Status Report: Long Chapters

Posted by Glen Moyes on Saturday, 9 October, 2010 at 1:09 am

I added a new feature to the graph; it now shows how long each chapter is by line length. That’s very useful information because it definitively explains why our writing has been going slower than we had hoped. Quite simply, the chapters we’ve been writing over the past two weeks have been really really long.

The format for the comic allows us to cut the chapters up however we want. We can make each section of the story as long or as short as it needs to be so the pacing is perfect. We don’t have to worry about making things fit into a specific length, in the same way that TV shows have to fit into either 42 or 22 minute chunks.

This kind of flexibility is great from the story telling point of view, but it does make things a little bit annoying when you are trying to pace the production of your project. Our quota is 5 chapters every two weeks, and even though we only finished 3 chapters, 2 of them were almost twice as long as the average. So yeah, we practically wrote 5 chapters worth of script. Yay!

How many other long chapters do we have ahead of us? Will it throw off our quota again? I don’t know, but looking ahead there does seem to be a lot of short chapters coming up.

Another nice thing about having this chapter length information is that we can figure out how long each volume is. The volumes are the one thing that we would like to have fairly even.

4 Comments to Status Report: Long Chapters

  1. avatar

    William says:

    October 9th, 2010 at 10:35 am

    A thought experiment: A trucking company is moving freight from point A to point B that are 20 miles apart. Their schedule demands that the truck must average 60 mph to reach the destination on time. However the truck hits construction and the it only averages 30 mph for the first 10 miles. How fast must the truck go to make up the lost time?

    Answer: (take a second to think about it)… okay.. I am assuming you took that second like I told you to. The answer is not even the USS Enterprise traveling Warp 9.5 could make it. The entire time budget was consumed in the first 10 miles.

    When it comes to project execution a sense of urgency is vital. There is an old saying that all projects take as long as the time allotted to them. If you didn’t have a deadline for yourself the project would take forever. Any good project schedule is aggressive, which also means any good project schedule is likely to be slipped. The trick is making one that will only be slipped by a few weeks on average so people don’t lose morale. When you realize that the schedule is going to be slipped by 6 months or more it is hard to take it seriously (Duke Nukem Forever).

    The question you need to ask yourself is if your plan is still legitimate based on your current data, or do you need to reconsider the 5 chapters per week? Or do you need to compromise on the quality of the chapters to get them out at the pace you set for yourself? (… wow, I think I just heard you screaming all the way down here). Look at your data, figure out your actuals, re-estimate your target completion date, and then go for it.

    The phrases “we will fix it later”, or “we will catch up later” mean that you have set a ticking time bomb for yourself.

    Think about what happens when someone says “Lets hit the goal now, and we will fix it later”. It isn’t too difficult to figure out how long it will take to build something, but nobody can guess at how long it will take to fix something. Besides by saying that you have effectively cheated the schedule, because what you said you would have done, you really haven’t done.

    The phrase “we will catch up later” can be explained by the truck analogy above. Life simply doesn’t work that way. If you did have extra hours to throw at the project in the future, your initial schedule wasn’t aggressive enough, and if you initial schedule wasn’t aggressive how did you get behind in the first place?

    Bomb squads don’t hire optimists for a reason. Be aggressive, be engaged, be focused and hopeful, but keep your eye on the data and on the clock.

    (Picking up by soap box, and donning my flame proof suit).

  2. avatar

    Janell says:

    October 9th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Eat more chocolate. Chocolate makes everything better.

  3. avatar

    Glen Moyes says:

    October 11th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    That’s a very good point William. Thank you for you wisdom and experience. 🙂

    Yes, I’ve actually been very reluctant to set deadlines for those reasons. We don’t want to loose morale. The only time we’ve actually publicly set a goal was this time for the entire script being done by New Years. (Okay, we actually did say in March that the comic would be launched later this year, but we said that in passing hoping nobody will notice; we’ve just refined what will actually be done later this year.) Once we got our data for how long stuff takes to get done, that’s when we made a serious goal and made a big deal about it on the blog. Again, hold us accountable! Also the story is really rocking now, so we feel pretty confident that we won’t have to go back and change the outline of the story again.

    About the time over quality compromise, the quality of the produced artwork is going to be interesting for us to decide. If there’s ever going to be a point in this project where the style is dictated by the production schedule, then that would be it. Adam and I have discussed this a lot. We want the comic to really stand out. Everyone LOVES the detailed background designs we’ve been doing. People will always ask, “Wow, is the whole comic going to look like this?” Of course we have to say, “Yes.” But at the same time some of those backgrounds takes 5 hours to paint, and we would like to have 3 releases a week if at all possible, one a week minimum. What really makes this hard is that Hackberry Hollow is a “graphic novel” style of webcomic where it’s telling a story. In other words, it won’t be a 3-panel set-up-then-gag type of comic, where each week can have a self-contained joke. Having a scene of dialog span out over the course of a month really can screw up the pacing in the story. In fact we even entertained the idea of doing biweekly or even monthly mega-releases just so the integrity of the story’s pacing is left somewhat intact. However, we are leaning towards more frequent releases so we can have a strong community.

    Either way, the worst sin any web comic artist can make is to have a slow or irregular release schedule. This really ticks readers off. So this is something we are going to be very careful about…very VERY careful about. Our plan is to produce twice as much comic as our release schedule, whatever that will be. We’ll need a release buffer and allows us plenty of time to go to conventions and do other business stuff.

    Anyway, we are not too worried about that now; one goal at a time. We have the data we needed for making a good goal for writing, and it’s been doing a great job pushing us to work hard and it hasn’t been hurting quality. We don’t have the data for the production art yet. The good news is that we have a bunch of artists who can work on Hackberry Hollow, so going for high-quality art and still having a regular release schedule could be possible.

    “Quality is the best business plan.” – John Lasseter
    “What John said.” – Glen Moyes

    And yes, we’ll probably need to be eating lots of chocolate. 🙂

  4. avatar

    Matt Cannady says:

    October 14th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    “Either way, the worst sin any web comic artist can make is to have a slow or irregular release schedule. This really ticks readers off. ” *Cough*vgcats*cough*!
    So when are you going to send that chapter 1 draft and/or world map for editing/review/input?

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