The first two were easy. One was a slightly fantastic take on a historical period while the other was a straightforward fantasy pastiche. I’d done the research for the former years ago and the latter is sort of what could be happening in the next kingdom over in our collective idea of any D&D game.
This third thing is a sci-fi alt-history story where the thing that’s alt about the history is big enough to require an entirely new geopolitics for the 20th century up front.
So, got that done this week. Or, at least, got it done enough to work out where the story goes inside that setting. With that stuff out of the way I can get to work figuring out the characters, what they want, what they’ll do to get it, and how their actions intersect with one another.
That’s sort of a backwardsy way of going about things, isn’t it? I should start with a character and figure out the world around him or her. It never works out that way for me. Probably due to being a tabletop nerd since, uh, oh shit, 6th grade. You get these books that tell you all about the setting then you make a character to drop into it and then you figure out how that character bounces around inside that world and comes up against other characters by the act of playing the game.
Which is probably why I’ve never gotten anywhere with my pitches! The pitch is where I’m working out all the structural stuff because that’s what I’m worried about up front -- what’s this world like, how does this adventure fit into it, will there be room for more -- because I trust the the characterization and emotional arcs to come out by the act of writing the story.
It’s dumb to expect the editor to know that’s where those elements will come up or to expect them to trust a prospective writer to do them if they don’t show up in the pitch.
Totally obvious, dumb, unforced error, thy name is Brian!
But it’s also a bad habit from writing Robo. The thing I pitch at our Robo story meetings is the crisis. To my mind, Robo volumes aren’t about the characters as such. It’s about the characters at work. And since the jobs of these characters is to save the world, they need a crisis to get them out the front door so the story can happen. Characterization follows from what they are willing to do to resolve the crisis. Emotional arcs usually take a backseat in Robo stories not because they’re unimportant but because the main character is active across a hundred years and it would be insane to pack every visible moment of his life with DRAMA BOMBAST DRAMA. It’s there, but it’s happening at a pace and scale that makes sense to Robo even though that might not make sense to the pace and scale the reader expects and I think that's a big part of why the book is so often referred to as "superficial." There's plenty below the surface but it's not throwing up fireworks to get noticed.
What I mean is, the stuff that happens to a TV character across several seasons might feel right to the audience because they’re only getting an episode per week or binging one season per year. But if you unpack those events and view them from the perspective of the character experiencing them in real time, it’s this constant rollercoaster of crises and horror that would put anyone into therapy for suicidal ideation about halfway through the second season.
Maybe it's goofy and wrong to hold back on the emotional stuff in interest of realism, but on the other hand it just makes those moments hit harder when we do them because there's such a slow boil on the way there.
Actually I had one pitch almost get approved. It was a Marvel version of The Hangover (please note this would have been back when The Hangover was recent if not relevant) where Volstagg, Fat Cobra, and Hercules have to track down where they left one or more of the Infinity Gems after a wild cosmic bender.
The most disappointing rejected pitch for me, well, it’s less a pitch and more a structure I worked out that would let any Big Marvel Event get its own Nextwave mini to function both as part of the event and a commentary on it. With an option, of course, for them to become the focus of just one such Big Marvel Event and then realizing that’s what’s happened to them and then being really angry about it.
Okay, that's enough sad times. These new pitches are going places, I tells ya!