I suspect this latest page is going to get a bit of discussion going, so let me add a little fuel to this little bonfire.
There were four distinct resolutions I considered as I plotted out exactly where this went.
1) The path they eventually decided to take, with the shaman taking the infamy of what happened to “protect” what was being built of barbarian society. It’s inherent problem should be obvious… the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It only works as long as the public remains ignorant of what really happened. But how would said public ever learn the truth? The evidence is being disposed of pretty well, and anything that is found can be pretty easy be pinned on Sturm. It’s not like there’s anyone with the power to see through the veil of time, who has even better natural talent with the vision magic Sturm poss… oh.
2) Exiling Sturm for his “crimes.” It follows the same problem as the first… with the additional problem that exiling such an elderly man would potentially be seen as cruel (a quick execution being seen as more merciful than a slow death at the hands of the Wild North) and perhaps even showing a hint of weakness to be unable to simply end the problem face to face.
3) Facing the truth head on. While the “honorable” solution, it’s one of the most potentially disastrous. Tensions among the tribes are very high. Wyll’s been running a tightrope just to keep them all on the same page. To learn that the Matron had not only tried to kill Wyll-Line, but also sought to preserve the Ash Tribe’s old way would very likely result in a civil war… a civil war that would likewise end any hope of a peace treaty with the Rus. The threat of the entire Wild North erupting into a bloody conflict is a very real possibility. Could it be much ado about nothing? Could the better parts of barbarian society stifle the dissent before it got to that point? Maybe… but my experience with human history tells me that would be fairly unprecedented. Would that be a risk you would be willing to take with so much at stake?
4) (This one was one that I actually entertained up until I actually scripted this page… and you can tell from the previous one) Peonie intervenes, and offers the support of the Grand Luminary Alliance to help Wyll-Line squash any potential uprising that would occur by declaring the truth of the matter. But… Lord oh Lord, would that be a powder keg when you think about it. The problem here is one of perception… no matter how noble your intentions, when you impose yourself on matters that do not directly involve you, the response from the parties involved tend to be resentment. Try it sometime when you see an argument… go ahead, butt in with a solution. Watch as both sides don’t take kindly to your interference. A similar problem would face Alliance interests… they would not be seen as keeping the peace; they would be seen by a great many as an invader, a foreign entity occupying their native land. While not as bloody as a civil war, it would have a prolonged effect on any attempts to a long-term stable region.
When I write these sort of “moral” conundrums, one thing I don’t ask myself is, “Which one is the best option in the long run?” I don’t particularly like that question, because it assumes that the characters involved both know the circumstances, and have the foresight to see the consequences of their actions.
Instead, I ask, “What would this character do?” And sometimes, that isn’t the best choice. Sometimes we, as people, make the wrong or less ideal choice either because we lack all the information needed or have to hastily make a decision in the available amount of time. Sometimes there isn’t a “best” choice that can be made to begin with. And when all come into play at once… well, good luck.
Wyll-Line doesn’t have the time to weigh all his options. He has to make a fairly hasty decision. Did he make the right one? Was there a right choice? I honestly don’t know… and that’s kinda the “fun” in it.
A few days ago eight more pages of Chemiclord’s story were sent off to be illustrated by Shipeng. There’s great work in there with a few more reveals, and I know I’m excited to see it come back from our talented artist.
I think it would be an understatement to say that EXIERN’s storyline under Chemiclord’s pen has created some differing opinions among the readers. Personally, I have enjoyed it and will miss him. I want to thank him for what I feel has been an amazing job. A job I could not have done myself.
You see, back when control of EXIERN fell to my behind-the-scenes shoulders I had the option of taking up the storytelling. But I turned it down. Drowemos had done a great thing with Tiffany, Peonie, and Denver. He’d taken what had started – purposefully – as caricatures and turned them into full-fledged characters. At the time of transition I recognized that, if I started writing then, I wouldn’t be writing them as characters – they’d just be caricatures of themselves. And that would be a disservice to not only what Drowemos had achieved, but also to the readers that had followed them on their path.
But we found Chemiclord and he pushed the story forward. We’ve seen growth and change, and the status quo has been upset. Regardless of your opinion about the contents of his story, what he did was a difficult and challenging thing to do. EXIERN could have been nothing more than a weekly joke about Tiffany’s discomfort as a female, Peonie’s body, and/or Denver’s bookworm traits. It could probably last for years on the ad revenue brought in with little more than boobs and quick punchlines and no changes to anything. And no doubt there are plenty of people who would have been fine with that, and you aren’t wrong for thinking so.
But that would have been the easy thing to do.
I feel that EXIERN and its readers deserve more. So did Drowemos and so did Chemiclord. And the amazing thing is that Chemiclord pushed down that hard path delivering two pages a week for over two years. He pioneered a rare thing, continuing on the story of a webcomic after the creator stepped back from it. Personally, I am amazed by this and honored to have worked with him. His EXIERN arc is an achievement to be proud of.
That doesn’t change the fact that Shipeng has nine pages in his inbox – one of which is the first EXIERN page entirely penned by me.
For the last year I have been working on a trade paperback called EXIERN: Age of Drowemos that will collect all of Drowemos’ work, and includes that which transitioned into Chemiclord’s material. Because many of the pages needed to be completely remastered for printable quality, I have been spending the last three months retyping and recreating over 100 EXIERN pages. There’s still more to be prepared for the book, but taking such an intimate look at these pages as been better preparation for me than I could have ever imagined.
I’ve always had my story plans, but now I know plenty of little moments through Drowemos’ and Chemiclord’s work which will enrich my plans and those left by my predecessors. And I have no doubt that EXIERN will continue with more humor and character growth.
But I don’t mean this to be about me. As the last of Chemiclord’s pages post I just want to bring attention to the sweat and expansion he introduced to EXIERN. He brought to us a story he cared about and put great thought into. Going into EXIERN’s extended existence we knew that it would not be easy to bear the weight of a great creator. Chemiclord did it very well.
And now I have to bear the weight of two.
I tend to cringe at the idea of offering writing and creativity advice; mostly because its hard to overcome the feeling that the only thing I’m good at is pigheaded tenacity to simply not quit when any rational human being would have, and that any successful creation is an accident more than design. Any revelation into my “method” will reveal the heinous reality that I’m a hack and a fraud, and so it’s best to just maintain this sage like aura of detachment. But as people keep slapping me about… I need to reach out and be engaging, no matter how much I’d rather just sit in the corner and do my work and let everyone come to me.
I’m told this whole creating professionally thing works like that. Who knew?
So, I think what I’ll do instead is just throw out some of ideas I’ve developed over the years and maybe it might give people something to think about.
I’m trying here okay? Chatty-content stuff is hard.
There’s No Such Thing as a Likeable Character
In that, I mean there is no way to guarantee that your audience will like any character, no matter how you try. Designing a story around the concept of your audience becoming emotionally invested in Character A is a risky proposition. If it gamble works, great. But if it doesn’t… the impact your hoping for could likely wind up the exact opposite, assuming your audience sticks around for what you hope the payoff is.
There’s No Way to Write a [x] Character
One of my guilty pleasure movies is “As Good as it Gets.” Not because I think it’s good (it really isn’t all that), but because it mercilessly tortures the “rules of writing”, and I find that endlessly fun.
Like this particular exchange:
“How do you write women so well?”
“I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
Now that’s obviously not true, or even remotely close to good advice, and that’s the point really.
So What IS the Point?
You aren’t writing characters. You’re not writing a “likeable” character. You’re not writing a “female” character, or a “male” character, or a “gay” character, or whatever label you attach as a prefix.
You are writing a person. Who happens to be female, or male, or gay, or black, or white, or with downs syndrome, or in a wheelchair, or with six eyes and scales, etc… (I think you get the picture here, right?). As much as people in real life identify with their traits, ironically enough I have found that the most well-rounded characters are the ones that are built with the traits tertiary. You need to pare it down to the core first, because really at the end of the day, there are so many different people who behave so many different ways that as long as the person is internally consistent, the traits fall into place around that. Much like how I think people really develop. The identity builds around the person… the person doesn’t build around the identity.
So that would be my advice when you sit down to make your character. Start from scratch. Don’t come into the process with any preconceptions as to what you want that character to be, then start filling it in, and see what comes out of it.
Any other concepts you want to pick my brain on? Ask away… I might actually answer.
One theme I wanted to play with in this story is how a person’s actions can be interpreted very differently based on preconceptions or prior influence.
This is one such payoff for me; what many characters took as a demeaning action to try and put a strong woman out of sight and out of mind turned out quite differently once the full reasons were revealed; but I’d like to think that hints that things weren’t like they seemed even at the time I set the stage.
For example; on this page, it’s noted that the fishing grounds was an area that could lend itself easily to an attack. Denver’s little friend commented that it had been a concern, but not anymore. Now we know exactly why, and that rather than a demeaning post (for a culture that values hunting one of the highest and important duties), it was in truth a post that was granted to Diana because she was only one that Wyll-Line felt could do the job right, to keep a level head and not do something foolish just in case the pleas for peace from their old enemies was a ruse.
A further subtle hint that things might not be how they seemed was the authority Diana projected here. Knowing what we do now, does it look like a woman upset at her station? She’s fully in control, she knows she has the authority to speak for the chieftain, attempting to negotiate a “smaller weir” to use for fishing.
To go even further on Wyll-Line’s intentionally poor lighting, starting here, when he puts Tiffany’s companions to work. I intentionally cast the scene to make the chieftain’s actions quite insulting… now think of it this way;
Sending Niels to work with the senior men of the camp, who he hoped wouldn’t be dumb enough to pick a fight with the armored bear (and they managed to avoid that)…
Peonie wound up “working” right under his own roof…
And Denver was sent where Diana could keep an eye on him.
Yes… this is the sort of stuff that runs through my head as I plan out stories.
No… I’m not normal.
As you know, we’re always looking for ways to improve the Exiern experience. Today we announce that Exiern is on Patreon!
Head on over to check out the levels of improvement we’d like to do, and the rewards that will be available!
More news soon!