-up. The event was 'Keith sees a fairy'.

Likewise, the flashback wasn't an event and didn't tell a story: it was exposition, just like the telephone call. It was just exposition with pictures. It told us about the background, but it didn't show us.

Finally you keep count 'introduced' as an event, which is exactly what I've been trying to train you out of. Introducing something isn't by itself an event. You can have events that introduce characters, but just introducing a character, setting or conecpt isn't an event.

Of course stories don't have to be linear; some of the best stories aren't. But Gossamer Commons doesn't have a non-linear story either. All it has is set-up and exposition.

It still might develop into a story (linear or non-linear) and that would be good. I was hoping to give some pointers so you could write that story better when it comes, but you seem pointer-resistant today and, like I said, someone else's diary is hardly the best forum (no matter how interesting Senji might find this).
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userinfo demiurgent
[userpic]
2005/04/20 18:48:53
I acknowledge I am pointer resistant today, for reasons that have very little to do with this post or Gossamer Commons, and so I apologize on that count.

When/if I manage to sleep, I'll revisit and consider. Fair enough?
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userinfo mtbc100
2005/04/20 23:31:18
Excellent user icon.
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userinfo meagenimage
[userpic]
2005/05/23 08:14:33
This isn't about my taste, though. I deliberately havent' said anything about whether Gossamer Commons is to my taste or not.

Um... yes it is. You're saying the strip is too slow for your taste. Saying that's somehow an objective fact is like telling the author of a sci-fi story, "It needs more rayguns. That's not just my opinion, it's a fact, because all good sci-fi stories have rayguns".
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(Anonymous)
2005/04/20 16:24:36
Oh, I've come up with an example. I was trying to think of one that would show the distinction.

In Crime and Punishment, things happen slowly. Everything is gone into at great length, long conversations are recounted in painstaking detail, and everything is described. And yet, even though they happen slowly, things are always happening. There's always tension: what does such-and-such a person know, what decision will so-and-so come to, that sort of thing.

In Gossamer Commons, nothing is happening. There is no tension, there are no questions hovering, and there's no mystery at all. Things are said but they don't move the story on, because there is no story. They exposit, because there is only exposition.

S.
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userinfo shaenon
[userpic]
2005/04/22 21:32:16
I agree that GC started too slowly. For my money, Eric could have cut the entire opening phone conversation and started with Keith discovering the fairy. Most of what we need to know about Keith is subsequently revealed in the flashback and the coversation with Trudy, making the phone call irrelevant -- and it's generally a good idea to avoid an exposition-delivery device as transparent as having a character talk on the phone about who he is and what his life is all about. I got to see the first few strips before GC launched, and I liked them, but I didn't know that Eric was planning to work in a flashback and a coffee conversation in addition to the phone call, all within the first twenty strips.

But to say that nothing -- not "not enough," but literally NOTHING -- has happened in GC is going way too far. Things happen in the strip. This argument is going in circles: you claim nothing has happened, Eric lists all the things that have happened, you insist they don't count for some reason and go back to complaining that nothing has happened. I'm not sure what you think *should* be happening instead of the things that are actually happening, but there's been plot. There's been character development. There's been action. Looks like a story to me.
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Snarking Snarky - Squaring the circle...

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