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by Seuzz
Rated: 18+ · Book · Other · #2156493
A hub for the "Book of Masks" universe.
The Interactives
"The Book of Masks: A high school student discovers a grimoire that can make magical disguises.
"The Wandering Stars: Sequel to "The Book of Masks."
"Student Bodies: A high school student is turned into a blue goo that can possess people.

For non-WdC Members
"The Book of Masks: Archives: Dodges the "Servers Busy" barrier!
"The Book of Masks (Abridged): Introductory storylines for new readers.

"BoM/TWS Message Forum: Community for readers of the interactives.
"BoM/TWS/SB Wiki: Notes and documentation for authors. Spoilers!

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The Latest
7/17: Interactive: "The Man from Lemuria
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July 17, 2019 at 10:39am
July 17, 2019 at 10:39am
Today brings the last of the BoM updates. In this minor climax, we see Dee's reaction when Will and Sydney entertain adding him as a partner: "The Man from Lemuria (public) + "The Man from Lemuria (interactive).


So what am I going to do for you instead of BoM updates? For most of you, I suppose the answer is "nothing." For some subset of you, the answer is: Spider-Man fan-fiction!

That is a sentence I never thought in a million years I would write. But you find your practice and training where you can.

I am not by nature or instinct an outliner, and I doubt I ever will be. But for the past week I've been diligently constructing and churning out detailed outlines for Spider-Man episodes, and I think the experience is good for me. Although improvisation is what stimulates my creativity, I think I do wander around too much without grappling with such core story issues as "What does this character specifically want, and how are they going to get it?" and that's the sort of thing that outlining really forces on you, or on me, at least.

Anyway, I've already posted one of my treatments, and tomorrow I will start posting more of them, a day at a time. In terms of writing, I've got two weeks' of material already on hand, and I shouldn't have much problem staying ahead. Sometime in late August we would then hit the place I want to get to: my anticipation of the series' upcoming "Superior Spider-Man" arc.
July 16, 2019 at 11:10am
July 16, 2019 at 11:10am
So, in yesterday's chapter Will and Sydney met a most unexpected kind of person. It ended with a choice: partner with the guy, or tell him to go dangle.

You're going to get both sequels, but we'll start with the second one, as I suspect that's the one you guys would have chosen if we put it to a vote: "Of Wardrobes and Ley Lines (public) + "Of Wardrobes and Ley Lines (interactive).


I had two treatments outlined from Sunday, and I got those written up, so I guess that means I averaged one treatment a day over the last two days. I might be able to get two more written today, which will put one-third of the way toward my goal, but after that it will be probably be ten days of one-per-day to get me to the end of Season One.

It surprises me how long it takes me to turn an outline into a treatment, and how hard it can be. I guess it has to do with trying to invent details to fill in the sketch, and worrying about transitional moments.

July 15, 2019 at 10:23am
July 15, 2019 at 10:23am
Okay, yesterday's one-off is the farthest I'm taking you in the Sydney storyline. Now we flash back a bit to when Will and Sydney were just getting together. I skipped over a choice here because it leads into a brief storyline, and I preferred to get all the one-offs out of the way.

So, Will and Sydney are getting to know each other, well enough that Sydney wants to go to a party with Will. But he's still worried that Caleb will find out he's started seeing Sydney. You guys voted for him not to worry, but today we'll find out what happens when he proposes tracking down a ley line instead of going out to Catherine Muskov's: "Focus Pocus (public) + "Focus Pocus (interactive).


I got two treatments outlined yesterday, but not written, so I don't know how to count them. It was hard to concentrate all day, on account of Saturday night I hardly got any sleep and was groggy all Sunday. Also, the two episodes I was adapting are two of the worst in the IRL series, so I had limited enthusiasm for even thinking about them.
July 14, 2019 at 11:05am
July 14, 2019 at 11:05am
Did Will think things were getting serious before? Now Sydney wants to kill her stepfather. Last time we hit this choice you guys voted for Will to go along with her. But it could be that he says no: "Killing a Mood (public) + "Killing a Mood (interactive).


So I surprised myself with how much I got done yesterday: I finished one treatment and wrote two more. I'm still more impressed with myself because the second treatment was almost entirely original and borrowed no major scenes from any of the IRL episodes.

A few days ago I said that I might share and show my development process, and because that second treatment generate a lot of notes that demonstrate it, I'll do that today and here. I don't know how interesting they'll be, but I think you can see the story emerging and coming together in them.


Step One
Construct worksheet with the three key questions at the top:

Who wants what? What happens if they fail? What is stopping them from getting it?

This is a constant reminder that the story must pose and give specific, particular answers to these questions, preferably for each of the major characters. Though it's a bad idea to state these questions and answers in the actual story, it helps for the author (me!) to have them constantly in the forefront while trying to develop the story.

Step Two
Copy over necessary plot points from Series Outline. Arrange them in a tentative chronological order and assign them to an act.

(The Season Outline is a set of beats and developments that must be hit during the progression of the series, with each beat tentatively assigned to a particular episode. Sometimes they are beats that each episode is designed to embody; other times they are beats that need to appear at roughly that spot in the series chronology.)

Act I
* NORMAN OSBORN conveys to SPENCER SMYTHE how much he fears Spider-Man and the "spider army" he suspects is coming.
* Smythe steals his son ALISTAIR's projects to use in his own work.

Act II
* THE JACKAL attacks Oscorp.

* GWEN STACY expresses her appreciation for PETER PARKER, though Peter failed to adequately protect her. [It turns out that this moment isn't necessary to the story and doesn't fit in what I wrote; insofar as something like this scene is needed in the series, it will have to be inserted elsewhere.]
* Norman fires Smythe after Jackal attack and hires DR. OTTO OCTAVIUS.
* There's a final break between Spencer and Alistair.

Step Three
Main protagonists are chosen and goals and plans tentatively ascribed to them.

* Peter Parker wants to convince Harry Osborn to return to Horizon High before their friendship is fatally attenuated by the rivalry between Horizon and the Osborn Academy. He must overcome Harry's stubborness and pride to do so.

* Raymond Warren wants to find a cure for his condition before his Jeckyll-and-Hyde transformation into the Jackal becomes permanent, but Oscorp is the only place with the research that can help him, and Osborn won't want to help him.

* Spencer Smythe wants to keep his job at Oscorp, but his equipment keeps failing and Norman Osborn is growing impatient.

Step Four
Break each of these stories into three acts, with each act structured around a specific goal and plan that either takes the protagonist closer to his overall goal or which reflects an adaptation to the changing circumstances, and which is thwarted by a disaster. These are also tentative.

1a. Peter wants to tempt Harry back to Horizon by showing him the great research projects at Horizon that he could help them with, but Harry's insecurity means he feels upstaged by his old friends.
1b. Peter wants Harry to help solve a problem that has occurred with a Horizon project, thereby making Harry feel useful and wanted. But he discovers too late that solving that problem could uncover Peter's secret -- or cure it.
1c. Peter wants to return to a status quo ante with Harry, but he must rescue Harry from the Jackal, who has made off with him.

2a. Raymond Warren wants to persuade Osborn to giving him his old research so that he can effect a cure for his secret condition, but Osborn refuses and Warren can't tell him why he needs it so badly.
2b. Warren wants to steal his old research, as it is now the only way to get it, but he is surprised in the act, and the excitement causes him to revert to the Jackal, who emphatically does not want to be cured.
2c. The Jackal wants to stop all chances of Oscorp finding a cure for him; and he must escape the intervention of Osborn security (in the form of Spencer Smythe), Dr. Otto Octavius (in his octo-rig) and Spider-Man.

3a. Spencer Smythe wants to demonstrate the utility of his inventions to his boss, but his device to locate and track the spider-man isn't working.
3b. To protect himself, Spencer steals tech from other Oscorp researchers, but he is caught by his own son in the act, which strains their unhappy relationship further.
3c. Spencer wants to stop the Jackal so as to demonstrate the efficacy of his tech, but fails and is shown up by the superiority of Octavius's octo-rig.

Step Five
Break up each act into individual scenes, with an emphasis on developing a location or reason for showcasing some element of the act that needs dramatizing.

1a1. Setup: Peter and Horizon making trip to Oscorp Expo to raise money by showing the tech they are working on. Attendees include Peter, Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, and Dr. Otto Octavius.
1a2. Peter talks to Harry before presentation.
1a3. Peter's presentation, which leaves Harry insulted.
1b1. Gwen's invention is a DNA sequencer and she uses it on Peter's blood, revealing non-human material.
1b2. That machine could uncover Peter's secret unless he finds a way of covering it up. But after thinking about it --
1b3. -- Peter decides to reconcile with Harry by telling him his secret and getting Harry to return to Horizon to help him (Peter) find a cure for being Spider-Man.
1c1. Peter only reveals that his DNA is scrambled before Harry reacts badly, showing fear that Peter could turn into a monster like Curt Connors.
1c2. Peter has to save Harry from the Jackal, who has seized him.
1c3. Peter convinces Harry that it was actually a glitch in the machine, for it was contaminated with Raymond Warren's DNA.

2a1. Warren changes back to himself from being the Jackal, shows fear of changing to the Jackal permanently.
2a2. Warren talks to Osborn, who refuses to help him.
2b. Warren sneaks into his old lab at Oscorp, where he is confronted by Spencer, who gloats over him and threatens him; the excitement provokes Warren to change into the Jackal.
2c1. The Jackal rummages through Oscorp research bays, setting off alarms.
2c2. The Jackal tries to kill Osborn, and grabs and runs off with Harry.
2c3. The Jackal must escape Oscorp.

3a1. Spencer is tasked with tracking Spider-Man, and has to admit to Osborn that the tracker is not working.
3a2. Spencer asks Alistair for his invention—the weapons that will eventually transform Alistair into The Shocker—but Alistair refuses.
3b. Spencer steals Alistair's tech, rifles other research bays; catches Warren.
3c1. Spencer uses modified tech, including Alistair's, to battle Jackal, but loses.
3c2. Spencer is fired by Osborn, who hires Octavius as his replacement; Alistair renounces father to stay at Oscorp and work with Octavius.

Step Six
Shuffle these scenes together, combining them where possible, in chronological order. As they are combined, make changes where necessary or add new ideas while folding in series points

1. Warren changes back to himself from being the Jackal, shows fear of changing back.
2. Peter and Horizon making trip to Oscorp to raise money by showing the tech they are working on. Attendees include Peter, Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, and Dr. Otto Octavius.
3. Spencer is tasked with tracking Spider-Man as Norman Osborn conveys just how much he fears Spider-Man and the "spider army" that he suspects is coming. Spencer has to admit that the tracker is not working.
4. Warren talks to Osborn, who refuses to help.
5. Peter talks to Harry before presentation; Harry betrays resentment, so that Peter pulls back on showing his item, allowing others to go ahead of him.
6. Spencer asks Alistair for his invention and is angered when Alistair refuses..
7. Gwen's invention shows that Peter has non-human DNA.
8. Spencer steals Alistair's tech.
9. Peter decides to come clean with Harry so they can work on a cure together; he reveals that his DNA is scrambled, but Harry interprets it that Peter could be a monster.
10. Warren sneaks into old lab, confronted by Spencer, who gloats and threatens; turns into the Jackal.
11. The Jackal rummages the bays, setting off alarms.
12. The Jackal tries to kill Osborn, kidnaps Harry; Peter has to save Harry from the Jackal.
13. Spencer uses tech to battle Jackal, loses; Octavius drive Jackal off, seemingly.
14. Spencer loses job, son, to Octavius.
15. Peter convinces Harry that it was just a problem with Gwen' machine and that there's nothing wrong with him.
16. It is revealed that the Jackal has stolen some of Harry's blood, Jackal intends to cook up something special for the brat.

Step Seven
Compose the treatment, expanding on each of the above points. Certain developments may be added, dropped, or altered as the story comes into greater focus. Treatment is here: "S01E09: Mark of the Jackal
July 13, 2019 at 10:30am
July 13, 2019 at 10:30am
Things are getting serious for Will in the Sydney storyline. She is interested in introducing him to a Baphomet cult, which has freaked him out. You guys voted for him to swallow his doubts and proceed. But what if he backs out? "While There's Time to Turn Back (public) + "While There's Time to Turn Back (interactive).


I got two treatments written yesterday, plus part of a third, and that's probably the best I'll ever do in terms of getting work done. I only got that much done because two of treatments were close adaptations of IRL episodes.

Looking at the schedule of episodes to adapt, I don't see anymore 2+ days coming up, at least not any time soon. Never mind that it's just exhausting, so that writing two of these things takes most of it out of me. Most of them require some pretty extensive changes, and they are interspersed with episodes like Thursday's, where I have to write most of it from scratch. Then, when I hit episode 14, I'll have to write a seven-episode arc of entirely new content as I give Doc Ock a new origin story.

July 12, 2019 at 9:55am
July 12, 2019 at 9:55am
So far I've been publishing these one-off chapters in chronological order, but today because of reasons I'm skipping ahead.

Will and Sydney are now partners, and Sydney is wanting to share more and more things with him -- mostly, though, she wants him to share his stuff with her. Caleb's mask, for instance: She'd love to put it on. You guys voted to let her, but let's find out what happens when he turns her down: "No One Wants a Creepy Girlfriend (public) + "No One Wants a Creepy Girlfriend (interactive).


Yesterday was another one-treatment day. I knew it was going to be, because it was a story with no precedent in the IRL animated series. It features a villain not adapted to that series, attempting a crime unlike any in the series, and Peter Parker's got new stuff to do. So, I had to do all the work myself.

I've hit two unexpected challenges while working on these treatments. The first is that Peter Parker is turning out to be a much more active character than I had been prepared for. I am much more familiar with the various DC animated series, particularly the Batman series from the 90s, and when you go back to look at them you'll notice that most of the heroes—Batman in particular—are mostly reactive, in that they don't have any goals except to react to whatever the villain is up to. That actually puts the DC heroes into the role of an antagonist, if an antagonist is the one who is supposed to slow and trip up the guy who is actively pursuing a plan.

But Peter Parker typically has his own agendas and plans, and he's got needs and goals besides "stop any bad guys that happen along." In crafting a Spider-Man story, then, you typically don't want to open with him on patrol; he should be confronting some problem that has nothing to do with the villain du jour. That's hard enough—coming up with stuff that Peter wants to do and would be doing if only The Scorpion or The Lizard would leave him alone—but the story also has to juggle his need to finish his own story with his need to stop the villain from finishing his own. The two agendas—Peter's and the villain's—should also be related thematically in some way, which adds a third dimension to the puzzle's difficulty.

So it's hard, and I'm really not sure I'm pulling it all off, particularly as these are only treatments, not finished scripts, let alone produced episodes.

Luckily, the second unexpected challenge is a much less fraught one: I keep wanting to type "Robin" instead of "Peter" or "Spider-Man" when banging out these treatments.

I suppose that's another tacit admission that I'm much more a DC Animated guy than a Marvel Animated guy.
July 11, 2019 at 9:52am
July 11, 2019 at 9:52am
BoM update: Will has shown Sydney all her toys, and she proposes a partnership. You guys voted for Will to accept, but in today's entry he privately holds himself in reserve. What happens next? Read on! "The Focus of Your Efforts (public) + "The Focus of Your Efforts (interactive).


I only wrote one treatment yesterday. It's harder to write them than it is to write a BoM chapter, even though I supposedly know what's going to happen in the treatment and I usually don't know what's going to happen in a BoM chapter.

Part of it is because the treatments are longer than BoM chapters, for although I'm not writing dialogue and I am keeping descriptive action to a minimum, I am still having to convey what happens in each scene: what people are telling each other and what is going on around them and why it is happening. Each treatment is averaging 2600 words. By comparison, most BoM chapters are about 1700 words.

Then, too, there's about three to five chapters' worth of material in each treatment, so there's more stuff to write about. Also, even though I say I've got a lot of the episodes outlined, and I've got actual material from the IRL episodes to draw on, there's still a certain amount of invention that has to be done between the cracks, to connect and motivate incidents if nothing else.

I might publish, just for curiosity's sake, a set of materials related to an episode: the character notes relevant to the chapter, the set of incidents that the treatment needs to convey, the first rough outline, and the final treatment. But assuming I continue this—and it's fun despite the muscle-straining work of it—it won't be until I've concluded my BoM chapters that I start publishing Spider-Man treatments, and that's still a week away. By that point, at my current rate, I will have fourteen of them lined up.
July 10, 2019 at 9:29am
July 10, 2019 at 9:29am
Today's semi-random BoM update comes with Will still trying to seduce Sydeny away from Caleb. He's on a date with her and is pretending an interest in the occult, and she has accused him of pretending only. You guys voted for Will to confess everything, including the existence of the Libra, but in an alternate universe Will denies an interest in the occult but asserts an interest in her. Here is what happens after that: "Deep Sabotage (public) + "Deep Sabotage (interactive).


So I started writing treatments today, and got two of them written, which I am betting will be my best pace. Only thirty-four more to go!

Meanwhile, I was somewhat chagrined when my YouTube recommendations this afternoon pulled up a clip of the "Marvel: Spider-Man" Season 2 episode "The Superior Spider-Man" ... which is exactly the episode that I'm trying to anticipate with this writing project. I clicked on it, wondering if it was some kind of mislabeling, and was further perplexed to find that it was uploaded six months ago. I recognized the art style as it began to play, and I further recognized one of the characters as someone only seen once, in Season One, and nevermore after that.

And when Spider-Man dropped into the scene in a new costume, it removed all doubt. I was watching "The Superior Spider-Man" as imagined by the producers of the new series.

Then the characters started talking.

In German.

So I guess the new episodes started airing last January in Europe. I didn't find any more of them on YouTube, but in truth I didn't look very hard. I didn't want to find them, if they are up.

For now, then, I remain unspoiled, and mean to remain so insofar as I can help it.
July 9, 2019 at 9:38am
July 9, 2019 at 9:38am
This is the "Book of Masks Homepage," so I'll put the update at the top of the entry. Background: Will is trying to steal Sydney McGlynn away from Caleb, and to that end has disguised himself as Caleb in order to meet her for a tutoring session. He arrives early at the coffee shop in his own face, and spots Sydney ducking into Arnholm's Used Books. You guys voted for Will to spy on her in the bookstore. What happens if he proceeds directly to the coffee shop? Read about it here: "Coffee Date of Doom (public) + "Coffee Date of Doom (interactive).

BTW, I am not actually publishing all the chapters that I wrote and held back. Some of them just aren't very interesting. A few weeks ago, rugal without meaning to jumped in and pre-empted one such chapters by writing his own, and I liked his contribution a lot more than the placeholder I was holding in reserve. So if I think a chapter doesn't lead anywhere too interesting, I'm not going to publish it, in case someone comes up with something better.


Yesterday I spent another six solid hours on sketching and outlining "Spider-Man" ideas, and on assigning pivot points and climaxes to various episodes. I think I've got all the major points pinned down, and a lot of the minor ones too, and the stuff I haven't got pinned down would probably be better fixed when I start writing actual treatments, which will be my assignment for today.

This has been a very strange experience for me. I am not by temperament an outliner, and I've always found outlining an unrewarding chore. I get most of my ideas by improvising them in the course of writing a story, and outlining I've always found an arid and frustrating exercise.

But outlining this material hasn't just been easy (relatively!) but exhilarating and surprising, and I find myself constantly discovering new motivations, new complications, new echoes or ironies as I tear the cartoon's continuity apart and piece it back together. It is the complete opposite of my usual experience.

I suppose mostly it's because I'm working with material where most of the story elements have already been crafted: the characters, their goals and conflicts; some very specific plot elements; and a couple of climaxes to work toward. With those in hand, it's easier to get new invention by moving the pieces into new combinations, whereupon you see new possibilities inside the new pattern.

There are still places where I'm going to have to come up with entirely new stuff, either on my own or by drawing inspiration from some of the original comics. For those treatments -- and there's about 15 of them that will need mostly-from-scratch writing -- I will probably have to write something like a story and then condense and abstract it down to a treatment. But we'll see.
July 8, 2019 at 9:25am
July 8, 2019 at 9:25am
So, based on the work I did yesterday—almost ten solid hours of fun but exhausting brainstorming and scribbling—I think I am going to attempt the "big" project I outlined yesterday, the one where I sketch out one-and-a-half alternate seasons of "Marvel's Spider-Man" before turning to write my version of an animated "Superior Spider-Man" storyline.

Those ten hours of work yielded story progressions for almost a dozen major antagonists and another dozen minor ones. About half of those progressions, I'll admit, I took over almost unchanged from the animated series (no reason to do new work when old work will do) but progressions of the other half of the villain cast diverge (sometimes radically) from the animated continuity. Moreover, three of my major antagonists would be new additions to the animated canon, brought over from the comics.

In addition to keeping many of the same antagonists and their plot lines, my design keeps about half of the actual episodes, mostly unchanged but moved to different chronological location. (Again, more saved effort where possible.) My design junks another eighteen or so episodes entirely (including the entirety of "Spider Island") for new stories meant to develop new antagonisms, or antagonisms that will be live for "Superior Spider-Man." There's not nearly enough detail yet to completely fill in the quota of 38 episodes; some of the episodes only have antagonists assigned; and there are four slots where I don't have anything at all. But I think that's okay for now. Those slots can be reserved for episodes that can cover material that I haven't yet realized I need.

As for the heroes: There is less work there, and most of it is subtractive. So I'm also getting rid of Spider-Girl and Spider-Gwen (though keeping Anya and Gwen otherwise unchanged) and altering Miles Morales's story so that he designs and uses spider-tech that mimics Peter's powers instead of acquiring powers of his own. The idea of another Spider-Person still bothers me, but after watching "Marvel Spider-Man" all the way to the current point, I'm much less annoyed by him and his contributions as Spider-Miles, so that is my compromise.

So what's the next stage? There are some important relationship arcs that I still have to plot out over the course of the seasons: Peter and Harry, Peter and Norman, Norman and Harry, Peter and Jameson, plus a few others.

Then it will be on to writing some detailed treatments of these episodes -- something which might yet dissuade me from continuing. If I get half a dozen of those written and still want to continue, I'll think about finding a way to post them for the two or three of you that might want to look at them.


And what of "Book of Masks," you ask? Well, I'm not going to get to that last chapter I've been dithering over, not any time soon, no matter what. (If this Spider-project doesn't work out, I'll be too depressed to do anything for a month.) But I do have a small trickle of chapters that I can post over the next week or so.

They're leftovers from when I was publishing the branch that introduced Sydney. While publishing it, I polled you guys at each fork to see which way you wanted to go, while telling you that each choice had a chapter already written so that you would be getting a chapter no matter which direction you voted. Mostly you picked the choices that sent the story down the path I had written, but I still have some of those chapters that you voted down. I will be posting some of them—the ones I would like to get onto the record, as they contain plot evolutions that I like or which are pretty important.

The first is here: "A Need for Red Herrings (public) + "A Need for Red Herrings (interactive). Will has let Caleb have his date with Sydney McGlynn, but he and she have unexpectedly shown up at the old elementary school and want to have a look in the basement. Will has bluffed them out of investigating further, but instead of confessing his occult interests to Sydney, he's going to deny and bluff.
July 7, 2019 at 4:11pm
July 7, 2019 at 4:11pm
So I finished watching Season Two of "Marvel's Spider-Man" yesterday, and it's left me in a bind. I was hoping that there would be lots of plot threads lying around that I could as scaffolding to hang my version of "Superior Spider-Man" on, but there aren't any, not to speak of. In fact, there are so few plot threads or continuing, surviving villains of interest that I'm wondering what the real-world writers are going to do. I have the feeling that they're going to do the obvious--have SSM horrify his friends by going medieval on the any bad guy who crosses his path--and that seems to me a boring way of developing the inner conflict that SSM is portrayed as suffering. Norman Osborn is probably still out there someplace, so I guess they could bring him back. Otherwise, there's not much that's interesting to work with.

So I'm stuck between matching wits with the writers by using the same materials they've got, and ...

Well, cheating.

Cheating, by which I mean, I could go back and revise the first two seasons, making up my own alternate version of the series thus far, and giving myself the materials that I think would be fun to work with.

I wouldn't be writing those alternate episodes in script format, though. (Too much work.) I'd write up summaries or detailed treatments. That would still be a bigger project than what I had originally planned, but in some ways it would probably be easier. I bought one of the ASM "Epic Collections" yesterday (Vol. 4) and I'm going to check out some other collections from the library, so I'm already getting ideas by reading some of those stories. That's not the same supply of material that the cartoon writers were drawing on (they're drawing on the last few years of Dan Slott's work) but I would be writing on the most original of the canonic material out there.

I'm going to have to think about this some more, and I'm going to have to think about it by actually trying to wrestle out some of my own ideas for an alternate version of the series.

Hell, if nothing else, it would give me a chance to outline a Doc Ock episode that I could title "Sh! The Octopus!"  
July 6, 2019 at 11:00am
July 6, 2019 at 11:00am
So, in a comment to yesterday's post, That One Guy says that I'm watching and reacting to "what is effectively the last five to seven years of comics distilled into one show." That's hilarious and would explain a lot.

I don't read comic books. It's an expensive habit, and I'm not fond of the "decompressed" style that's been adapted in the last 10 years or so.

So it's funny when I complain that this animated series is too much compressed. "Venom" in the comics, for instance, was a pretty extended story, wasn't it? I hope it was less compressed than the one-episode treatment (with two bonus appearances) that this animated series gave it. Was "Spider Island" also an adaptation? Quick research suggests it was, but I'm not going to do a deep dive, because the idea feels goofy at any length. Maybe it got a sensational treatment in the comics, but it feels like the worst kind of comic-book stunt, the kind that begins with the editors bragging THE STORY THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING! and ends with them rushing to confess WE DIDN'T REALLY MEAN IT, WE DIDN'T REALLY MEAN IT!

There are other places where the cartoon's compression bothers me, not because the results are bad but because they're not nearly good enough. Places where the ideas and approach are terrific, but the execution fumbles.

So the thing I like best about the series -- which also comes from the comics -- is the melodrama surrounding the Osborns, and the way it envelops an unwilling Spider-Man. I like the Machiavellian plotting of Norman Osborn, and the three-cornered tug-of-war that erupts between him, Peter Parker, and Spider-Man to pull Harry in every which direction.

I like the conflict between Osborn and Raymond Warren, and I particularly like that Osborn's justified paranoia about Warren motivates his paranoia about Spider-Man, as he has a justified (though false) belief that Spider-Man is an early manifestation of a Jackal plot. It's the kind of thing that elevates a character from hackneyed villain to flawed human being, or even -- if the right work is done -- misguided hero.

And I especially like that there are all these pieces moving just beneath the surface, where Peter can't see but which cause earthquakes he has to deal with -- and which without his realizing it are moving him and Harry toward a confrontation.

What I don't like is that these revelations come tumbling out in a higgledy-piggledy way, so that most of those developments are in place by episode 5. They feel more like the kind revelations that should have taken place across a 15 or even 20 episode stretch. Then it would have felt more like a living, evolving world and less like the chess pieces being quickly moved into position.

I also don't like that with Harry they seem to have lost the plot. After doing a good job of setting up his conflicted feelings, those conflicts are only banged at instead of developed: Norman pressures Harry into hating Spider-Man; Harry gets snotty when Spider-Man shows up; Harry and Peter swear their undying friendship; return to start. Then, when there's finally a break between Harry and Peter (episode 17), it is quickly papered over. Then it opens up again in Episode 18 ... and is papered over. Opened and papered over again in Episode 19. By the time Norman dies (Episode 25), I no longer cared where or how Harry was going to come down again, because I was sure it would just reverse again whichever way it went. The story should build to an irrevocable break between the friends, because that's where the logic points.

I have finished Season One now, and I don't regret the time or the $15, not by a long shot. I have been taking extensive notes and will be posting some synopses and analyses of the episodes. There is stuff to learn from them. I am now off for Season Two, which with luck I will finish up today.

EDIT: Here's a pretty good YouTube review   of the series, and I'm pretty much in line with what he says, except that his critique of Harry Osborn dives too deep for me to share, since I don't know the character that well.

One thing I'll add: I have always hated how chatty earlier Spider-Man cartoons are, how he self-narrates himself around the screen and through his adventures. It's "radio talk", the kind of stuff you put in to explain things that the audience can't see or understand. It's in every Spider-Man cartoon I've ever tried to watch, and it's always driven me from a Spider-Man series after giving it one or two chances. I know Spider-Man is supposed to be a talkative guy, but what works on a comics page doesn't work in a cartoon or movie.

I don't mind it nearly so much in this series, though, because they turn it into characterization -- it's how Peter talks himself through situations -- and they even lampshade it. He tries practicing his stealth skills in one episode, and Miles catches him because "I heard you talking to yourself." Peter: "I don't talk to myself!" Miles: "You might want to look into that." So it feels less like cliched old-time cartoon writing -- "Great Scott, I've got to stop that dam from bursting and inundating that valley where ten thousand people, including my Aunt May, live in relative suburban comfort, from being swept away by the subsequent catastrophic flood!" -- and more like real writing.
July 5, 2019 at 12:36pm
July 5, 2019 at 12:36pm
So I mentioned a possible project yesterday, and I've started research on it by plunging into the cartoon. But I'm still undecided on whether I'm going to do it because ... Well, it's going to depend on whether my enthusiasm survives all the cringing.

Okay, the series isn't awful, and there are a couple of episodes that I think are quite good. But there are some creative choices that baffle me. (Unless they reflect executive meddling; executive meddling can explain a lot of bad decision-making.) Take, for instance, the addition of Miles Morales to the cast.

Now, I have nothing against Miles Morales, since I don't even know him from the comics. And I've no objection to adding someone called "Miles Morales" to a "Peter Parker" continuity. But as for putting him in a "Peter Parker" show and giving him spider powers right alongside Peter, which is what they do in Episode 10--

Well, remember Syndrome's line in The Incredibles? "When everyone is special, no one will be." Yeah, that's the line I'm alluding to in this entry's title.

If everyone gets to be Spider-Man, then no one is Spider-Man.

It's not just that making Miles another Spider-Man makes the original 50% less special. The real problem is that it doubles the number of people who are exactly alike. Does Peter have spider powers? So does Miles. Is Peter a science genius? So is Miles. Is Peter a goofy nerd? So is Miles. Is Peter sassy? So is Miles. Are they both scrawny and tend to get bullied? Yes and yes, and every other similarity you can think of would get answered with a "yes" as well.**

When you're writing a story, "more of the same" does not make for a good thing. It makes for a bad thing, because when the supply of anything goes up, the value of it goes down.

There is value in having diversity of character. But skin color is not diversity of character, and skin color is the only difference between Peter and Miles when you put them in a scene together.

I would have the same objection (only with the names reversed) if the series started with Miles as Spider-Man and then added Peter. Why are you adding this second character, this "Peter Parker" guy, who is exactly like Miles, the character you introduced first?

And all this is only an extreme instance of the series's inability to distinguish between its four teenaged justice-friends. Anya Corazon and Gwen Stacy differ from each other only in ethnicity, and they differ from the boys only because of their gender. (Okay, there's one other difference to align with the gender difference: the girls are noticeably bitchy and catty, while the guys are goofy.) But they are all super-smart, uninterested in anything that isn't "teh science" (or what passes for "science" in this show; it can't even figure out how the periodic table works), and have identical competencies across all academic fields. Except for the girls' bitchiness, you could switch almost any of these characters for any of the others by changing names in the script, and no one would ever notice.

And how can you go 10 episodes into a Spider-Man series without J. Jonah Jameson being so much as mentioned in an aside? That's another creative choice that astounds me.

Anyway, that's where I am now: Ten episodes in and wondering if the show isn't going to beat the enthusiasm out of me. But I am currently on track to have the series watched by the start of next week.

**Edited to add: To be clear, the problem isn't just or even mainly that there are two similarly powered individuals at play together. Batman and Robin also have similar ... powers. Or at least techniques. The real problem is that there is nothing else to differentiate Peter and Miles but their possession or lack of spider-powers. Batman and Robin have very different personalities, for instance. If Peter and Miles had complementary personalities, it would be much less of a problems.

But I do think it would still be something of a problem. Part of Spider-Man's appeal (I think) is the uniqueness of Peter's situation -- not only that he has spider-powers but that their acquisition--not possession, their acquisition--made such a huge difference to his life. If he hadn't got them, certain sequel events would not have led to his uncle's death. That, not their subsequent use in crime-fighting, is what makes them important to him and makes them also important to us. But if the same powers are going to be handed around like Halloween candy, then you cut those powers off from the character development that made them important.

An attribute is not important. What a character does with the attribute is what is important to a story, because what he does with it makes it meaningful to him in a particular way. What Peter did (and did not do) when he initially got his powers is what makes those powers important to him. Similarly with Batman: that his parents were murdered doesn't make him unique. It's what he did with that tragedy that makes it important to him.
July 4, 2019 at 2:12pm
July 4, 2019 at 2:12pm
No new chapter today. There might be one tomorrow, though.

Meanwhile ...

A day or two back I mentioned the current Spider-Man cartoon running on Disney XD. (It's called "Marvel's Spider-Man" and it is this one  .)

Anyway, after my initial, rather sniffy perusal of it, I did a slightly deeper dive and discovered that they are in the middle of adapting the "Superior Spider-Man" storyline from the comics a few years back, the one that transferred Dr. Octopus's mind into Peter Parker's body.

Oh, man. Obviously that's an idea that is totally in my wheelhouse.

Moreover (autobiographical confession coming), it was body-swaps with superheroes -- or evil clones, or shapeshifters; there's a whole repertoire out there -- that first twigged my interest in the TF thing. I always wanted to see the bad guys win in those scenarios.

So it's strange to say that I've never read the Superior Spider-Man storyline. Or not so strange, given that I'm not a major fan of contemporary comics, and the online summaries didn't make it sound that interesting.

But an animated version of the story, like the cartoons and shows of my youth? I guess I'm going to have to watch it.

Or write my own version.

Wait. What was that?

Okay, Season Two of the show ended on a cliffhanging teaser, with Doc Ock having just completed the transfer. Season Three isn't slated to start for two-and-a-half more months.

So that's 75 or so days for me to catch up on the series and the comic book storyline, digest them, and compose my own version of the upcoming season, before that actual version comes out. Seventy-five days for me to put myself in competition with a professional show by writing a version of what they're writing, before they have unveiled it to the world.

It would be a fun challenge, and though I had a plan for July and August, this would be a timely substitute.

So would there be any interest in these parts for seeing me tackle a multi-part story, in script form, anticipating Season Three of "Marvel Spider-Man," and posting the results?
July 3, 2019 at 12:34pm
July 3, 2019 at 12:34pm
So in today's chapter—"Teases for Two— I didn't quite get to where I wanted to go. Some girl talk got in the way. But it seemed necessary. Am I going to write and soon post the chapter that includes the actual swap? I'm undecided. I think I should. But there's other stuff I should be doing.

And what's that other stuff?

I want to spend July and August working on a non-BoM project. I have a solid idea for what I want to do, and I have spent the first two days of July brainstorming the stuff that will let me start it, so I don't feel like I've violated my own pledge by still writing some BoM chapters. But that's what I mean to be concentrating on. Any BoM stuff that gets written will be purely extra, and won't be published until September at the earliest.

As for what my current project will be: Well, it's something I don't think BoM readers will be interested in, but I will let you watch me compose it.

Until now, I've kept my non-BoM stuff off this site, but this one I think I'll publish on WdC, a chapter at a time, as I write them. I'm not looking for feedback (though I will take it) and really, I'll be publishing it publicly because I think I'm going to need the discipline that comes from putting myself out very visibly on a tightrope.

But it will be a day or two before the first chapter appears. I'll let you know when it goes up.


I have a small trickle of chapters in BoM that I will put out over the upcoming week. A few months ago, when I was publishing the branch that introduced Sydney, I polled you guys at each fork to see which way you wanted to go, and I told you that I had a chapter written for each choice. Mostly you picked the choices that sent the story down the path I had written, but I still have half-a-dozen or so chapter choices that you rejected. I would like to get some of those onto the record, because some of them contain plot evolutions that I think are pretty important, so I'll put those up.

July 2, 2019 at 10:14pm
July 2, 2019 at 10:14pm
I said yesterday I'd have something today to say about July/August plans. Well, that update will have to wait until tomorrow.

For now, here's something from the "Weird Things That Happen to Your Brain While Trying to Write" Department:

For reasons that have nothing to do with the just-opening Spider-Man film, I today fell into watching a handful of episodes from the now-running Disney XD Spider-Man animated show.

And then when I tried to write a BoM chapter for tomorrow* I kept seeing and hearing the BoM characters as animated characters in the Spider-Man style. It was incredibly distracting, and as I tend to hear and see all the scenes I write, it made me second-guess every single thing I was writing.

* But wait, you thought I wasn't going to do any BoM work in July. Well, I feel like I owe it to the commissioner, and I want to get it written anyway, as it was part of June's plan. Also, if I have time when I can polish off a BoM thing without interfering with my main plan for the month, I'll do it.
July 1, 2019 at 11:11pm
July 1, 2019 at 11:11pm
Okay, for various reasons I'm 12 hours posting today's chapter. But it's up now.

Meanwhile: I don't know how I managed it, but for the last week I was getting the date wrong when updating the Homepage with links to new chapters. And no one called me on it?

That's too bad, because that date screw-up is going to have some real-world consequences around here. That's because for the last week or so I've been internalizing the date I've been posting, which means that June ended for me a day earlier than I was expecting it to.

And that's a problem because all month long I've been really bad at writing BoM chapters, and mostly I've been writing one chapter a day, or writing two chapters every other day, and for the last week I've been publishing chapters the day after I wrote them instead of drawing on a backlog. I've been meaning to stop BoM work at the end of June, and with no backlog that meant my supply of new chapters was set to run out when the month did.

So when the month ended a day earlier than I was looking for, I was one chapter short of where I meant to stop. Oops.

So am I going to write that chapter? Well, sure, eventually yes. But even if I write it sooner rather than later (as in, sometime in July instead of September) it won't be coming tomorrow.

What will come be coming tomorrow? Ruminations on what to look for in July and August.
June 28, 2019 at 11:18am
June 28, 2019 at 11:18am
Today's entry, I'll admit, is a quick-and-dirty rewrite of "Replacements Three but with a new victim. I was pressed for time. But I also must admit to liking the parallel-but-different resemblances between closely related chapters.

This is a commission, and it actually wasn't supposed to take place in this part of the interactive. The idea I was pitched was supposed to go in a very different part of the interactive. But it would have taken many chapters to write my way to the commission's starting point. Two days ago, as I was turning my attention to the commission, I saw a way of getting to the same story (well ... almost the same story) in a shorter and more direct way by putting in here, right next to where we last were: "The Tomboy (public) + "The Tomboy (interactive). So there's not a lot of background to give to set up what's going on. Instead of picking Andrea Varnsworth as an identity, as he did in the last storyline, in this one Will picks—

Well, you should just click on through.
June 27, 2019 at 10:47am
June 27, 2019 at 10:47am
A commentary track on today's entry.

Two weeks ago, in "Improvising in a Complicated World, I wrote:

Today—Tuesday afternoon, as I compose this—I am supposed to start writing the storyline that you guys voted for over the weekend, one involving Will, the YouTube crew, and Andrea Varnsworth. I spent some time thinking about it yesterday, and I got an idea I liked. Something in line with what you'd expect from the anticipated storyline, but with a bit of a twist. It got me excited.

But when I started gaming out some of the more distant consequences—not outlining, just playing "what if ... and then what if ... and then what if"—I remembered two other certain characters who are in play. And those two characters wouldn't exactly derail what I had planned, but they would complicate it.

Put it this way: Given characters A and B, then X is bound to happen. It is inevitable, and it will happen almost immediately. And X would badly interfere with Z, the plan I have for Will. It would probably forestall it entirely, and even if it didn't forestall it, any story that juggles X and Z would be ungainly. A challenge to handle, at least.

So this is where I am as I slump thoughtfully over my laptop: What the hell am I going to do about X, when it is Z and its complications that I'm so interested in?

I can now say that characters A and B are Andrea/Will and Chelsea/Josiah; that Z was Will's plan to sleep with himself in a way that he could get caught and thereby become notorious (in a good way) with Andrea's friends; and that X was Josiah wanting to get together with Will to rekindle the spark between Andrea and Chelsea. I wasn't uninterested in the latter, but I was more interested in the former. I was also more interested in setting up a conflict between Andrea/Will and Charles—he's not going to play Will's game—and all of that would have been a momentum-killing interference if I'd tried juggling it alongside Josiah.

So, yes, today's chapter is meant to derail Josiah's plans and set up a branch that would concentrate on Will's plans. But the alternative, where Will goes off to meet Josiah, is still available, and the proper course of action there is for Josiah's plans to derail Will's interest in promoting himself with Andrea's group.


Meanwhile, there are some interesting comments in the post below, regarding Andrea as a POV character, the merits of Will's plan, and whether the interactions between them work. I'd be interested in seeing these opinions expanded in light of today's chapter, particularly Charles's appearance at the end of it. For the record, that chapter was composed before I saw the comments, and it was in no way influenced by them.

I can't say that I intended for readers to react as (at least two) readers reacted. I didn't intend for Will's plan to be a bad plan, and I certainly didn't consciously try to portray it as ill-conceived. But I did intend for it to fail, and for it to fail by leaving Charles baffled and even a little angry with Andrea. (Well, this much I intended: rugal felt that Will's plan was motivated by "a bit of a complex over the fact that the 'new and improved Will' isn't even a blip on the radar of people like Andrea and her friends." That much I intended absolutely; it was the motive for him to make that play.) So I intended Will's plan to go wrong. Did my imagination therefore prepare for that failure by supplying a chapter sequence that was unhappy and "inorganic," all the better to show that the plan was a misreading of Andrea's social group? I don't know. I can only say the reaction actually kind of pleased me. Whether it made for a satisfying read, of course, is another question.

But I don't think it explains why the chapters were so hard to write.


Finally, I used variations on some ideas proposed in this week's QotW. Today's chapter doesn't set any of those up as choices, but it does set up the chance that those choices will become available later.
June 26, 2019 at 1:39pm
June 26, 2019 at 1:39pm
Tomorrow will bring this branch to a suspension point; I'll have some commentary on it here on the blog.

For now I'll remark that these chapters have been surprisingly hard to write. I don't know why. I know the characters, and I knew the direction I wanted to send things. But there were lots of little places where I just got hung up, where I just didn't want to write my way thru. The place where Will, as Andrea, goes in to the school for the first time, for instance. I came right up to it and my imagination said "Nope," and shut down for a couple of days.

I think it was because I needed something to happen there, but there was nothing to happen. A lot of BoM is devoted to portraying "what it is like" to be someone while being someone else, so there's a need to dwell in moments of real life. But if there's nothing happening in that real life, if there is no goal to draw the characters along, then there's nothing to draw the imagination along either.

On Friday I'm going to start publishing a commission, one I need to start working on today. I hope I can get it to a stopping point before the end of the month, when I'm scheduled to go off of BoM for sixty-two days.

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