Backwards storytelling

Back in 2012 I posted this drawing, stating that I have no idea whether to start with the gag strips about MH or an actual comic, which was quite a conundrum for quite some time. So what’s the deal with me starting with BBR when it’s supposed to be the last subplot of the entire saga?

Well, my reasoning was:

  • It’s the first Oz book, duh;
  • It creates some mystery. Who are these characters, what are they talking about, what’s their backstory?
  • If I didn’t feel like continuing the narrative, BBR still could be a stand-alone story. You know, if you squint and look at it from the distance;
  • Otherwise everything would’ve been quite depressing, honestly? You meet all these weird funny kids, and then they grow up and break up and everyone dies horribly, and it’s like watching your best friend lose to their drug addiction.

So yeah, I had my reasons, but here’s the problem. The “mystery” part backfired SO hard.

It’s true, the readers were interested in what was happening, but that was nothing compared to the amount of explaining and recapping I had to do. You saw that plot summary? Yeah, imagine that coming from the mouths of the comic characters. The rule of “show, don’t tell” bawled its eyes out while I was struggling to fit all that stuff in the dialogs and flash games.

You see Faramant, you don’t go “ah shit, I know this character! I know about his struggles with his family! I’m so glad they’re doing great now! It’s so lovely that he supports Leslie and teaches her the stuff he’s learned through his own arc!”. You go “oh hai new character that was introduced in the middle of the story. Thanks for spouting some spiritual advice that has no emotional weight to me and disappearing from the rest of the comic. I have a vague feeling I didn’t even need to know about your existence.”

Nick’s backstory could’ve been tragic. We could meet him and his friends, spend some time with them, learn about their personalities, see how they work together, experience their high and low points, start really caring about them and then go through Jackie’s death with the same impact it had on Nick. But nah, instead he just verbally recaps all of that to Shawn and Shawn goes “yup, that’s pretty sad”. Hey reader, have fun waiting for this moment when we finally get to the prequels, enjoy the deaths of your favourite characters already being spoiled!

I mean, the “show, don’t tell” rule also obviously doesn’t apply everywhere, sometimes you need to just quickly get some exposition out of the way and move on. But in Nick’s case, even assuming that this summary has some impact on the reader, it’s just too lenghty and weirdly specific to get summed up like that. It’s not like recapping Tin Woodman’s backstory in the book where you don’t need to know much else, it’s like being M.Night Shyamalan and trying to cram an entire season of a show into one movie.

In retrospect, it is also depressing to read a story knowing that half of its characters are going to die. And without the prequels the deaths have little to no meaning. How the hell did boiling the sand kill Bastille? What’s going on??

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that prequels never work or something like that. I looove prequels. But your story shouldn’t rely on them to make the readers retroactively care about the characters. That’s like giving your readers a wrapper and promising the candy later. The prequels only expand on what’s already there.

Like I said in that post before the summary, I think that chronological order here is the best solution after all. But in this case, BBR wouldn’t be written the way it is, and that’s another conundrum to overcome if I ever decide to rewrite it.


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