Right Place at the Write Time #3: Writers Gonna Read


Created on May 1, 2012 and written by
Category: Right Place at the Write Time

Hi!
Welcome back!
You’re looking great today!

In the last Right Place at the Write Time column, we talked about how anyone who considers themselves a writer needs to write on a regular basis.

In addition to that helpful hint, I believe it also important for writers to read.

A writer should expose themselves to as many different authors and genres as possible. This will help you not only appreciate the craft that goes into each style, but you’ll notice trends in subject matter and be able to see which classic plots pop up the most. This can help you identify the audience that may be most receptive to your plot idea, or it will help you break the rules and pave new ground (ex. Don’t see a lot of Sci-Fi Romance novels? Write one!).

Remember: You have to know the rules before you can break them.

Because there are millions of published books out there, with more being released each day, I can’t begin to tell you which you’ll enjoy the most, but I highly recommend you track down some of the the classics if only to help you understand what makes an accessible story that millions of people want to read.

There’s a reason that everyone reads the same books during their schooling. What I’ve discovered though, is that I wasn’t always intellectually ready for many of them, and re-reading say, To Kill a Mockingbird, as an adult can bring about a whole new appreciation and understanding for the context. Read them again. Break them down. Understand why they were groundbreaking, controversial, or why their characters appeared to be completely believable.

Even if you write strictly fiction, be sure to pick up some nonfiction. Read autobiographies. Read memoirs. These are true stories and no story is more interesting and full of pain and success than one that actually happened.

How-To books are great from the standpoint of getting the reader to comprehend something. By taking in a few of these, you can learn to guide a reader and learn skills that will ensure that they understand your writing every step of the way.

STUFF TO READ

While we’re on the topic of how-to books, I’ve definitely read my fair share. In fact, when I was first getting into writing comics, I read many specifically geared toward that field and I thought I’d share with you my favorites.

Note that I said “my favorite books,” and not “the best books.” As a reader you may disagree, but I found that a combination of the five listed below gave me a great foundation and at least got me started in the right direction. I added my own flavor as I went along, but the books below currently sit on my reference shelf and are marked up with Post-It notes and highlights to help me quickly find specific sections.

Understanding Comics
By Scott McCloud
Amazon.com Product Page

Scott McCloud’s tome isn’t so much a how-to on writing comics, but it’s worth a read simply to gain an understanding of how sequential art came into the public eye. Think of this as your Comics History 101 class. McCloud gives the reader an understanding of terms, techniques, and tactics. It’s mostly focused on the artist side, but it’s important to keep in mind that as a writer, your scripts are, at the very basics, a how-to guide for the penciler. They’re essentially letters to the artist which will assist them in visualizing your story. After reading McCloud’s book, you’ll want to use it to beat in the skull of anyone who ever claims that comics are not art. The best part of this book? It’s written as a comic book! Does the genius ever stop??

Scott McCloud is something of a comics “futurist” and is always trying to figure out where the medium is headed, what it’s capable of, and new ways to use it to convey stories and ideas. Check out his website for all kinds of awesome stuff that would have made my head explode had I tried to come up with it.

The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics
By Dennis O’Neil
Amazon.com Product Page

If you’re unfamiliar with Denny O’Neil, he’s a DC guy who wrote Batman for 8,000 years. He knows a thing or two. This is by far my favorite comic-writing book because it’s simply the basics of the three act structure and how it relates to the visual medium. Denny gives the reader the basic formula to follow and get started, but what you do with it from there is up to you (remember that thing about knowing the rules?).

In these valuable pages O’Neil discusses plot first versus full scripts, subplots, characterization, story arcs, continuity, and much more. Don’t let the size of this book fool you. Even at 125 pages, there’s countless knowledge to be had. If you’re like me and don’t know a darn thing about DC comics, don’t worry! The famous characters are only utilized to show the author’s points in practical application. If you’re serious about writing comics and don’t know where to start, this is it. Buy a copy and write all over it. You’re welcome.

Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels
By Peter David
Amazon.com Product Page

I have an interesting relationship with Peter David. Not that he’s aware of my existence, but rather when I go through the comics purchased in my youth, I notice that a large majority of them were written by David. Even to this day, if I see his name on something, I’ll at least give it a try. When I found out that he’d written the book (so to speak) on comic writing, of course I had to check it out.

While David’s book covers topics similar to Denny O’Neil’s, it expands on many of the topics and uses creator-owned and Marvel characters to show the practical application. Where this book goes to the next level is with conversations and insights from legendary writers like Harlan Ellison and Marv Wolfman, bringing multiple views to the table.
David discusses the inception of ideas, building believable characters, conflict and theme, plot structure, and the act of scripting. Throughout the book there are countless exercises and prompts that encourage the reader to put down the book and pick up a pencil (or put their hands on a keyboard). If you’re just starting out, use this as a workbook. Some of the prompts are silly, but approach it with a professional mindset. After all, some would say that wanting to write comics is silly. Let’s show them how serious a business it is!

Writers on Comics Scriptwriting: Volume 1
By Mark Salisbury
Amazon.com Product Page

Back in ’99, Titan Books finally pulled the curtain aside and gave us a peek into the world of the comic writer when they released volume 1 of Writers on Comics Scriptwriting. We were treated to interviews full of tips, tricks, and script samples from some of the biggest names (at the time) in comics.

Not so much a how-to book, but rather info on writers, how they got into reading comics, and ultimately, how they broke into the business. Turns out that no two people ever seem to get in the same way (somewhere else, Mark Waid once said that breaking into comics is akin to breaking out of prison… once someone does it, they seal up the entrance and you have to find another way).

Amazing writers like Kurt Busiek, Chuck Dixon, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison share their stories and provide priceless information for the new writer or the seasoned vet. Among the more interesting this discussed within the pages includes whether they prefer to work in full script or plot first, how to juggle multiple projects, and the ideas that helped to inspire some of their best and most well-known works.
It took me while to read this book simply because I would get inspired after reading each interview and actually do some writing!

Writers on Comics Scriptwriting: Volume 2
By Andrew Kardon & Tom Root
Amazon.com Product Page

Since volume 1 was a rousing success (I guess?) Titan decided to go forth with a second book, released in 2004. The format stayed identical to the first book, making it easily accessible for returning readers, and the goal on the second round was to talk to some of the fresh blood within the comics industry. Inside are great interviews with Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Mark Millar, Brian K Vaughan, and Brian Azzarello which bring even more expertise to our ocular nerves.

As a side note, Titan has released a ton of great comic-related books over the years, and I highly recommend checking out the following Marvel-specific books for even more great interviews with writers and artists who will help deepen both your knowledge and appreciation for the craft!

Comic Creators on Spider-Man
Comic Creators on The Fantastic Four
Comic Creators on X-Men

IN CLOSING

There you have a whole bunch of great reading material to help get you centered and get your mind in the right place. Of course, there are myriad amazing books on the craft of writing, and perhaps those are another column in and of itself, but if I missed any great comic-centric books, feel free to let me know in the comments section below.

I’m thinking we’ll take a turn with the next few columns and actually get down to some nitty-gritty stuff, but of course, if you have particular topics you’d like to see discussed, just let me know!

Thanks for reading!

Wes Locher
May 2012

weslocher.com
twitter.com/weslocher
weslocher@gmail.com

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2 Responses to “Right Place at the Write Time #3: Writers Gonna Read”

  1. nothing

    (@westonlocher) (@westonlocher):

    05-02-2012 5:56 am

    The third installment of my column, Right Place at the Write Time, is live! This week: Writers Gonna Read http://t.co/6noJzYW6 #makecomics

    Reply

  2. nothing

    Yannick Morin:

    05-14-2012 5:20 pm

    “A writer should expose themselves to as many different authors and genres as possible.”

    Not only that but you should also watch TV shows and movies, play video games and read RPG books – anything that has a definite narrative structure in order to familiarize yourself with storytelling tropes and techniques.

    Great article as usual, Wes! Keep’em coming!

    Reply

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