Right Place at the Write Time Category
Wes Locher on Nov 25, 2012
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Amazing how time flies when you’re writing! You have been writing, correct?
Though I (accidentally) took three months off to work on some of my comic projects, I wanted to pick up right where I left off. During this round I wanted to discuss a concept that is easy to understand, but hard to master. That is, the concept of the page turn.
We live in a day and age where attention spans have been reduced to nil and reading is quickly being replaced by audio and video multimedia. Reading is the red-stepchild of the media world.
Remember this: everyone is looking for a reason NOT to read your work.
Pick up any comic book in your collection and flip to a random page. Take a glance at the fine panel on each page. It’s setup with a type of mini-cliffhanger that will spur the reader to turn the page and keep on reading.
You’ll see that some writers have tricks that they’ve used over and over in their books and you’ve probably never noticed.
Have you ever seen a character begin speaking in the last panel and finish their thought on Panel 1 of the following page?
Have you ever seen someone speaking off panel, the identity of whom is revealed on the next page?
Have you ever seen a character open a door and the final panel is a closeup of their shocked face?
If you’ve seen any of these examples, then you’ve been the victim of the page turn! You have to give your reader the motivation to keep reading or scrolling because as soon as your story gets boring, there’s always something else on the stack to be read or a TV show to be watched or a funny cat video that has a better plot than your comic book. It’s stiff competition out there for a person’s eyeballs!
Page turns can also be jarring to the reader. More of a suggestion than a rule, but try to end your scenes on the page turn. With the turn of a page you can set up your next scene with a new establishing shot and shift to the next leg of your illustrated journey.
This isn’t necessarily the rule, but it help keeps the reader from looking at two pages at a time where two different scenes are happening. Keep in mind that when looking at page two and three together, the eyes will naturally wander ruining any potential reveals that page three holds. The page turn is the only way that you can surprise your reader. Take advantage of that.
Over the first few comic books that I wrote, I didn’t take my own advice. I only noticed my lack of page turn usage later when it was pointed out to me by publishers or beta readers. This is one of those small details that sets the amateur apart from the pro. Master the craft. Understand the rules before you can break them.
For my third comic book, as I was outlining and doing the page breakdowns, I considered all of the page turns and structured the script so that all scene changes and big reveals were appropriately placed. It’s a stronger book for doing so and leads to a more satisfying read.
Make it easy to remember: all of your page turn reveals are on the even numbered pages. Keep this in mind and life will be so much easier while scripting.
It’s like I always say–
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow his tweets @weslocher, or email him suggestions for future columns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a full listing of all Right Place at the Write Time columns, click here.
Wes Locher on Aug 3, 2012
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I spent the last month focusing on a new comic idea while this column whimpered and cried for attention in the background. I felt bad leaving it in the proverbial hot car with the windows up, so here I am to complete my journey through the comic book page.
If you haven’t checked out the previous columns then you may be missing some great information on scripting, pacing, and dialogue. Today we’re talking about page layouts!
Most of these columns have a stream of consciousness approach. I take a topic and essentially attempt to regurgitate everything that I have learned on the topic in order to help you (and to see what all I’ve actually retained!) so do your best to follow me down the rabbit hole on this one.
If you’re working in Marvel style scripting then the page layout responsibility is going to fall on the artist who will get to decide the flow and pace of the panels on the page. If your artist is an amazing storyteller than they will likely enjoy this aspect and produce some amazing work for the project.
If working in full script, detailing what falls in every panel then you’ll be able to influence the layout by giving specific direction based off what you see in your minds eye and by how many panels are on the page. For instance, if in your mind you envision a panel taking up the entire width of the page, you’ll want to let the artist know that it’s a full-tier panel.
I’ve heard of writers actually taking pencil to script and drawing rough thumbnails of the desired panel breakdown on a page, but in my humble opinion, at that point I’m impeding on the artist’s territory and stifling their creativity. In the end, they’re interpreting the story and more specifically, the page and should be welcomed to bring their flair to it. Keep in mind that you decided to work with this person and if you’re not enjoying their art then you should find someone else to work with before things start to go down hill.
Even though this is a writing-centric column, I feel the need to point something out. Artists new to the comics game are encouraged to master simple grids and layouts when beginning their careers. Chances are that as a new comics writer, you’re working with these folks. Don’t ask the artist to do crazy layouts that will push them beyond what they’re currently comfortable with. The last thing you want is for them to get frustrated by not feeling like they’re a good enough artist. Help build their confidence and not destroy it. Know that at the end of the day, they will interpret your story to the best of their ability and you should be aware of how much time goes into the drawing of a comic page versus the writing.
The second that the artist begins bringing your script to life through their art, it has become a collaboration and I’ve found that if you don’t put the artist into a box, they will have more satisfaction with the project and genuinely enjoy working on it. No one likes to be told to “do this,” or “do that.” Don’t do it to your artist either. If the work is not being produced in a style or fashion that you like, you are not obligated to work with them. Unless, of course, you signed a contract. More on that another time. I tell each and every artist that I work with that the script is merely a guideline for execution and they should feel free to add or subtract panels if it helps them to tell the story.
As writers, we are naturally control freaks, so the thought of allowing an artist to do whatever the heck they want to do can be intimidating. Sure, there’s been times where an artist has taken so much artistic license that it becomes a different story, but most illustrators want to impress you and want to use the pages drawn to promote their abilities in order to further their career. Just remember that the more freedom you allow the artist, the better the finished product will likely be. If you don’t like something or disagree with a choice they’ve made, you should absolutely speak up (especially if you’re paying them), but learn to pick your battles and to compromise.
Always remember that comics is a creative profession and creative minds like being left to their own devices. If you put too many limits on the artist, they won’t have any fun and they’ll probably tell their artist friends. Walk a few minutes in their shoes… You probably wouldn’t want them to go through your script and tell you what they think should be changed.
Be nice, be professional, and be encouraging.
Thanks for following me on this one.
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow him @weslocher, or email him suggestions for future columns at email@example.com.
For a full listing of all Right Place at the Write Time columns, click here.
Wes Locher on Jul 9, 2012
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Before my tangent in the last Right Place at the Write Time column, I was examining different elements of a comic page and focused on Storytelling Styles and Pacing. I hope the information was helpful and that it gave your mind something to gnaw at while creating your future masterpieces.
Think of this a part two, if you will, as Dialogue planning is equally as important when putting together a comic book page in preparation for an artist.
As a new writer to comics you’ll likely think of dialogue as your main contribution to the work.
You have to be careful of this since it will cause one very very dangerous thing to occur: You will overwrite the book.
Remember that comics are a visual medium. Think of “show, don’t tell” as your new motto. In fact, write it down on a post-it note and stick it on your computer monitor. If that doesn’t work, consider getting the words tattooed across your forehead. Tattoo it backwards so that you can read it in the mirror.
It’s typical of a writer to want to put words on every page and every panel to help carry the story along. You need to know where exposition and dialogue is necessary and where it can be left out altogether.
Your name will be on the cover of the book as the writer. The person reading the issue of the comic or your graphic novel will understand that it’s your story and will be conscious of the fact that the artist produced the visuals. Know that your stamp of “ownership” has been placed and don’t overdo it.
After getting finished pages back from an artist, you may need to further edit your dialogue to ensure that it will fit in the space provided. You should have some flexibility and understand that once you see a finished product you can move words around on the page to guide the eye and build the drama. At some point we’ll even talk about prepping a different version of the script for the letterer that they will use to put the dialogue and sound effects into the book. Be flexible. Nothing should be set it stone until you’re shipping the pages off to the publisher or printer.
Here is an example of an old X-Men comic in which lots of dialogue needed to be squeezed in over the art in order for the narrative to continue and make sense.
Be conscious of the amount of words you choose and don’t let this happen to you!
Of course, the alternative here would have been to re-write.
The age-old adage is is that writing is re-writing. These are true words. Revise your work. A lot.
Once you finish the first draft of your script, set it aside for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll notice lots of things you missed on the first pass.
Re-read your dialogue. Read it out loud. Read it to a friend. Have a friend read it. Ask yourself if it’s long-winded. Ask yourself if it sounds genuine. Ask yourself if people really talk like that.
Some comic pros will suggest that you limit yourself to a certain number of words in a panel and a certain number of words on a page. There’s some great guidelines available online to keep in mind, but in the end, my belief is that you should use whatever number of words are necessary to keep the story moving, bearing in mind, the fewer the better.
Let me give you a prime example of something I ran into on one of my recent projects:
One character asked of another, “Is the system online?”
Once I got the artwork back, I didn’t think I could fit all of that dialogue into the panel, so I shortened it a bit down to, “Yes, Sir. All systems are go.”
But did I really need to say all of that?
Economy on a comic book page is a precious commodity, so ensuring that the art shines through is always priority number one for me.
In the end, I was able to cut it down further in order for the character to simply reply with, “Yes, Sir.”
All dialogue should reveal character or move the plot along. Understand when a soliloquy is necessary and when one or two words will suffice.
In addition to leaving words on the cutting room floor or re-writing them completely, I’ll leave you with one major token…
In my experience, one of the biggest compliments that a writer can pay to an artist is to completely remove all dialogue in a panel when a moment is captured so completely and utterly that the visuals alone tell the reader everything they need to know.
Give good panel descriptions and find good artists and ideally you’ll find yourself in this situation a lot. That’s the best writing you can do.
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow him on Twitter @weslocher, or email him suggestions for future columns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a full listing of all Right Place at the Write Time columns, click here.
Wes Locher on Jul 1, 2012
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I hope that you’re having a great summer so far! Been outside lately? It’s beautiful out there!
In the last column, I believe that I promised a Part 2 of sorts to my deconstruction of how to write a comic book page, keeping in mind all of the intricacies that lay below the surface. I still plan to do that, but I’m going to make a quick side bar this round and talk about something that came up during the week while I was talking about comics writing with a friend.
Before I get too deep into my thoughts and emotions, let’s take a step back and look at how independent comic books are created (in a nutshell).
With all that in mind… this friend of mine, who also writes comics, told me that unless a book is picked up for publication, he never writes anything past the 5-6 pages of pitch script.
When I asked why, he invoked the name of Robert Kirkman.
For those unaware, Robert Kirkman is this dude who wrote a few comic books that you probably have never heard of… The Walking Dead, Thief of Thieves, Invincible, Super Dinosaur, Battle Pope, Tech Jacket, The Infinite, Hardcore… yeah, smaller stuff.
As soon as my buddy cited the Robert Kirkman Rule I knew exactly what he was referring to.
A famous piece of comics writing advice that Robert Kirkman gives to aspiring comic book creators is that you should write 5-6 page pitches, collaborate with an art team to bring them to life, and if it is accepted by a publisher, only then should you continue to write the series.
I mean, I understand the advice… he’s saying that you shouldn’t put your extra time and energy into something that’s not going to go anywhere. He’s essentially suggesting writers to come up with a better idea and start over.
I’m gonna go ahead and throw it out there… I disagree with Kirkman on this one.
Ever since I’ve started writing comics, I’ve always written all of the script pages prior to ever getting a yes or no from a publisher.
Are you crazy!? Wes, why on Earth would you waste all this time writing up scripts that may never see the light of day?
Three simple reasons.
FIRST: I think it’s important to practice (and perfect) my art.
I’m not writing comics solely with the goal of getting picked up by the publisher. If I have an idea, I want to be sure I’m able to flesh out the story to the best of my ability. I enjoy the creative process of writing the outline, connecting the threads, and peeling away the layers on my characters in an effort to get to know them. I want to know that when a publisher does come knocking, I am confident in my writing abilities and can execute everything that’s expected of me.
SECOND: I don’t like to panic.
Once a book has been picked up, you go into deadline mode. Right now, I have the option to write in my free time without a deadline looming over my head and forcing me to output work that ultimately, I may not be completely happy with.
By writing things in advance, it also cuts down the production time. Sure, that artist says they’ll draw the book, but if it takes you six months to write the rest of the story, they’re likely not going to sit around eating Doritos and waiting on you to finish your magnum opus… they’re going to go work on other projects. If they get a better gig elsewhere, this can delay your project or make it crumble altogether.
It’s also much easier to sell an artist on drawing the book if they’re able to read the entire story ahead of time. If they love what you’ve written, they’re going to want to draw it and they’ll be loyal to the project.
THIRD: There are no surprises.
The comics world works in “Pages.” You need to know in advance how many pages you will need to tell your story. Since a standard comic book is roughly 22 pages long, part of your pitch will be telling the prospective publishers just how many pages it will take to tell your story. Typically, it will end up somewhere between 88 pages (four issues) or 110 (five issues).
Unless you have some writing credits and some credibility, you’re not going to find many publishers willing to take on your 12 issue maxi-series. Start small.
If I tell a publisher that my story will be 88 pages long, then I better make darn sure that I can cram all of my story into 88 pages and have it still be the same story that I pitched.
There’s nothing worse than having to kill darlings, cut out characters, or rearrange your plot because your story ended up at 98 pages instead.
Work smarter, not harder.
I doubt that I will continue this method of pre-writing forever, but with where I am currently, I’m still developing my skill set and learning my limits. Sure, some of the stories get picked up, and some don’t, but I know for a fact that being able to provide the entire story to the artist up front made them feel even more comfortable with making the time commitment. I was a safe bet.
More importantly, when working out time frames with a publisher for completion of a book, I’ve never met one that wasn’t impressed that they could cut three months off the project because the writing portion was finished. Time is money and I like to think I saved them a lot of it.
He asked me:
What if I write all of these scripts and no one wants to publish them? What if they just sit around collecting dust? What if…??
I had to pause him there there. He was getting a little flustered and I really needed him to relax.
What I shared with him was this:
Let’s say that I do have several scripts sitting around “collecting dust.” Let’s also say that one of my pitches is finally published as a full series. Now, let’s say that the book does very well and makes the company a good amount of money. The company will be happy, and other publishers will notice this.
Think about what you want to type in the response of that email.
As always, I hope that this was helpful. I also don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression with my example above, so I’ll go ahead and note that Robert Kirkman is an amazing writer who showed us all that we don’t have to write company-owned characters to make money from our original ideas. Buy his work if you’re not already doing so. Never once will you be disappointed.
Until we meet again…
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow him on Twitter @weslocher, or email him things he can unsubscribe from at email@example.com.
Wes Locher on Jun 15, 2012
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In the last Right Place at the Write Time column we talked about taking the germ of a story idea and developing it into a comic book script. I hope you had fun reading it, and I hope you found it useful.
In this round I wanted to spend a little bit more time dissecting the comic book page itself.
You mean, there’s more to a comic book page than words and pictures??
You’d better believe it. The key points I want to touch on are as follows: pacing, layout, dialogue, and the page turn.
In my brain, these are the four main things that I keep in mind when constructing each of my pages. At times, these elements come easily and at other times they are a burden that I’d like to carry to Mordor and toss into a volcano.
Because there is so much to be covered within each element, today I’m going to stick to some thoughts on Pacing in two parts.
PACING – PART 1: Compressed versus Decompressed Storytelling
Let’s start big picture. Here are some broad stroke thoughts for you to keep in mind when planning out your story as a whole.
Pacing is the area of writing where most new comic book writers struggle. I’m including myself in this. I’m still trying to get the hang of it. In fact, now that I think about it, I read comics every week where even veteran writers struggle with it.
Think back to a simpler time where comic creators had anywhere from five to ten pages to tell a complete origin story for a Superhero. In fact, lets use my favorite hero, Spider-Man as an example.
Stan Lee managed to accomplish Spider-Man’s origin story in eight panels. EIGHT.
Stan only had about eleven pages to work with so he couldn’t spend a whole lot of time on the spider, what it looked like, where it was born, and its motivation for biting Peter Parker. This is compressed storytelling at its finest.
Now, let’s take Brian Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man comic which debuted in 2000 and featured an alternate take on Peter Parker growing up in our current world. I love everything about this book, but what I want to point out is that it took Bendis several issues for Peter Parker to even be bit by the spider, and countless more before he ever got Peter into the classic outfit. This is a prime example of decompressed storytelling.
If you look at any comic book from the 1940’s up through the 2000’s you’ll see that compressed storytelling is the traditional writing method of the comics medium. Somewhere along the line a lot of this changed and readers decided that they were tired of watching the same superheroes fight the same villains to save the same people. Luckily enough we had publishers who were willing to take chances on smaller books where the writers were all about the character. The fight scenes were no longer as important as knowing who the story was about and seeing a genuine emotional arc for them.
Let’s use Ultimate Spider-Man again… if you really break it down, you’ll notice that the book isn’t actual about Spider-Man at all — it’s about Peter Parker. There are issues where you never see the kid in his costume and issues where he never throws a punch. When young Peter finally reveals to Mary Jane that he’s Spider-Man we have a book that’s essentially 22 pages of them sitting together on a bed talking. And that’s okay.
These stories are more like soap operas than traditional comics, but readers tend to make a bigger investment and buy the subsequent issues as they follow characters that they care about.
Which way is right and which way is wrong? Neither.
Each method of storytelling has its advantages and disadvantages and will likely depend on the book itself. If a writer is only given three issues (or 66 pages) to tell their story, they have to strike a balance between those decompressed character moments and then speeding things up in order to advance their plot.
Hey, I never said that any of this comics writing stuff was easy!
Grab some of your comics. See what types of books you’re naturally drawn to. Once you start writing, you’re going to figure out which storytelling style you prefer.
The easiest way to consider these methods is to stop and think about what you, as a storyteller, come up with first.
If you come up with your characters first, you’re likely going to be drawn toward a decompressed style. If you create your plot first and inject your characters later, you’ll probably be thinking in a compressed manner.
Again, it’s valuable to be able to write in both ways so that your readers have an investment in your characters, but eventually they’ll want your protagonist to stop talking and do something.
PACING – PART 2: Panels on a Page
There’s a lot of what happens in comic books that is subconscious to the reader. Things are happening all over those pages that you don’t even think about.
For instance: those white or black lines that separate the panels on a comic page? Those things are called gutters and without even thinking about it your brain is filling in everything that happens between them.
We see a panel of Spider-Man’s face. We cross the gutter and suddenly we’re in Spidey’s point of view seeing exactly what he’s seeing. Our brains subconsciously have made that transition along with the character. We didn’t need to give a panel by panel breakdown of Spider-Man turning his head and then more panels of us zooming into the item or object.
Our imagination fills in the gaps. Powerful stuff, right? As a writer, use this to your advantage when visualizing your stories and writing your panel breakdowns.
Legendary Batman writer and editor, Denny O’Neil once said, “a comic book world is a world lit by a strobe light.”
As you visualize your story, pretend that a strobe light is going off over top of it. Pull the most effective “frames” and use them to build your sequential story.
I know I touched on this next part in my Story to Script column, but I think it bears repeating.
You must be conscious of how many panels you put on a page as this too has a direct impact on the pacing of your story.
A comic book page can have any number of panels on them. Again, these aren’t by any means the rules, but rather the guidelines I’ve set for myself when I write.
1 Panel – For those big shocking reveals or blockbuster action moments.
* The fewer panels you have on a page, the quicker it will read and the faster the time passes in story.
Let’s use a few examples to highlight the points:
In Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s classic comic, Watchmen, a large percentage of pages utilize a nine panel grid. Notice how long it takes you to read all of the text, and how much happens within the art. I mean, Doctor Manhattan ends the sequence having made it all the way to outer space!!
If you have a lot to say and a lot that needs to happen within a particular set of pages, then the nine panel grid might be for you. Be careful though about requesting too many details within the individual panels. The artist doesn’t have a whole lot of room to work with!
What happens on this page? Doctor Manhattan is given his name and outfit and told that he will be a symbol of power to be used against the Russians to avoid nuclear war. Doc also comes up with his symbolic logo.
Now, let’s watch what happens when we cut the panel count down significantly. Take this three-panel action sequence from Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s Batman and Robin.
Think about how quickly you make it from the top of this page to the bottom. It was probably three to five seconds, right? We have no copy to read until the final panel so there’s nothing to slow us down.
What happens on this page? Even though it’s just three panels, there’s a whole lot going on! Batman jumps from an explosion, civilian child in hand. He lands amongst the debris. He safely delivers the child to her parents and keeps on moving in pursuit of the villain.
Let’s compare… on each page, a lot happens, but it’s up to the writer and artist to pace the page so that everything you need to say is included, but the space is not wasted. When a comic book is only 20-22 pages in length, space is precious.
A great piece of feedback I recently received on one of my scripts was to very the amount of panels on each page. Let’s face it — people get bored and have short attention spans.
What I found myself doing was falling into a trap of overusing pages with five panels. They worked for the pace of my story and moved things along well enough, but once I saw the finished pages, the story looked very predictable. If you’re going to have three consecutive pages of nine panel grids in which your evil genius is going to pontificate his master plan to the hero, be sure that the next scene is full of action with as few panels as possible. This rewards the reader for having to suffocate through the exposition.
I’m going to pause here and we’ll all marinate on these ideas and suggestions. In a future column we’ll cover the remaining elements: Layout, Dialogue and the Page Turn.
As always, please utilize the comments and let me know if the advice has been helpful. Let me know if you agree or disagree. Also, feel free to ask questions so we can continue learning together!
Until next time…
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow him on Twitter @weslocher, or email him about wiring millions of dollars to his bank account at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wes Locher on Jun 9, 2012
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In the last Right Place at the Write Time we talked about motivation and how to find the time and energy to write. We’ve also covered the important of writing regularly to hone your craft, and I even gave you some helpful hints on things you can read to best prepare yourself for writing comic books. Assuming that you’ve checked out those columns and taken some of the advice, I think we’re ready to continue on.
This time, I thought we’d get into some meat and potatoes type stuff and take a story from an idea all the way to a comic book script.
Now remember, there are hundreds of ways to script a comic book. I’ve seen a ton of them, but be sure to find something that’s comfortable for you. Some folks do Plot-First (otherwise known as Marvel Style) while others feel that a Full Script is the better approach.
Tons more information on both of these styles can be found online, but here’s a brief rundown if you don’t feel like getting your Google on:
Marvel Style is when the writer breaks down what should be on each page of the story. The characters, the action, the “what’s happening” and the artist takes the page, goes off and decides how many panels are needed, and positions the panels accordingly. After the artist is complete, the writer goes back and writes dialogue for the finished page. This style works best when the artist and the writer trust each other’s abilities and talents.
In a Full Script the writer breaks each page down by panels and tells the artist exactly who should be where, what dialogue should be able to fit into each panel, and how many panels should be on a page. This lets the writer control the flow and pacing of his story, but doesn’t always leave room for the artist to be creative. We’ll talk about finding and working with artists in a column to come.
Me? I prefer to work in Full Script. The comic book script is a letter to the artist. After all, they’re the ones who will be taking your written words and ideas to the illustrated page. Unless, of course, you’re one of those lucky folks who can actually write AND draw, in which case, I’m completely jealous of you and everything you stand for.
The danger of full script is that you have to ensure that you give the artist enough to work with. You have to flesh out characters and what they look like, the environments, whether a scene is taking place at night or during the day, and generally everything that you hope to see on the page. It takes an extreme amount of detail at times (Alan Moore would write panel descriptions that were pages and pages long) though other times, a mere sentence will do depending on the talent of the artist and how familiar they are with your story.
I want to show you how I take a story from idea to comic book script. Now, I’m not saying that this is the correct way, or even the only way — it’s simply what has worked for me.
One of the interesting things about comic book scripting is that regardless of whose script style you choose to ape at the beginning, over time it will meld into something that is completely your own as you learn new processes and get feedback from your artists. In fact, I encourage you to solicit feedback from an artist on how your scripts are setup. Their feedback and can be enlightening.
For this example of Story to Script, I’m going to use a short story that I wrote a few months ago. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t steal it and claim it as your own, but these things happen.
In my never-ending process of trying to write in different genres, I figured it was time to write something in a fantasy setting. I’m no fantasy master, but I understand the types of characters that are available, the tropes, and the stereotypes. Since I didn’t want to sit down and write a six-issue mini-series (after all, I’m just testing the waters for myself), I thought I’d start off with something simple: a three page story.
I thought for a few minutes, considering different types of stories, and what might be fun for an artist to draw. After several false starts, here’s the germ of the idea that came to me:
Three Orcs, sit along the side of the road discussing which types of humans they enjoy eating most, however, these are not your typical Orcs. The stereotype, shown through movies and fantasy novels, tell us that these beings are slow and stupid, but these three particular Orcs speak in very advanced dialects.
BOOM. There it is… The basic idea for my story. The first idea I got that I didn’t hate.
Knowing that this was to be a 3 page story, I was going to need to flesh things out a bit more. I had a story idea, but I didn’t have a plot.
I had the introduction to my characters, but I needed more in order to have a story, as opposed to three Orcs just sitting around gabbing.
Three Orcs, Dort, Vafur, and Nilg, sit along the side of the road discussing which types of humans they enjoy eating most, however, these are not your typical Orcs. The stereotype, shown through movies and fantasy novels, tell us that these beings are slow and stupid, but these three particular Orcs speak in very advanced dialects. As they talk, a man in armor runs upon them, sword in hand. He is a knight who is escorting two young ladies in a horse-drawn cart. He calls the Orcs stupid and prepares to vanquish them, however, the Orcs don’t like being stereotyped. Out of pure anger, they attack the Knight, killing him and destroying the cart. During the frenzy, the Orcs show their stereotypical “Stupid” side, but after the fight is over, they go back to their regular talk and as luck would have it, they’ve also gotten some humans to eat. They resume conversation, discussing how sad it is that humans can be so cruel and hateful toward them.
Now this is starting to look like a story! I include all of the classic elements:
Act 1 – The Introduction: I Introduce my characters, show who they are, what they’re about, and establish the status quo.
In my Act 1, Dort, Vafur, and Nilg (good names for Orcs, right?) show us that they’re quite intelligent, breaking the typical Orc stereotype. They hold an intelligent conversation on what type of humans they enjoy eating most.
Act 2 – Conflict: My characters are tested in some way.
In my Act 2, the Knight, showing off for the women that he’s escorting, attempts to kill some stupid Orcs. Of course, the Orcs take offense and the fight is on.
Act 3 – Resolution: My characters succeed, learning something.
In Act 3 the Orcs kill the Knight and ravage the cart, showing what happens when humans underestimate them. For humor purposes, the Orcs will show their stereotypical “stupid” side during the battle.
Denouement: The state of affairs after the climax.
In my closing, the Orcs go back to their normal way of speaking and they’ve also left one of the humans alive, for a snack. (See how we went full circle there?)
I’ve now got the skeleton of our story. An outline, if you will. The next part is to visualize the story, decide which scenes should go on which page, and the pacing of it all.
This story is pretty straightforward. With a three page story, we essentially have one page for each act. We’re still in outlining mode so I’m not diving into too much detail yet, simply deciding which actions will need to appear on each page.
To keep things simple, this is how I broke down the story:
In this example, each page corresponds with each act, though obviously this won’t be the case with a five or ten page story.
Now the tough part. It’s time to figure out how many panels needs to be on each page in order to tell our story.
How do we figure that out? Simple! Take a few minutes away from the computer. Close your eyes. Go outside. Take a walk. Let the story play out like a movie in your brain. Play it over and over until you see the snapshots that will help tell your story.
Some helpful guidelines: Most comic book pages have between four and seven panels.
The fewer the panels, the faster the pacing of the page (because you read it faster) whereas more panels will slow down your action (since there’s going to be more to read and look at). This is something you’ll also want to keep in mind.
After spending some time visualizing my Orc story, here’s how I decided to break it down:
I decided that on page #1 I could squeeze everything I needed to into 4 panels.
PANEL 1: Establishing shot of the Orcs sitting alongside the road.
PANEL 2: Fly in closer to the Orcs. They talk.
PANEL 3: We isolate Nilg and Varfur as they debate with one another.
PANEL 4: The Orcs continue debating, however, Dort looks over his shoulder. A disturbance is happening off panel.
Page one complete. I’ve established the setting, the type of story, introduced our characters and the beginnings of the problem. There’s no dialogue yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m not writing it in my mind!
Let’s look at page #2, which I also kept at 4 panels. It’s mainly action, so I wanted to ensure that the reader eyeballs it quickly to keep up with the pace.
PANEL 1: The Orcs notice the Knight coming at them with sword drawn. In the background we see two women, a blonde and redhead, sitting on a horse-drawn cart looking scared of the Orcs. The Orcs react to being called “stupid” by the Knight.
PANEL 2: The Orcs attack the Knight. He’s shocked and surprised.
PANEL 3: The Orcs kill the Knight and head for the horse-drawn cart.
PANEL 4: The women hold onto one another, scared of their impending doom as the Orcs draw near.
In 4 panels I’ve set up the problem and the action has happened. Lastly comes page #3 which I decided could be just 3 panels and would bring the story to a close.
PANEL 1: The orcs walk away from the wreckage. The knight, the horse, and one of the women are dead.
PANEL 2: We pull back and see the redhead being dragged away by the Orcs as they continue to talk.
PANEL 3: They walk down the road, dragging the woman along with them. The conitnue to talk to one another, saddened that the ignorance of the humans.
Our panel breakdowns are complete! A round of applause for everyone!
But I’m not done yet! Because I’m writing in full script, I have to go in and beef up the details. Everything I’ve written for my outline is very general, but because this script will be a letter to the artist, I need them to know everything about the characters that I can, along with roughly how much dialogue will be in each panel (so they can leave appropriate space).
Some artists will do character sketches to get a feel for the people they’ll be drawing, but others may request to know which actors people may look like. In the case of the Orcs, I may find a very general picture of one that I like, and then explain what sets the three apart so that the artist doesn’t make them look too much alike.
This is the toughest part of scripting. You have to know your story inside and out. Take as much time as you need and once you’re happy with it, read over it a few more times and massage out all the details.
Here’s the finished script that I produced for the artist:
PAGE #1 (4 Panels):
PANEL 1: Establishing shot of a country side. It’s the middle of the afternoon and we’re zooming in on a small encampment alongside a lush, forested road.
PANEL 2: We meet three gruesome looking Orcs: Dort, Vafur, and Nilg. They’re sitting around on the ground chatting with one another. They should all look very similar with basic clothes and facial features to differentiate the three of them. Crude swords sit next to them on the ground. Varfur gestures toward Nilg with his thumb.
PANEL 3: Close on Nilg and Varfur as they talk.
PANEL 4: Varfur is talking and gesturing while Dort looks over his shoulder at the sound of a disturbance.
WARRIOR (off panel):
PAGE #2 (4 Panels):
PANEL 1: Bigger panel. In the foreground, the three Orcs watch as a warrior, clothed in armor, his face uncovered, runs toward them with sword high in the air preparing to strike. Behind the warrior we see a horse-drawn cart with two younger women, approximately in their early 20’s seated on top. One a red-head, one a brunette. They look frightened at the scene.
PANEL 2: The Orcs attack the warrior. He backpedals, a look of terror on his face.
PANEL 3: In the background, Dort stands over the warrior stabbing him with his crude sword. In the foreground, Varfur and Nilg run toward the camera snarling and looking very threatening.
PANEL 4: Close up of the two women, sitting atop the horse-drawn cart. They’re dressed in a regal, fantasy garb and they hold onto one another, screaming in horror at their impending doom.
PAGE #3 (3 Panels):
PANEL 1: The three Orcs are walking away from the wreckage into the foreground. In the background, the cart is overturned and is on fire. The warrior, horse, and one woman are dead. We can’t see the Orcs below the chest.
PANEL 2: We pull back and see that one of the Orcs is dragging one of the women behind him. It’s the red head. She’s alive.
PANEL 3: They walk off into the distance with their prize. They’re silhouetted by the daytime sunlight.
Whew! That was quite a journey, right?
As I read back, I ensure that I included all of my plot points and don’t leave anything hanging. I’m likely to read this script ten more times and make many more changes, but it’s a starting point and something an artist can visualize and draw from.
I hope that this focus on Story to Script was beneficial, and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. As always, I welcome your ideas as well!
Stay tuned to see where the column goes next!
Until then, keep reading and writing.
Wes Locher on May 18, 2012
Filed in: Right Place at the Write Time | No Comments »
Since the last Right Place at the Write Time column, I assume that you’re actively reading and writing, yes?
Let’s hope so!
In this column, I wanted to talk about motivation. Good times!
You’re here, and you probably want to learn something about writing comics, right? Here’s a challenge: Can you motivate yourself to read the following words?
Each day at my day job I interact with anywhere from 10-130 people. Each person has their own life, their own story, their own hopes, and their own dreams. Me personally, I’m all about their dreams. We’re only alive for so long and I’m a strong believer that everyone should work hard to achieve what they want and be happy doing so. One works so much harder with much less negativity if they’re doing what they love for a living.
Sadly, not everyone is able to up and quit their day job in order to pursue their dreams, but that doesn’t mean they are unattainable. Most of us work 40-45 hours per week, or go to school full time, or some combination of the two. While that’s a giant time sink because you either need to pay the bills or need to further your education (hopefully in order to achieve that dream job) it doesn’t leave us a whole lot of time to dedicate to the things we love.
Each week, we have 168 hours into which we fit our lives.
Because I make those 123 hours work for me, instead of against me, I get put off and frustrated when I hear people say that they can’t accomplish their dreams because “they don’t have time.”
You have to be motivated. You have to manage your time.
Unless you have a life assistant, no one is going to follow you around and poke you in the ribs when you’re doing something that could be considered a “waste of time.”
You have to be motivated. You have to be proactive.
How many of your friends and family members have you heard say, “I want to write a book one day”?
Probably a lot of them.
How many of those people have actually written that book?
I don’t subscribe to that mentality because I can want to write a book all I want, but I’m a realistic person and I know that I’m not going to wake up one morning, crack open my laptop and find a word document with the entire manuscript typed up neatly.
No matter how badly you want to do something, you have to make the time to do it.
I always wanted to write a book too. In 2009 I actually did it. It took me an entire year because I had to find the time — Nay, had to make the time.
I didn’t want to be one of those people who spent my life talking about it. I recognize that no one was going to make it happen for me except me.
“But Wes!” you say. “That 123 hours thing is crap. I have to eat and sleep and spend time with my loved ones as well!”
I thought you might say that.
You’re absolutely right. There are other things you have to do in life. Whether it’s spending time with friends or spouses, sleeping, going to the grocery store, or just maintaining your personal hygiene. You should do all of those things and not think twice about them, but think of the time you spend on all that other stuff.
By other stuff, I mean the television episodes, the video games, the NetFlix. Those are all huge time sinks that steal away hours and hours of your life. If you have a dream or you have a goal, those activities are taking time away from it. Not to say that you shouldn’t do those things, but be conscious of the time spent doing them.
In order to focus on the careers we want, my wife and I canceled the cable. For an entire year we didn’t watch TV. We’d do the occasional DVD but there were no shows that we followed. We now have NetFlix, but it’s rarely on for more than 4 hours a week in total. Though we may have fallen behind on all the great TV shows being aired, you know what happened when we stopped watching them? NOTHING.
They played on without us, our friends spoiled them for us, and we suck at small talk in social settings because we’d rather use that free time to focus on our goals. Plus, we entertain one another infinitely more than an episode of Quantum Leap ever could.
Also, about that sleep thing. Find out how much sleep you need. Some people cannot function with less than 8 hours, while others do fine with 5-6. I’ve conditioned myself to function off of 4-5 hours a night, and I wake up 3 hours before I go to work each day in order to squeeze in additional productivity time. Case in point, this column was written at 8am on a Friday.
Let’s take our 123 hours and subtract the 6 hours of sleep we need each night to function at an acceptable level. Heck, we’ll splurge a bit and give ourselves 8 hours on the weekends. That still gives us 77 hours to manage in order to focus on our passion. Keep taking away time as needed, but the moral of the story is simply that the time is there if you want it.
I’m not attempting to be holier than thou or trying make you feel bad about how you are spending your time, I’m simply sharing what has worked for me. I subscribe to the mindset of how do you know, if no one ever tells you?
Hey, I have an idea — Let’s talk about comic books.
(Slick segue, right?)
All of the above was written with the comic book writer in mind, though it can be applied to anything that you’re passionate about. If you didn’t read the stuff before the words “comic” and “book” then you missed some really good words of wisdom (or perhaps just common sense). Seriously, go check it out. I could use a sandwich anyway.
Why the above is important is because most comic book writers are essentially freelance writers. They finish a job, get paid, and have to find the next job. I hear it’s very stressful at times. When you’re starting off in comics, no one is going to put a gun to your head, sit you down at your computer and tell you to write. Well, maybe your husband and wife if you’re into that sort of thing, but traditionally, everything is on you.
Let’s say you pitch your awesome story idea to Image Comics. Maybe you just have five pages of script and 5 pages of completed art and nothing more. What happens when they agree to publish it. What if they want 5 issues? What if they want 10?
Know how to make the time before you need it.
If you’re in a situation where you’re expected to send 22 pages of script to an artist by Friday, you don’t want to struggle to make the time. It’s unprofessional and the worst thing you can do is not meet a deadline. Show everyone that you’re serious about your work by actually being serious about your work.
One of my life motto’s says, “If you won’t do it for free, then no one will ever pay you to do it.”
Set deadlines for yourself. Working on a comic short story? Set a deadline to have your 5 pages complete. Manage your time, find a way to make it happen. Don’t set yourself up for disaster. One missed deadline in the business and you’ve dug a hole that’s going to take a while to crawl out of.
Most comic writers have a desire to work with Marvel, DC, or Image comics. The writer thinks the story idea that they’ve been kicking around in their brain for the last ten years is going to be the key to fame and fortune. Maybe it’s their own character, or maybe they’ve plotted out their 30 issue maxi-series that will take Spider-Man to places Stan Lee never dreamed of.
KNOWLEDGE BOMB: No big time publisher is going to look at, let alone release your work without you having been published elsewhere.
That’s just the way it is. You have to prove yourself. That takes time. That takes your free time. Go write a comic. Find an artist. Self publish. Make a webcomic. Take an active interest in your dreams.
Next time you’re slumped over on the couch watching America’s Next Top Model – Season 87, and you’ve zoned out thinking about how ridiculous Tyra Banks is as a human being, turn off the TV and go make some comics.
“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.” ~ Jonathan Winters
Wes Locher on May 1, 2012
Filed in: Right Place at the Write Time | 2 Comments »
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.
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
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
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.
Writers on Comics Scriptwriting: Volume 1
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.
Writers on Comics Scriptwriting: Volume 2
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!
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 on Apr 18, 2012
Filed in: Right Place at the Write Time | 7 Comments »
Before you can fancy yourself as a comic book writer, you first have to be a writer.
There’s a great quote on this, and I’ll likely butcher it, but here it is to the best of my memory:
How to be a writer:
Pretty accurate in my opinion.
BACK TO BASICS
I’ll go ahead and hope that before jumping into comic writing, you’ve written other stories of your own creation. If not, I highly suggest you write some. Find your voice. Find the genres you enjoy writing. Read a lot. Write some really crappy stories. Read some more.
Also, if you hope to make it as a professional writer, you must have an understanding of basic grammar. I’ll assume that we all went to school, but with time sometimes these lessons fade. Make sure you take some time to refresh yourself on the basic rules. Nothing will ruin your credibility faster than being abusive toward the English language. If you can arrange it, have an English teacher mother and a Journalist father. That turned out pretty well for me. Also, don’t steal the awesome time travel story I just came up with there.
Consider this — comics are a visual form where the pictures and illustrations are infinitely more important than the actual words. You need to have a strong understanding of character, dialogue, conflict, action, and resolution. A prose piece can be as long as it needs to be to tell the story with as much description and dialogue as needed, whereas a comic book is (usually) limited to 20 or 22 pages an issue and must contain a beginning, middle, and end. There’s also a giant limit to the amount of words that can fit on a panel and a page. Brevity is your friend. Brevity is also the soul of wit, I hear.
So go write some short stories, and if you already have a stockpile, go re-read them. Make sure they’re well-told and follow the classic three act structure. Re-write them to improve your craft and take chances and paths you didn’t in the original version. Don’t make edits — start from the ground up. Remember that any short story you’ve written can be later turned into comic book format, but before it can be converted and seen visually, it’s important to have a beginning, middle, and end.
The simple version of the three act structure:
So I’m going to assume that you’re either off writing some short stories, or you already do so on a regular basis.
If you want to cut it as a professional, you must write every day. It must become part of your routine. Part of your life. Olympic athletes train every day to be the best in the world. People work out every day in order to stay fit and healthy. Professional musicians play their instruments every day in order to keep up their physical dexterity.
Why should writers be any different?
Sure, we can’t all sit down every day and force ourselves to produce amazing fiction, but we can make some adjustments in our everyday lives to put us on the right track to do so.
Find the time of day in which you’re feeling most creative and set aside some of it to write.
Personally, I like to write in the morning before going to my day job. The advantage here is that I feel that my mind is fresh and hasn’t picked up any stress from the day. The downside is that that sometimes I have to wake up at 4am or 5am to write before heading to work at 8:30am, but big deal… I can sleep when I’m dead. Besides, this is why coffee was invented — to help writers be productive*.
Start off small. Find 10 minutes here, or 30 minutes there. Don’t make excuses for why you can’t write. Your wives, husbands, friends, and children love you and should all understand your passion and be supportive. If you’re passionate about it, they’ll give you that time. If they aren’t supportive, then get some new friends/wives/husbands/children immediately.
Find a place to write in which you feel comfortable and creative. Some folks prefer the hustle and bustle of coffee shops while others like to sit in their beds with a laptop. Personally, I have a small office with a great desk where I can go to concentrate. I need silence though to work as I am easily distracted. Before I set up my home office, I’d done some of my best writing with my laptop on the dining room table while my wife was asleep. To each their own. Stick with what works. Find a dedicated place that you can go each day. You need a place that when you sit down, your brain knows that it’s time to work… time to focus… time to write… time to stare at a blank page… time to get frustrated… time to throw things… time to clean up the broken glass… time to apologize to the cat**.
Know what you’re going to write before you write it. The biggest enemy of the writer is that darn blank page. If you get the germ of a story idea, let it marinate for a few days, weeks, or months prior to sitting down and trying to jam it out. Often times, I’ll figure out my beginning, middle, and end, before I ever type a word. This helps prevent writer’s block and much frustration.
To that same tip, when you are writing, do not write yourself dry. Stop and take a rest when you still know where you’re headed. This ensures that the next time you start up, you’ll be able to resume right into the flow and your brain can easily pick up where it left off.
Write great stories and write awful stories. You’ll learn a lot about yourself from both. If you stink at one genre, try another. Force yourself to try new genres. Write a sci-fi story. write a crime story. Write a romance story. Seriously. Try everything.
Ask your friends and family to read your stories. Know that they will love everything you put in front of them. I once sent my mom a story that was the word “poop” copy and pasted 100 times on a page. She compared it to Shakespeare***. After you’ve gotten your ego boosted, show it to a co-worker, your boss, and the dude who makes your venti mocha-java-pretentioso at Starbucks. At least they’ll be honest with you.
Don’t put yourself in a box. Sometimes you start writing with one genre in mind and all of a sudden your characters will come to life and put you on a completely different track. Don’t fight it. Roll with it. In 2009 I wrote a humor book called Musings on Minutiae. I had intended to simply write funny short stories but it ended up becoming more of a humorous memoir. It turned out great. Let the writing guide you.
Write all kinds of stuff. In addition to my comics work, I’m currently writing a second humor book and I also provide comic reviews for an online entertainment site. Having multiple projects going will allow you to shift your mindset when you get stuck elsewhere.
If I’m having trouble with issue #3 of one of my comics, I’ll go write some humor instead and come back to the comic once I’ve had a break. Don’t get frustrated, just go do something else. Don’t forget to go outside once in a while. Be sure to take showers.
Oh, and while I’m thinking about that…
Take Showers. Don’t feed into the stigma of the unwashed, antisocial comic book reader that we’re all trying so hard to break.
Hopefully some good advice here? You probably knew most of this already, but I believe in positive reinforcement and reminders. And showers.
I have some ideas on where to go from here, but as always, I welcome your feedback. If you see someone in the comments telling me how great this article was, assume it’s my mom.
* I can’t back that up.
Wes Locher on Apr 15, 2012
Filed in: Right Place at the Write Time | 3 Comments »
Who do you think you are?
In my mind, that’s the question I envision readers of this column asking.
Let’s start with the formalities. I’m Wes Locher. I live in Orlando, Florida, and I’m a comic book writer.
A comic book writer? How come I’ve never heard of you?
That’s naturally the second question I assume that you’ll ask yourself.
I’ve never heard of me either, but that’s okay, because we all have to start somewhere. Sure, my last name isn’t Bendis, or Brubaker, or Aaron (in fact, my last name’s way more difficult to pronounce then all of those), but still there are more folks than those specific mega-stars who put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and produce the words for stories told through sequential art.
What makes you so darn special?
This might not be the third question you’d ask, but since my father used to ask me this all the time, I figured I’d answer it once and for all.
The answer is nothing. Nothing makes me special, but if you’re reading this column, then you probably have some interest in the comic book industry, and you might even be interested in writing comics for a living.
There. We found common ground.
I talked to the good folks here at Fanboy Buzz about my idea for a column and they seemed to think it’d be a hit, so here we all are. I explained to them that I’d like to explore the world of writing comics, give advice, share my experiences, and hopefully even interview some writers who were once in our very same position.
So you see, I’d like to help you. All of you. And myself. Help me help you. Deal?
For the last year and a half I’ve been working on breaking in to the comics world as a writer. It’s been a long road and truth be told, it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been way more work that I ever imagined. There’s been things that I’ve experienced, and will continue to experience, and I want to share them with you. I’ve made mistakes that you can learn from. I’ve had successes that you can learn from. I want to learn from you as well. I want to create an environment in which we can share rather than compete. I want everyone to succeed, but we’re all in this together. More than anything, I want to explore the line between what makes someone an “aspiring comic book writer” versus just a “comic book writer.”
Me? I’m a comic book writer.
Let me explain how I got here.
(This would be a great place to cue flashback music.)
I grew up in a small Ohio town. My parents thought it would be hilarious for my older sister and I to live in the middle of nowhere, so we spent a lot of time entertaining ourselves. She chose art, I chose writing short stories and reading comic books. I spent the majority of the 90s reading comics. I was there for the launch of Image comics. I was there for the Clone Saga. I was there for the shoulder pads and pouches.
As I grew older, I discovered music as a creative outlet and moved to Orlando, Florida to attend college. I lost interest in comics and focused on school. After graduating, I stuck around the area and played in rock bands, trying to make it professionally. Over the course of seven years I played hundreds of shows all over the state entertained thousands of people, and had a blast doing it, but the lack of being able to make it a full time job started to wear on me. I was still growing up and trying to figure out who I was as a person.
Everything came to a head on Thanksgiving Day of 2010. I was visiting my parents in Ohio and the weather was bad (snow is cold and wet). Since I couldn’t go outside (snow was really my main reason for moving to Florida) I once again had to entertain myself. I went to my closet and pulled out my comic long boxes. Before I knew it, I was pulled back into a world of comic books. I had a blast looking back through the books I had collected over the years and wondered why I had ever stopped reading in the first place.
At the back of one of my long boxes, I came across some short stories that I had written during my youth. They were utterly awful, but on the last page of one of the stories, I had taken the liberty of writing my own author biography. It was short and silly, but the last line of the bio struck a chord with me; it read: “One day, Wes wants to be a comic book writer.”
(End flashback sequence.)
I returned to Florida with two new goals: (1) I was going to start reading comics again (I had 10 years worth of reading to catch up on!) and (2) I was going to start writing comics.
Over the course of the year 2011 I came up with four different ideas that were ultimately turned into completed five page pitches. I wrote a superhero story, a crime fiction story, a sci-fi story, and a heist story. I networked with artists, eventually finding one to draw each five page sequence, and then networked with colorists to bring life to them. I then had to try and figure out how to pitch to publishers. It was an awesome learning experience and very gratifying.
Of course, that’s the short version of the story. All of that took about a year.
It was important that you knew all of that, because at the beginning of 2012 I heard back from some of the publishers and was offered contracts from two different publishing companies for two of my stories.
That’s right. Two of my pitches are now in production and will be on shelves sometime in 2013. I think that’s pretty exciting. In fact, I want to share the process with you as I go along.
We’ll talk about story construction, scripting, finding an artist, finding a colorist, finding a letterer (I married one. Highly recommended), pitching, contracts, and every process you can shake a stick at.
I don’t claim to be a master at any of this. I’m just a guy who loves to write comics and has had some interesting opportunities come his way.
With all that said, I hope you’ll check back. I’m planning to do this column weekly, but remember that life happens.
In the meantime, tell me what you want to talk about. Just like comics, I’d love for this column to be a collaborative effort. I mean, you DO like collaboration, right?
I will give you my thoughts, and feedback is always welcome. After all, most of this industry is about one thing: Being in the right place at the write time.