How to fail at writing: lessons from Bleach

Bleach is one of the most popular anime/manga series. A few years ago, when I got involved in that particular fan community, Bleach and Naruto were the indisputable favorites of the groups I knew, with One Piece following closely behind. Today… One Piece is more popular, Naruto is doing fine and Bleach is slowly falling off the grid.

Hell, I used to love reading that series. I tried picking it up again a few months ago and I couldn’t even be bothered to read ten chapters. I can feel the decline. It’s not just numbers. It’s quality.

Several things happened:

  • Bleach promised a lot, but it failed to deliver. The first part of the series was a pretty typical high school boy adventure, filled with fantasy elements and cute little plots. Then it was upgraded to a complex plot, full of intrigue, twists and depth. Then it promised to top itself. Then it… kept postponing. I followed it for the longest time, waiting for another fix of awesomeness, but it never happened.
  • Characterization and personal + adventure developments got replaced by showy, cheap, wow!s. It gets old really fast when all characters pull outrageous abilities out of nowhere, then get defeated just because the protagonist is a protagonist. Especially when it’s repeated and repeated and repeated. Especially as a downgrade from a series which was subtle and had actual plot and character development.
  • Too many useless characters. You’d suddenly find yourself faced with an entirely new cast after god-knows-how-long. Approximately: a family of 5. A shop with 5 people. 5 important friends. 30 death gods. 8 former death gods. 5 sideplot characters. 15 baddies, with their 10 or so cronies. 9 people nobody gave a damn about. Around 15 new baddies. 5 people who would have been interesting 5 years ago. ARGH! Add to this the fact that these characters are less and less developed and that their traits are more and more cartoonish and it gets really frustrating.
  • Power inconsistencies. Characters are stronger or weaker according to how the plot needs them to be. You’d think that since this turned into an action series, the author would keep track of who could beat whom. Nope.
  • Character bulldozing. After building powerful, complex characters and sometimes getting them to develop in time… all of that got thrown out the window. The evil mastermind literally turned into an inhuman monster (with wings coming out of his back and extra eyes) who got his ass kicked. Instead of suave genius, he was an evil Hulk. No idea why.
  • Dragging plot. Despite being sort of an action series now, you can tell it kind of drags when the characters are still fighting the exact same battle in the exact same place after two bloody years. I looked it up, it was about 100 chapters long, at about 1 chapter/week… yeeeeaahhhh…

I’m sure the list could go on, but these are the lessons I learned from Bleach, based on these faults:

  1. Don’t promise more than you can deliver.
  2. Don’t sacrifice the good characteristics of your story for something ‘cooler’.
  3. When in doubt, keep it simple.
  4. When you’re not sure about how things will go on and you need to stall, don’t do it by slowing to a snail’s pace or by simplifying and trying to move on. Take your time, go into detail. Inspiration will come (like it didn’t for Bleach, because it was rushed and simplified).
  5. When you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, don’t panic. Sit down and think.
  6. Don’t make your story suffer because you no longer love it.

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