A while ago I’d started something called ‘Five Things Friday’ where I posted about five things I’d enjoyed that week. It’s returned! But this time with cool things from cool people instead of my blabbing. 😳
To kick off the return of Five Things Friday I had a chat with Duncan, creator of Tide Breakers; an ongoing novella series and card game. You can read more about the Tide Breakers universe over at TideBreakers.com. I really recommend you check it out right now! So much work has gone into this project, I’m totally in awe. Instead of chatting about what happens in the world of Tide Breakers, which you can read about by downloading the episodes out so far! I picked Duncan’s brain about how he goes about dealing with such a big project and what he enjoys about world building.
1. On your blog, it says that you started on Tide Breakers when you were fourteen. How much has the project evolved over the years?
I think I’m going to have to do that annoying thing of giving a doublethink sort of answer! That is to say that the project has simultaneously changed a very great deal, but has also not changed that much at all. In (very) broad terms the project has remained largely the same: I think I had the main aesthetics – how the subs and the world looks, the undersea dogfights mixed in with huge piratical broadside-battery battles – and they are largely the same. It’s what initially got me excited about the project and it’s the main mechanic of the world both in game-form and fiction.
I think it’s in the minutiae of TideBreakers where the greatest changes have happened though. Back when I started it all in my mid-teens, I was almost exclusively interested in the high drama of these operatic battles, but as I’ve grown up I’ve found that I’m also much more interested in the day-to-day of the people who live in the world too; what they’d be like, how the machines would actually work, even the sorts of products that might be available.
It’s probably important to note that whilst TideBreakers has been very important to me for such a long time, it’s by no means the only thing I’ve been working on. I think you always get a form of cross-pollination between projects especially when you’re writing, reading and researching different things. There have definitely been times when I’ve been working on, say, a piece of music or maybe some design work for another project and have had a sudden thought for a new detail to add into TideBreakers. So in that way, I suppose the thinking that goes into both the writing and illustrating has become a little sharper (I hope!).
Instead of just thinking about what is happening and how awesome it could look, I’m thinking about why and how it’s happening as well and trying to weave those details into both the story and game.
2. What advice do you have for other creators who are struggling to get their large scale projects out into the world?
Well, I’ve actually typed this answer out about four or five times. I keep having to start again as I think something that works for me may not work for everyone! think there are two pieces of advice that I can give which will, unintentionally, contradict each other.
Firstly, make sure you’re enjoying the process – ignore how long it takes. I certainly find that I do my best work when I’m enjoying what I’m doing. Sometimes my enjoyment comes from reading lots of things connected to the project. Sometimes it’s working hard on editing what I’ve done before, sometimes it’s creating new things. Don’t expect it to work perfectly first time. If it does, great, but if you find that you need to tweak or even scrap it down the line don’t count that as a failure: it was just a fun excursion. Also, don’t try and force yourself through if you’re getting burned out with something; unless you’ve got a strict deadline, there’s usually no harm in taking a day or two to breathe and think about other things; you might even solve any creative blocks you had by looking at something completely unrelated.
Secondly, don’t dawdle too long. I know – this may seem to directly contradict my first point, but let me explain! Sometimes it can be all too easy to spend so long planning and researching a project. You end up with multiple box files full of ideas and nothing specific to actually show for it. It can also be very easy to fall into the habit of relaxing from being burned out that you end up dropping the project for too long and find it hard to get back into it. Find a method that keeps you productive. Maybe set yourself a deadline, maybe set out rewards for yourself for reaching milestones.
Big projects can sometimes be really intimidating to start as there are so many variables and possibilities. If you don’t hurry up and start making those mistakes, you’ll never get it to a state you’re happy with! Taking breaks and making sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing is very important. But most things aren’t completed without hard grind. I suppose, if I drew those two conflicting ideologies together into one sentiment, I’d probably say that the best advice would probably be to work hard, but make sure you’re really enjoying that hard work!
3. What’s your favourite part of the world building process?
As I’m building TideBreakers half visually and half narratively I think my favourite part is fitting ideas generated whilst doing one thing into the other thing. For example, if I draw something in a particular way, it’s usually because it looks pretty cool. Working out how that fits into the story in an organic and understandable way can usually be a really interesting process. Likewise, if I’ve written something into the story for a certain reason; an aspect of costume or something in the narrative that affects how something looks. I then really enjoy researching reference material to make sure that it looks interesting when I draw it.
4. Realism seems very important to you. What challenges have you faced in creating a wide range of realistic characters?
Realism is certainly very important to me in TideBreakers in terms of characters. But I think in an odd way, the process I follow to get there helps alleviate a lot of challenges. I tend to plan stories by referring to characters in very arbitrary ways – character A, B or C, for example. Unless I’m working with already established characters, I’ll plan the entire storyline without them acting as little more than wooden pegs. Once I know the actions of a character within that story, I then go in and work out their motivations; this often changes some of their actions, but it gives the character a bit more definition. With their actions and motivations in place, I’ll then go back and work out other details such as gender and age.
Once I know the actions of a character within that story, I then go in and work out their motivations; this often changes some of their actions, but it gives the character a bit more definition. With their actions and motivations in place, I’ll then go back and work out other details such as gender and age; to me, and in TideBreakers I’d like to think that those details are incidental. I’ll give the story-plan another pass to make sure that these aspects of the character don’t change anything in any major way. But apart from very small details, there’s often no effect to the broader story.
In transferring these characters into illustration, I then try and apply real-world considerations to the character design. For example, if I’m drawing a female character, I often have to remind myself that in TideBreakers they would all be performing tasks. Such as engineering, manufacturing, handling munitions etc – where long untied hairstyles would be very dangerous! These design decisions then inform how the character looks, which usually then feeds back into writing how they behave.
Another habit I have when writing characters is that if I’m faced with a choice of who or how a character is going to be I’ll usually take the option that I haven’t seen before. My enjoyment of writing definitely feels diminished if I’m writing to any sort of archetype. It feels like I’m just using someone else’s work. I suppose it could be argued that the further a character is from a standard archetype, the more realistic they might be. I also feel like ‘real’ people are all weird in their own innumerable, tiny and fascinating ways.
Two questions I always ask myself when writing is what the character is afraid of in life, and what the character dreams of happening. In a lot of fiction, only the main characters have these questions explored. But I’ve found that doing it for every character can really give depth to the world. Often, when a situation is really bleak or really dark, it’s these odd little habits that can help lighten the mood or distract from the drama. I always try and give characters those little tiny details for if they’re needed later on.
5. Where do you want to see Tide Breakers in a years time?
This is very hard to say! I guess I mainly approach the project in terms of ‘stages’. I’ve got about five ‘stages’ which all build upon the previous stages working out ok. I’ll be working on TideBreakers until I’ve finished all 15 novellas. And probably further than that seeing as I have a second series planned! I’ll be drawing up cards and other game components for the same amount of time. The next ‘stage’ I hope to get to is to write and draw well enough that people would consider donating a little bit of money towards the project every month; I’d love to be able to dedicate more time to the project every week! So I guess the answer to the question is going to be more like a to-do list:
• At least three more novellas
• Hopefully a game-card every week or so
• A run of printed game cards I can use to tell people about TideBreakers
• A blog tour to spread the word about TideBreakers
I think that’s at least doable in a year!
I really hope you have found this interview inspiring. Hopefully, it will help you get any big projects out of your brain and into the world. I know that it’s motivated me to get back into some long-running work. Let us both know what you thought in the comments or on Twitter!
All of the artwork featured in this post belongs to Duncan.