She's been introduced in that context, and it's taken over the storyline a little (though not for much longer, don't worry). Here's the thing though - neither of these things were originally intended.
Jenna is, oddly enough, a Room 825 character. She's Marcus's high school girlfriend, friends with Lynn, and many other things. Originally, I had considered having her not only alive, but married to Will in 2012. But then I got thinking. I thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting to make her Max's ex?" Tara and Max had been going a little too smoothly, so I thought this might create some needed conflict in their relationship. From there my brain went "Oooh, and maybe Max used to be engaged to her!" But then I had a problem...
...why doesn't Tara know about her?
Now, I've established in the past that Tara misses obvious things about her friends and those around her. It's a defining trait of how I write her. As much as it's tempting to write perfect people, especially in the role of love interest, Tara is still only 21. She's grown up some since the beginning of the comic, but she's still the youngest of our main four characters. I knew that I needed to create a situation where if Max thought Tara knew about Jenna, he'd never mention having been engaged.
And I could only think of one reason: Jenna had died.
It would explain so much of Max's personality, and flesh out who he was. It would let me pull some of Tara's self centered nature to the forefront that sometimes gets forgotten. It would explain a lot of Max's hesitance to talk about the "First Bork Con" (as, in truth, I had been merely trying to stop flashbacking for a few strips).
It's an odd parallel I hadn't hoped to draw in my fictional world to my own convention history. No, I was never engaged before my wife, and I've never lost a significant other - but weeks after the first No Brand Con, one of our staffers (and a really awesome guy) died suddenly. I don't want to go into it too much, but by introducing this element I hope to add a bittersweet light to some of these flashbacks... the same way I feel when I look back to those days in my own life. It's sad because while I still plan on doing a lot with Jenna in the flashbacks, it means I can't use her in the current timeframe ever.
So I guess, like in real life, mortality robs us of the possibilities we'd hoped for some people.
I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into he creative writing process. This is the sort of character development that is rarely considered by those that don't write, or by those that teach any sort of creative writing. Thanks!
While I've always been more of a planner when it comes to story arcs, sometimes I am just flying by the seat of my pants. Really, my philosophy has always been "know your characters, and once you get things started, they'll tell you where to take the story"
I think perhaps that is why so many... I don't want to say fail as such, but cannot think of a better word. The importance of the craft of writing is placed above a trust in the characters (or development thereof) to take the writer on the journey. I have found myself all-too guilty of this often.