Several people have provided full responses to the questionnaire, each one providing useful feedback. None of it was painful, but these were all responses from friends and family. We'll see what happens when strangers get the full questionnaire. Two of the three readers who I found in the Facebook group I mentioned also got back to me, but not by sending their responses to the full six issues. The first guy only got through one page, and the second only read a paragraph. Still, they each had lots of useful feedback. It was tailored more toward the outward appearance of the book and not the story, but it was useful.
The first guy stayed up with me until 3:20 in the morning going over his initial impressions, and the other and I had a long back-and-forth about the logline and the questions I needed to answer through it to bring out the story's most interesting and essential elements.
One thing both of them mentioned - Spooky Corps is a bad name. "Spooky" is a light-hearted word, and "Corps" will be confused with "Corpse."
There is an in-narrative explanation as to why the book is called Spooky Corps, but Jordan and I have been aware for some time that it might not work in the end. When we first started developing this story in 2005, it was going to be a concept band made up of fictional character singing songs about their epic adventures. The characters included ghosts, vampires, and the living dead, and they were called Spooky Corps.
We were young then.
But we associate the titular group of Outlanders and indeed the entire project so strongly with the name, it's difficult to imagine using something else. So here's the plan - if an editor at Image or Oni or wherever picks it up and wants to publish it on the condition that we change the name, you better believe we're chucking the title. But if things work out the most realistic way, we'll end up publishing this ourselves, and the name is probably going to stay. As for the logline.. this was a learning experience worth sharing.
In the first email response from the editor (as in guy who actually gets paid to edit), I got this: "Your logline is very bad!"
Here's what I started with:
Within and beyond the only city on the planet, two groups of rebels struggle to survive and free themselves from oppression as the nature of life and death and the very fabric of reality unravel around them.
Jordan came up with that a long time ago, and it's not bad. Tells you where you are, who's in the action, and that something big is going down. From what I understood, this was a satisfactory logline.
The editor pointed out that there's no mention of a protagonist, no clear antagonist, no time frame, and no twist or hint of irony. He also pointed out that while all of these things may not be necessary to creating a solid logline, having as many a possible sure helps.
I immediately read up a little bit on loglines and decided to answer some basic questions. The first question, which should probably be the easiest to answer actually made me stop and think - who IS the main character? This is tricky, because there are several main characters over the course of the narrative, with some coming in and out of focus from arc to arc. Since we’ll be pitching the first arc and not the entire story, I decided to step away from the vague suggestions about the overall story and instead focus on what takes place in the first six issues.
Within the walls of a planet’s only city, a young revolutionary must inspire the citizens to overthrow their war-waging government before a growing army of superstitious outsiders demolishes society itself.
This is better. Instead of two groups of rebels, we now have a young revolutionary to imagine experiencing the story through. Our two groups of rebels are better identified – citizens in revolt, and an army of superstitious outsiders. One may have a better idea of the conflict triangle occurring in the story. I sent this on to the editor, and he came back with even more tips. What makes the revolutionary different from the next, other than the fact that he is young? Can I personify the antagonist? Why does it matter that the outsiders are superstitious? And where, oh where, is the irony?
These are all good questions. I let it tumble around in my head for about a day, and finally came back with this:
In a society where law and logic have been sanctified, a printer’s apprentice risks an indictment of blasphemy to report on a growing cult of savage outsiders whose leader’s vision of a supernatural relic providing the government its power drives them toward the destruction of the city.
- Specific protagonist? Check.. Our young revolutionary is a printer’s apprentice.
- Personified antagonist? Check. The cult’s leader is a more immediate threat than the amorphous “war-waging government”.
- Time frame? Check. Their army is growing and has the protagonist’s city in their sights.
- Stakes? Double check. The printer’s apprentice must choose between speaking out and becoming a criminal in his society, and keeping quiet and being indiscriminately butchered by the outsiders for the sins of his government.
- Irony? Check. The cult’s suggestion that the logic-centric government’s power is actually derived from some supernatural relic is not only ironic, but brings some of the story’s seemingly disparate elements together, hopefully generating more curiosity in whoever reads the logline.
So it hits all of the elements that a logline might need. But boy, is it a mouthful! Next, we started cutting away some incidentals. Some words can just be cut without removing any information. Some phrases can be replaced with a better word choice. The editor came back with his own version which stripped away the personified antagonist and irony – two things I’d included specifically to satisfy his questions. My knee-jerk reaction was to point that out, but I realized that even if some of this stuff ends up being taken back out, asking all of those questions still led me to writing an incredibly dense explanation of the story which included the more interesting and unique elements of my story versus any other rebels / empire story. I’ll probably continue working on the logline up to the point that we actually submit a pitch, but for now I think I’m going to stick with a slightly lighter version of what I’ve already written:
In a society where logic has been sanctified, a printer’s apprentice risks blasphemy to report on a growing cult of savages whose leader’s vision of a supernatural relic empowering the government drives them toward the destruction of the city.
It still feels a little mouthy, but again, I like how efficiently it communicates so many thing about the story.
And I suppose that's all I have for now. The concept artist we've hired has completed two character designs and is about to start on a third. I'll be revealing his work very soon, so stay tuned!