For March 2009
March 9th 2009
Loose Ends and the Value of a Forum
In today's comic, I am continuing the process of tying up loose ends before roaring ahead to the conclusion. Two major issues needed to be addressed, one being Virtue Kazemahou reacting to the apparent foreknowledge of his own demise, the other being some grief over the loss of Only by Lymcit Pho.
These are expected and necessary events, that reasonably must be acknowledged; real people would fuss over such matters. Even if all that is given is two strips each to these circumstances, it must be done, to fail to address these emotions is to fail as a storyteller.
However, it would have been so very easy to forget to add these scenes if not for the constant help of the members of my Unicorn Jelly Forum.
Having a forum of some sort is, I think, utterly necessary to the cartoonist, to the storyteller, to the writer. Feedback from readers is useful not just in the most obvious ways, such as learning one's craft; it is invaluable in terms of helping a creator remember, understand, and follow through with the details of what they are creating.
It is far too easy to think "I must put this in" and then forget to do so over the time it takes to get to a point where a story allows it; few people, I think, are good at keeping, and referencing, notes about their own process of creation. A forum, which talks about one's work, constantly focuses the mind and attention on what is needed to be done, on what is expected by the readers, on what is important.
Additionally, forumites also can come up with new viewpoints, and overlooked components to a story, permitting the canny author to appear all-wise in covering every base; in reality it is the forum, the readers, working with the author that make such completeness possible. No creator is perfect unto themselves (I'm looking at YOU, nonexistant GOD!), and everyone benefits from the additional attentive mind power that comes from cooperation between reader and author. Readers helping the author, and the author listening to the readers creates a one-two punch that knocks mediocrity -and glaring omission- down for the count.
When I started my forum, I did it because several fans wrote to me asking for a forum. I didn't know much about such matters back then; I certainly did not understand the point of a forum. I was ignorant, and stupid about the whole matter. But I made the forum, because a part of me was flattered.
A forum of fans can be uplifting, yes. It can help a hard-working author fight on through the tough times when an epic work just becomes a painful and wearying labor. The difference between worthwhile work and a pointless foolishness is often the praise of others. We commonly determine our worth from the opinions of others; as social primates we are wired for this however much we might wish to be sufficient unto our own selves.
But beyond the emotional support that comes from a supportive forum, beyond the fact that it can make the very difference between actually finishing a work and giving up a project as pointless long before the conclusion, a forum of fans genuinely assists the process of creation at every level.
When stuck, the notions of readers can unblock the way. When written into a corner, the concepts explored by attentive readers can offer a solution. When unsure, the readers feedback can provide confidence, or a better decision. And sometimes the fans may come up, in their discussions, with a better idea, or a better chain of events, or a better organization of events, than the author originally had. A canny author should be willing to change their course in an instant, if a better path is demonstrated. It is foolish ego that would tell an author that the readers, the fans, are not their equal, and that they, the author, are so superior that their ideas trump all. That is... crap.
Trust to your fans, trust to your readers. Sometimes they know your story better than you do. Listen to them, include them, make them part of your process. There is nothing you can create that cannot be made better, and those that love your works the most are the most likely to know what you are trying to do as well, or better, than you do. They can remember what you forget. They can see what you have become blind, or blase' to. They can catch your errors, and they can free you when you are stuck. The fans are your co-writers at times, and they are not merely consumers of your work; they are your partners in your work.
This is why having a forum is so useful, and so valuable. Not because it strokes your ego when you are ready to give up - yes, it does that, and such is valuable - but because your readers are your other, possibly better half as a creator.
So how does this apply to the four strips about Virtue and Mr. Pho?
While it should be obvious that Mr. Pho should grieve over the loss of his companion, and that Virtue should worry over his fate, I would surely have failed to remember to deal with these issues if not for the members of my forum. The end of the story draws near, I feel the desire to rush to that end, and it is so easy to get carried away in that desire that the result would be glaring oversights. My forum members have discussed what they wanted to see, and they wanted to see these very issues dealt with somehow. I had forgotten, until they reminded me, and the comic will be better for their part in it.
My readers made these strips possible, by overcoming my weaknesses, my poor memory, my lack of patience.
My readers are my strength, my partners, and my hope.
If you do any form of creative work that has any kind of potential fandom, find a way to get constant, daily feedback. Get a forum going. Even if you only ever have a handful of people in it, it would be enough to assist you, if you but listen, and include them in the process.
Or so I think.
A useful forum is not there merely to praise you, neither is it there to constantly berate you with how you need to improve. If you are any kind of true artist, you already know, always, that you need to improve. Doubt will ever be your companion. Rather, a useful forum is a forum where your fans are your partners in storytelling, where they discuss what might happen, what is happening, and what did happen, and what they wish would happen. From these things, and the fulfilling or the deliberate, calculated withholding of them, your art can be improved.
I could not do what I do without my readers talking back to me, and amongst themselves. The wisest thing I ever did as a cartoonist was to start that forum.
This is what I have learned from it.
By Jennifer Diane Reitz
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