Behind the Shades

Writing 101
DAJB at 11:55PM, Feb. 24, 2008
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One or two people have sent me PQ's asking for tips on writing. As flattering as this is, I'd hesitate to give any firm advice to anyone else because (a) I am by no means a professional writer (which means my opinions on writing are no more valid than anyone else's) and (b) I already know for a fact that a lot of people don't agree with some of my views, particularly with regard to writing for comics!

Anyway, for anyone who's interested, here are a few tips based on how I write. I don't claim they're the right techniques for you or anyone else but, if you'd like to give one, some or all of them a try, please do. You can thank me when you're a millionaire!

1. Start by working up a detailed character sheet for each of the main characters. Who they are, what they like/dislike, how they came to be what they are, who their parents were, what they can do that makes them different, how they came by those abilities, etc etc. This “backstory” information may or may not make it into the comic (much of it probably won't) but it can help with dialogue if it's always there in the back of your mind.

Note on these character sheets the key events that happen to the characters in the story. This means updating it and changing it as you go along but, if you're working on a long story, it helps with continuity/consistency.

2. Have a draft of the story, including the ending, before you begin writing the script. Knowing what's going to happen at the end and how the characters are going to get there will help to keep the story headed in the right direction. If you're working on a long story, break it down into several chapters or issues. Have the overall story in outline form but map out the key events in each chapter/issue in detail before starting work on the script for that part.

3. Remember pacing. If you have several pages of action, remember to include a few calmer pages before you rush straight into the next one. You can use these calmer pages to include exposition to move the story forward or develop characters' personalities. Don't make the exposition sequences too long - in a visual medium like comics they can become boring very quickly! Some notes on how I tried to make exposition interesting can be found here.

The reverse is also true. If you've had one or two pages of guys talking for the purposes of exposition, find a way to make the next sequence a little more action-oriented.

4. Remember the rules of rising tension and rising action. Essentially this means the tension leading up to an action sequence should get greater the nearer you get and each action sequence should be bigger and have more at risk than the one before. Include too many big bangs in the story at the beginning or as you go along and your ending may well seem like an anti-climax.

5. Revise, rewrite and edit the script as many times as you can bear to! I constantly rewrite mine (even after the artwork is finished!) Two major rewrites will almost always be necessary: (i) a read-through to make sure there are no plot inconsistencies or too many things happening that haven't been at least hinted at earlier; and (ii) a re-thinking not just of what the characters say but how they say it (see 6 below). Be harsh and cut out lines that are out of character, even if you think they are the best lines you've ever written!

6. Cast your characters. This is a favourite technique of mine! To make your characters' dialogue believable, “cast” the characters like a movie. Imagine which actor/actress or which of your real-life acquaintances would be good in the role of each character. Then when the script is finished, re-write every line that you can't imagine that person saying. Usually this will mean cutting long lines into shorter segments and half-sentences, using shorter words and adding in some idioms. It may even help you to visualise facial and hand gestures as you go along.

Well, that's a fairly reasonable summary of the main steps I go through. As I said at the beginning, whether they work for anyone else or for you is another matter but, if you think any of them might help, you're welcome to try them out. If you don't … hey, that's cool too!

last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
Genejoke at 8:28AM, May 4, 2010
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I always plan to do ,most of those things but get a very short way in and plunge right in. something that I think shows, I wish i had the patie.ce to be a decent writer.
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
DAJB at 9:49AM, May 4, 2010
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posts: 1,462
joined: 2-23-2007
Genejoke
I always plan to do ,most of those things but get a very short way in and plunge right in. something that I think shows, I wish i had the patie.ce to be a decent writer.
Well, you do your own artwork, so the “rules” may be slightly different for you. Since I rely entirely on someone else for the artwork in my comics, it's even more important that things are mapped out in as much detail as possible. Once the artist has begun work, I can hardly ask him to go back and do it all again just because I've changed my mind or realised that something doesn't work as well as I'd hoped!

I think the above ideas can still help a creator who is both artist and writer but you can probably afford to be a little less rigid. In any event, as I said at the beginning, just because these techniques are right for me, doesn't mean they'll be right for you (or anyone else). As with any guidelines on writing (or drawing or almost any other artistic pursuit), I tend to think these are the kind of things that a creator should at least think about using, even if they then decide they're not for them.

last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM

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