The Debut Project: Post scriptum
Felix Futzbucker's origin story
I bet you’ve already finished The Debut Project, if not—no worries, do it at your own pace. Here’s the table of contents to catch up:
. . . and here’s an epub version of the entire novella, so you could upload it to your ebook for your convenience:
Today I want to talk about how the idea behind this novella originated, how it was drafted, written, edited, et cetera, plus, I’ll say thanks to people who participated in one way or another in the creation of this book.
SOME MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Back in 2014-2017, my brother Ilia and I were making World of Warcraft machinimas—which are fanfiction video stories made using in-game assets, sounds, lore, and such. In the process, we wanted not only to pay homage to our favourite game and expand its universe, but to make something that could exist on its own. With every video we made, the approach was becoming more and more “artistic”, the connection to WoW was loosening, and the length of each video (hence the time to make it) increased. We had a grand idea of making a film, still a machinima, but a longer and more complex story, similar to the on-screen ones we loved.
Ilia wrote a script called The Great Invention, which featured two goblin engineers, Bibbly and Gibbly, two brothers, trying to finish their laser gun and pay the debts they accumulated along the way. The action was happening in Gadgetzan, a city hidden in the desert of Tanaris, a city whither—per Aramar Thorne—all roads lead.
In Ilia’s original script, there were a few scenes ready and a rough outline of the rest. In that state, Ilia permanently handed the script over to me to finish—this has been our normal process, which for some reason works. So, I finished it, and that’s it—we never made it live. Our scripts were far from being well written, they were made for ourselves to have a plan of what was going on in the story, they were more like schemes and outlines of what we wanted to see eventually in the machinima—it was more storytelling than writing for me. In that first, about 40-minute-long, version of the script, Bibbly accidentally killed Gibbly, then went “slightly” insane and miserable, killed Geno, Dullard and Kazz (who were two separate persons at that time) with his laser gun and escaped the city with Wizzy. The story was much grimmer than it is now, as you can see.
Then a few iterations of brainstorming and rewriting of that outline happened over the following few years, turning the story into something resembling a comedy. Kazz and Dullard turned into one person—a two-headed ogre. Bibbly wasn’t killing Gibbly any more. We switched to the Hearthstone version of Gadzetzan, which is a bustling megapolis full of gangs and crime. We changed the title, and made many other changes, all on the scheme-like outline level, a major part of which was kept in our Telegram private messages or even in our heads.
Then we realised, that making this and animating the whole thing would’ve taken us an enormous amount of time (for two people, at least). I started learning 3D modelling as well, and we even thought of hiring other people. We realised, that if we really want to make it, it’d better be not WoW fanfiction, but something in the universe we own. Ilia started modelling new characters, and I worked on the script and searched for references and such. Bibbly F’utzbuckle turned into Felix Futzbucker, changing the surname only because I misremembered the spelling of it, Gibbly turned into Oscar. Wizzy turned into Nina. Kaz turned into a Zmei. We added Chudes. The action moved to an unnamed city vaguely inspired by Russian and Slavic folklore, with steampunk-ish vibes. All those changes happened over the period of 2017-2022. There was no consistent and regular work done on it. We were coming back to it a few days a year, thinking of what could be done, for we were busy with other life matters. Then the story was left neglected for a year or two, until the beginning of the 2022, when I decided to finish it on my own, but in prose form, for I started writing prose a few months prior to it and I thought I could do it. Ilia agreed, and we decided that, at least, if the world wouldn’t see this story as an animated film, it could exist in a written form. Who knows, perhaps some time later I'll adapt it to different media.
I started reviewing and translating old drafts—they were all in Russian. Some important scenes were completely missing, they existed only in the outline form, which was a few sentences per scene—just the key events of it. There was no ending, only some potential variants of it. Vitya was a fourth-wall breaking narrator. Nina’s role was unclear, she was appearing only in one scene and helped to plan the robbery, which also had no defined course of actions. It was a mess, old frustrating mess. I translated and rewrote the first chapter, started writing the second one in English and got stuck. Ideas weren’t flowing, and I thought I wouldn’t ever finish it.
Then during one productive procrastination sessions, I accidentally found a YouTube video about the Armenian SSR’ State bank robbery, which took place in 1977 in Yerevan. Some particular elements of it inspired me, it seemed I found the solution. The robbers, very coincidentally, were two brothers, Felix Kalachyan and Nikolai Kalachyan. During the robbery, they used an umbrella to catch the falling concrete when breaking through the bank's floor. See? It was a catalyst, that last drop of water that crashed the stone of my writer’s block. I reverted the ending to the one I came up for the original story—the characters leaving the city. Oh, yes, and I called the city "City N", which prior to that had no name at all. For me, that was paying homage to one of the most fascinating tropes in Russian literature.
Then, as almost the last change, we added a cat, Moros. Because every good story must have a cat in it. If yours doesn’t have it, think of it, perhaps you’re missing something of utmost importance. Gradually, piece by piece, I found a solution to fill every gap in the story, and at least in my head, it started working. The Debut Project has always been a passion project, and finishing it, in any form, was a wonderful feeling, akin to finally running the favourite game of your childhood on a modern laptop.
When starting the novella, I didn’t have a particular “writing process”. I was writing almost every day, either in the morning or in the evening, whenever I had time—all of my stories were written that way. But I thought that for something of a bit more ambitious length—my guess was 100 pages—I needed an environment in which I could focus on the novella.
I started waking up earlier, at 6 or 7 am, and writing for 1-3 hours in the morning before work. This way I was able to consistently add 1-3k words a day to the novella. At first, I was writing in Russian, then translating, but it appeared ineffective. It equaled to doing the work twice, or perhaps to doing 180% of the work, which I didn’t want, so on the second chapter I switched to English, only at times thinking in Russian.
I was reading Andrei Bely’s Petersburg (Russian Ulysses in a way) at that time, a phenomenal book I highly recommend. Retrospectively, it influenced my prose a lot. It became an aspiration, an ideal. After reading the novel, I started trying to make my prose more rhythmical and more poetic. I couldn’t accomplish doing it on the whole length of the novella, due to the lack of skill, but hopefully, you can spot some elements like that in the text. Ah yes, one another thing I borrowed from Bely’s novel was the way chapters are named. Some other books I was reading at that time, undoubtedly, influenced the novella as well. Ideas, phrases, and words were slipping into it, consciously or not. I see this as a good thing, you might have a different opinion.
I didn’t stop writing other things while writing the novella, so there were days and weeks of breaks, during which I could ponder on the Debut Project’s plot, scenes, dialogue. This all helped me to create a casual writing environment, where the creative ideas were able to emerge, marinate and find their implementation. Even when I wasn't working on the story, I still saved some ideas into a text file, or sometimes inserted them straight into the text with the intention to edit later.
By the end of May 2022 the first draft was finished, and we started editing it with, my friend, the fellow STSC acolyte, and coincidentally an editor and a writer himself (check out ). We made a few rounds of editing: at first, he read it as a reader, then we switched to discussing the general storyline, plot, characters, scenes; at the end—grammar and such. David's contribution to the book is immeasurable, and I'm immensely grateful to him for that. Thank you sir.
At the same time, I called out for beta-readers in the STSC chat and shared the drafts with several people. Some of them read one chapter, other read the whole thing. I appreciate the time you spent on reading it and your feedback. I’m especially grateful for Jeanne Thompson—she was even an alpha-reader, she read the novella maybe 3-5 times already, including all the terrible drafts, providing the feedback from a reader's perspective. Other beta-readers were Deepansh Khurana, Okeanos, Edward Roosters, Acca (I’m deeply sorry if I missed anyone). Thanks, guys, and thanks to everyone else who participated, as well as to the entire club, for your support. This book wouldn’t exist without the STSC.
And, of course, thank you, readers, who finished the novella already and who are yet to do it. Your comments have been warming and encouraging and genuinely made me happy. Thank you!
One more time, I want to stop to say thankfor all the work you put in this story, starting from the premise, all the brainstorms, concept arts, and then your fabulous illustrations.
Thank you, everyone!
That’s all I wanted to say today. The physical book is coming soon. There are some final touches left. This is my first book, so I want to make sure we make everything right. You’ll also find in it more illustrations you haven’t seen yet. I’ll announce when it’s ready and available. Stay tuned.