Sex, guns and storytelling

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Alex F. Vance

Mar 16, 2010, 9:44:43 AM3/16/10
to heathencity
Steady on, pornmongers, you'll give the good people at the Ursa Major Awards a heart-attack :)

Sex and violence, like romance and suspense, are just ingredients. Not every meal requires every ingredient you enjoy, and some are actually damaged quite severely by the introduction of ingredients that have no place there. Mrs. Cropley's famous peanut butter & anchovis sandwiches are an example. On the other hand, sometimes strange combinations work amazingly well -- the first time I encountered mustard ice cream I just had to have a second helping.

With Heathen City #2 I wanted to deliver an extremely rich and diverse narrative and opened up many cans of wiggly, creepy little plot-worms. Exposing some of Malloy's activities prior to Owen's arrival. Showing the very beginning of Tony Caulfield's character, and his mother's, and then reveling in those carefree days when The Boys had the whole world at their feet -- and the introduction of Tiber Ferrum, swathed in mystery. I strove to weave a colorful tapestries with tons of blank spaces in it, spanning large expanses of time and intimating deep enigmas, speaking of bloodlines and creating patterns of behavior that indicated, through their contrast, the unexplored presence of substantial events between them.

However, this introduced a crucial flaw: distraction

While I'm very satisfied with each story and tremendously proud of each arc's final form, especially the enormous creative influence and expression of the awesome artists who brought them to life, and while I feel that the structure of the arcs combined creates a framework wherein the stories that explicitly aren't told are almost as interesting as those that are, there was just too much going on for the reader to bond with the second book as much as they had with the first. 

The through-line of the book was implied rather than expressed, and while I do love to make my readers work to figure out what they're looking at, the book as a whole didn't make it clear what the reader should care about and what they should take away at the end. Every story an sich was tight and had a clear arc, and they were thematically, emotionally and causally connected, but it needed just a bit more continuity for the reader to connect more fully with the characters.

I love the modular structure of the second book. It has obvious benefits for production, since illustrating a full comic is a taxing job for any artist, let alone when they have day jobs and studies and a way-too-dense script from a persnickety and overambitious writer. That Ayato was able to do it for the first book still astonishes me. 

Writing shorter, denser scripts with a strong arc presents its own challenges and forces me to be economical, constantly compressing the plot, excising that which doesn't contribute enough, no matter how cool it might be on its own. Every beat, every gag is examined over and over to ensure it serves a functional purpose: establish peril, heighten suspense, misdirect attention, relieve tension -- and the stories are stronger for it.

I'm certain it's possible to combine the advantages of each approach, and I'm confident Heathen City Vol. 3 will demonstrate that. Modular stories by different artists for intense, highly-polished storylines with a mouthwatering variety of styles -- but still bound by continuity, tightly related, to preserve the reader's investment as they weave through the plotlines. Where HC2 might be discribed as an anthology, HC3 is an ensemble piece.

So this time around I even more closely evaluated the merit of each plot element, each scene and each character to strike a balance between the thrill of discovering new or previously-hinted-at aspects of this universe, and making sure the reader at all times knows what to care about, and carry that investment through to the end of the book. 

And that means there wasn't a place for nice, juicy, indulgent sex scenes like those in the first two books except for just one, to establish a new character in the context of this morally ambiguous and hedonistic world. At the same time, the sex itself, the exchange of bodily fluids and the nature of procreation suggest a particularly maudlin preoccupation of this character that's only very gently hinted at.

There were two -- maybe three, at a stretch -- beats where I could have slipped a sexy interlude, and perhaps a year ago I might have done so simply because they would have been delectable scenes, but my assessment this time around was that their presence wouldn't benefit the story as much as their absence. They'd break the urgency and suspense, they'd trivialize the danger and emotional challenges the characters are facing.

Now, you know me. I think sex is just super and I love having it, and thinking about it, and seeing it and writing it, so this certainly doesn't mean I'm turning into a moral snob overnight. Heathen City is for me as much as it is for my audience and if I'm going to invest years of my life and thousands of my hard-earned Euros I'm going to make damn sure the result is a story that I want to read more than anything else I could pick up at a con!

And I'm going to make sure, with every chance I get, to make my audience feel the same way.

- Alex Fucking Vance
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