Thursday, November 27, 2014

Character Secrets: Hooks, Gaps, and Caring

Here's the last tip I mentioned in "Be Clueless, Write Awesome:" 

If the reader doesn't care about the characters, he won't care what happens to them.  End of story.

It doesn't matter how many brilliant twists unfold in your masterpiece- all just more stuff nobody will read.  Unless your characters make an impression- fast.  Which begs the question.


A few incredibly simple tools have worked wonders for me.

But first, one important distinction.  

I've seen this advice over and over- that readers must 'like' the protagonist, that having a relatable lead character is mandatory.


Readers do not have to like your character.  They don't even have to relate to your character.

They only have to do one thing:  Care.  Be interested.  Burn to see what happens next.

You could write about a kindly old man walking his puppy to the grocer, and he could be the most likeable, relatable codger imaginable- but if he's boring pages will stop turning.  Would you be more inclined to read the biography of Grandpa Grocer, or Genghis Khan?  

  Interesting beats likeable- especially on page one.  

So if making a figure likeable isn't the key to snagging reader interest- what is?

I thought about this question before starting Dreamkeepers, and it took me underneath the stairs, to a pathetic crawlspace in the Dursley household.  One thing was drilled home in the opening of the Sorcerer's Stone, and it wasn't the finer points of Harry's personality, or the meticulous backstory that gradually emerged as the books continued.  We knew next to nothing about him, except one thing:

He was receiving bad treatment.  And he didn't deserve it.  

That one idea is what Rowling hammered home- and it worked.

Let's call it The Gap.

When you see something bad happening to a person- if they don't deserve it- you feel for them.

That hard-wired sympathetic reaction is the hook that causes a reader to care.  Introduce a character being unfairly hurt, and people have an instant desire to see them recover, and see their tormentor punished.  Because a gap has been introduced- a gap between how things are, and how they should be.  That gap sucks in reader emotion, and simmers with tension that needs to be resolved.  Pages start to turn- long enough for plot devices and deeper characterization to start building.

So that's it.  Throw The Gap at the reader early on, and it'll make them care.

It seems simple to the point of insipidity.  Just throwing some heavy-handed injustice out?  How could such an incredibly shallow tactic do anything but insult our intelligence?

It's usually the simple tools that work.  And while any tool can kill a story when wielded poorly, reflect on a few examples.  The Gap shows up everywhere- and it can get away with being surprisingly blatant:

*Harry Potter with the Dursleys.

*The murder of orphan Luke Skywalker's loving aunt and uncle.

*Ellen Ripley in Aliens showing affection to her cat, only to be hideously tormented by nightmarish fears.

*Paige being dunked by Randy.

*Mr. Incredible valiantly battling evil only to be sentenced to Cubicle Hell.

*Street Rat Aladdin chased by bloodthirsty guards merely because he needs to eat.

Odds are you didn't even notice these hooks being placed when you were viewing those stories- but these were key points where you started to care, these gaps between what the characters deserved, and what they got.

One cautionary note on The Gap:  You usually want the audience to pity the character more than the character pities herself.  If the character wallows in their unfair treatment we'll feel this self-centered fountain of misery kind of deserves their misfortune.  Nobody likes a whiner.  

Speaking of likeable- there’s a great tool to help with that.  Often deployed in or around the Gap, it’s called the Care Package.

A Care Package is when we see a character showing compassion and genuine concern for someone else.  

Just culling from the Gap examples above- there’s Luke Skywalker resolving to rescue Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley showing affection to her cat, Mace helping Paige out of the water, Mr. Incredible’s concern for the man being mugged outside the insurance offices, and Aladdin giving his hard-won bread to a pair of hungry kids.

The Care Package is another simple yet versatile tool.  You can drop a Care Package to round out a villain and show their human side- or give them an inverted Care Package, to showcase their cruelty.  

There are plenty of ways to snag reader interest in a character- but the Gap and the Care Package are two incredibly usable techniques to get the job done.  Simple?  Shallow?  Sure.  Is a fishhook a complicated mechanical device?  A satisfying story will, of course, have more to it than a hook.  Once you’ve made a down-payment on entertaining the reader, you win the wiggle room to develop deeper substance.

I didn’t have names for them, but I used the Gap and Care Packages when I started writing Dreamkeepers.  And there was one other thought in mind when developing the cast of Dreamkeepers;


Sharply differentiated personalities.  We wanted them so distinctive that we could take one line entirely out of context, and it would be clear who spoke it. 

Different personalities seems like a no-brainer, but it’s ignored all the time.  Think of the last TV show or movie where every character was some minor variation of self-serious angst.  Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like the cast is comprised of different people- like it’s all just one writer, and a few faces get shuffled around to share the lines as they come out.  

When personalities are homogenous it’s like listening to a piano with one note.    

Much richer when there’s contrast between the personalities.  

If everyone is dark and brooding, blah.  But put a grim pouter next to a sunny chatterbox?  Suddenly there’s a dynamic at play, an interchange.  Differences make fertile grounds for conflict, negotiation, betrayal, interesting details of every stripe.    

Often the chemistry, the dynamic between personalities, is vastly more interesting than the characters taken in isolation.  Just something to keep in mind when building your cast.

Hopefully this, along with The Gap and Care Packages, can help hook readers into your story.

But if these tools ignite interest- what maintains it?

What about stories that capture our interest and then seem to go wobbly, deflate, or worse- just stop making sense?  

That’s where the similarities between a good story and a fun game come into focus, and shed some unexpected insight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review- Chinese Zodiac Furry

Awhile back Jilo agreed to post a review of Dreamkeepers Volume 3- and seeing as how he's recently completed a book of his own, I'm pleased to return the favor.

First off, a gentlemanly warning:


The book is unapologetic erotica, so it (and links below) are NSFW.  ...Pretty sure that stands for "Nice to Show Fellow Workers."

Given it's an adult book, time for some Q&A.  What happens when a snake catches a frog, a goat summons a demon, and two chickens get in a fight?

...If your answer was 'sex,' congratulations.  You've made it to the next round.

For those who enjoy adult furry art, this book is a find.

The general idea is built upon the Chinese zodiac- there are twelve stories to correspond with the different symbolic animals, eleven text and one comic.  And the text stories are all accompanied with dynamic full-page illustrations.  You can see art samples from the book here:

The narratives cover a wide range of sexual tastes and scenarios- but they're all written in first person, as though narrated or transcribed by the character in question.  Admittedly the prose isn't flawless- the nitpicky editor in me wants to go in and bulldoze adjectives.   But considering the stories are being narrated by the characters, the casual tone ends up lending authenticity to the sultry tales.
Additionally, Jilo is from Rio de Janeiro, with English as a learned language.  And if you compare his aptitude for English against mine for Spanish, well...  No contest, he wins.

And shining through the stories is a pure sensual joy.  With so many puritanical witch hunts and shaming campaigns raging across the nets, it's surprisingly refreshing to come across something that celebrates esoteric erotic adventure without reservation.

The stories actually strike a difficult balance.  They manage to flesh out the porn with enough character and motive to give it substance- while never wandering so far that the narrative forgets its purpose and loses heat.  With a dozen stories and drawings to spare, there's a lot of content- clocking in at 160 pages.

If you'd like to see more, Jilo's art account can be found here:

And his book can be purchased here:

Just be sure to close the door behind you before cracking open the covers.

Because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wisp Knows Something

Clearly we need to make up captions for this one.   Have some fun, and sling 'em in the comments below!  Feel free to repost this art in your own account if you want to actually fill in the word balloon, that would be fun.

Volume 4 Sneak Peek art.  Don't miss the book release- sign up for the Newsletter:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nabonidus in Darkness

Nabonidus having a Black Light Emergency...   I think we've all been there.

Volume 4 Sneak Peek art.  Don't miss the book release- sign up for the Newsletter:

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Volume 4 Sneak Peek art.  Don't miss the book release- sign up for the Newsletter:

Ah, the Foundation...  This was a blast to shade, just playing with a carnival of colored lights.  Actually, this image would be great to use in a tutorial on shading sometime- I can turn the different colored spotlights on and off in the photoshop layers, it's quite fun.

I can't afford to take the time for tutorials at present- however, I've been getting a lot folks suggesting I start a Patreon.  I've been hesitant thus far, but if it frees me up to make more content, maybe it would be a good idea.

If I did have more time for video tutorials, what would you guys like to see?  I was thinking of a perspective tutorial, a lighting tutorial- I've had an expressions tutorial suggested, are there other topics you would find helpful?

Be Clueless, Write Awesome.

Why finish anything when you might not be good enough yet?

There are myriad ways to avoid completing a project, and one of them is to become the eternal student.  Always learning, always improving, so that future hypothetical story keeps getting better and better... While somehow never making its way into reality.

But on the other hand, it might help to know a bit about swimming before jumping overboard.  So where do you draw the line?  What do you absolutely need to know before getting your feet wet with a story?

I can't speak for anyone else.  But when I started Dreamkeepers, I didn't know jack about story.

I didn't know about inciting events, verisimilitude, thematic armature, pinch points, none of it.

Quite simply, I did not know what the hell I was doing.  Which makes for an interesting question about my first books.

Why don't they suck?

Professional reviewers have said "the writing was absolutely golden," that they were "completely blown away in terms of both art and story," and that "The story is so well scripted... This is a much needed title that needs to be recognized."

So how did I, apparently, write adequately without knowing how?

Well, I'll tell you.

But first, bear in mind that it does pay to read up on the subject.  A few books on story could kickstart your competence within a relatively short timeframe.  (My favorites: )  And you should always keep learning as you go.  But that's the key- as you go.

Back when I started going, a few simple ideas are what I had.

They're obvious and straightforward- but keeping them in mind made all the difference.

Love it.

Who Cares?

Develop it.

Nothing Matters Unless...

#1:  Love it.
Write something that incites your enthusiasm.  A good story is the embodiment of your intellect, your yearnings, your fears- it's a distillation of humanity.  If you're churning stuff out that bores you, that's a warning flag.

Now, I don't mean every instant of effort should put you into a romantic swoon.  Hour 12 of color blocking or proof checking is going to be a grind.  But when you think about what that work is for, you better genuinely care.

This guideline is so obvious, you might think it's redundant.  Maybe.  But it's vital.

A story can have plot holes, hammy dialogue, bad art, any number of flaws- but if there's genuine passion animating that story, sometimes it can still lumber into our hearts and endear itself.

Whereas seeing a movie, book, or comic where the creator wasn't personally invested- well, it's like seeing a human body without a heart in it.  Even if all the outward ingredients are arranged to perfection, we can still see it's not alive.  Just a narrative corpse.

This is part of why young creators can become jealous or resentful towards Hollywood- because sometimes those at the helm of our cultural engines of creation don't really care, they just go through the motions to assemble a product.

So.  You may not need to hear it, but don't forget it.  Care.

#2:  Who Cares?
Now that you care deeply about your work, congratulations!   Nobody gives a shit.

That's a hard truth that you must never forget- aside from your loved ones, nobody in the world cares about you.  They don't care about your sincerity.  They don't have time for what you're making.  They're just not interested.

Unless you make it- get ready-


Every scene of Dreamkeepers I wrote, I'd ask myself.  Why should this be interesting to a reader?  Why should anyone care?  What's the appeal here?

Always ask.  And create a compelling answer.

But wait.  Does this mean you should write your story for others, and just bend to whatever grabs attention?  What about self expression?

Should you write to please others, or write what you truly love?

I've heard this question debated before, and it's a false dichotomy.    Don't write for 'others'- that leads to ignoring Rule #1.  Don't write for yourself, unless you're a solipsist.  Worthwhile art is communication- if nobody is getting the message, what's the point?

Here's what you do.

Write for you, if you were a reader with no knowledge or stake in your project.  

Let's say you had no idea how cool the ending will eventually be, or how all these little details will pay off later.  Pretend you know nothing of your work and, browsing the internet, you find it.

Would that work capture your attention?  Would it interest you, as a reader?  What would draw you in, what would keep you?

That's who you write for.  Yourself, as a reader.

And that's how you try to answer the question of why someone would care about a particular scene, or about opening the covers to begin with.

Would you?  

#3:  Develop it.
  “The first draft is just a concept. You have to take a sledgehammer and hit the pillars. If it stands, you leave it in. If it crumbles, you rewrite because it’s the structure that really matters.”  -Gene Wilder

This one boils down to 'work.'

Brainstorm a lot, and let your ideas cool before you latch onto them.  A few days can give years of perspective.  Dreamkeepers evolved wildly in its early years- thank God.

But development can be a quicksand pit- many creators get to work 'developing' a concept, and spend the rest of their life polishing stillborn possibilities.

So how do you know when something is too developed, or not enough?  

I don't think there's one golden path.  Jump in, and find what works for you.

My rule of thumb is to make the best story I can possibly create, so long as it does in fact get created.

#4:  Nothing Matters Unless...
Unless the reader cares about the characters.  This is a refinement of #2, but important enough to be its own guideline.

I remember picking up comics as a kid, turning to page one, and seeing a barrage of punches, bodyslams, and super-powered shenanigans.  I'd flip a few pages in, and more action.  A little judicious yelling perhaps.  And then I would stop caring and go do something else.

That's when I learned- no matter how cool the action is, if I don't care about the characters, then I don't care.

Without some kind of context, without understanding why it matters to someone, events are meaningless.  

This is why, as an opening hook, action is risky.  It works in, say, a Bond film- because the audience already knows Mr. Bond, and can't wait to see him embroiled in danger.  But without a character we care about, superficial action is a ticking time-bomb of apathy.

Which leads to the obvious question- how do we make readers care about characters?  If tossing them into action doesn't work, should we assault readers with a few chapters of backstory and psychoanalyzing?

The art of stirring empathy for characters merits its own article.

It won't be comprehensive, of course- books could be written on the topic.

But I did have a few key techniques in mind, way back when I started Dreamkeepers.

And boy did they work.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Digo and the Guards

I like how Bill's hat almost serves the function of a shark fin in this panel.  I should just stop drawing him altogether, and use a huge green jpeg of his hat for his representation everywhere.

Volume 4 Sneak Peek art.  Don't miss the book release- sign up for the Newsletter:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vi Delivery

Did somebody order body armor?

...Actually the next panel she opens them up to reveal secret pizzas.


Volume 4 Sneak Peek art.  Don't miss the book release- sign up for the Newsletter:

Monday, November 10, 2014

V4 Sneak Peek #10: Throat of Stone

The first Chapter of Volume 4 is done!

The progress samples came out looking pretty sharp, so I think I'm going to release them in the art accounts as standalone pieces over the next week.   The first one is up now- check out the cover for Chapter 10: Throat of Stone!

Ch. 10 Cover - Throat of Stone

Volume 4 Sneak Peek art.  Don't miss the book release- sign up for the Newsletter:

Our stove passed muster- it can toast paper just fine.  To get the effect above, I crumpled paper so the folds radiated out from the center.  This gives the burn marks direction.  Then I scanned it, and voila.  A lot of the textures I paint with are actually repurposed burnt paper scans. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Donation Drive

I know I'm not the only one who's been enjoying the Uberquest updates lately- - but Skidd's computer is currently on its last legs.   He's having a donation drive so that it can be replaced- if you can help out, here's the link:

Let's help those updates keep rolling in.   8 )

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Between the Pages: Make Your Own Dreamkeeper Dolls - DIY Viriathus Vi

This is the first basic guide to customizing pre-existing toys to look like Dreamkeeper toys.
The first character I'll be demonstrating is Vi.

I learned these skills at a young age by altering Mcdonald’s toys to be more accurate- my apologizes, World.  Making Vi is a great beginner doll project: you need to paint, sculpt, and use a power drill to complete this doll.  She will likely need a doll stand when complete, depending on how you sculpt the toes.

The doll parts needed are:
1 Monster High Draculaura
1 Disney Frozen Elsa
1 piece of pink feather boa
(Only Bratz and Monster High clothing will fit Vi.  I’d look for anything camouflage or trendy, the clothing must be on the doll before you sculpt her feet.)

The extra tools are:
Paint colors - tan, pink, black, white, and brown
Super sculpey
A sanding/drilling tool, like a Dremel power tool
Super glue
Tongs or tweezers
Hot water
A heat gun
finishing spray
Plastic wrap

1.  Using hot water, dip the two dolls to remove the heads, keeping the pink body’s neck swivel intact.  Keep the pink body and Elsa's head.  

Remove the hair from Elsa by the following tutorial:

2.  Swivel the legs around to create a digigrade leg, one of Vi’s trademark features.  This is why I chose a Monster High body; one detail is that the doll will only be able to stand.

Use the Dremel to sand down the heel and toes, as well as Elsa’s ears.  Cut off the fifth finger with scissors, Vi only needs four digits.  Switch the Dremel to a drill bit and drill a hole in her back for a tail, slightly above her pant line.  This is what we have, with painted hands:

3. Take a piece of pink feather boa and run black paint down the side.  Tape one end of it when dry.   Super glue the strip into the doll’s drilled back.

4. Sculpt simple hair and ears onto the head, as well as side cheeks.  Build larger legs and toes onto the existing nubs and use the heat gun to harden the clay.  Be sure not to melt the face.  Superglue may be needed to keep the clay attached once hardened.  I drew her patch lines on with a marker in these photos, some of the clay is burnt from the heat gun.  This isn't a problem, we'll be painting over it.

5. Paint the face and legs, beginning with the inner ears and moving to the darker patches.

6.  At this point, your Vi is finished, except for a paint sealer.  If you choose a spray for your sealer, as appose to a brush-on (I used a gloss to look toy-like) wrap your doll in plastic wrap for the spraying in order to protect the clothing, tail, and body.

This is your completed doll.

The extra accessories: the mini rocket launcher, the pink Barbie goggles (painted) and ammo round belt were found on eBay auctions.

Thank you for reading!  I hope you're inspired to customize your own toys and dolls.
The next character I'll be customizing is Wisp.