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Author Topic: General Comics Writing Discussion  (Read 22317 times)

Emperor

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General Comics Writing Discussion
« on: 08 August, 2009, 11:10:33 pm »
I thought I might as well start a thread on comics writing - I'm not a pro (and may never get a penny from comics) but am at the point where I've had to give the whole process a lot of thought.

First is the writing - not the actually formatting of the script (you need only look at some of the sample scripts* to pick up the formatting) but story pacing and the general mechanics. The medium brings with it a number of unique features like the page turn, which can be used to change a scene or you can keep a reveal for the next page (so the reader's eye isn't drawn to something that gives away a story element. You can pick up some of this through books (I've got Alan Moore's Writing for Comics but more to have a nose at the way he does things) but one of your best sources are the comics themselves and you already have the best teachers - the writers in 2000 AD, who are the best in their field (especially handy for learning from as they have to get a slab of story into 5 pages. Pat Mills' early ABC Warriors are great examples of writing a team comic story, which is difficult to do with only 5 pages (only Gordon Rennie has given it a proper shot in 2000 AD). You can also look to TV as 30 minutes can be a tricky length of time and, sticking with teams, you can also learn a lot from Dad's Army (the first major team sitcom and one of the few successful ones).

One thing I found... interesting was the Screenwipe special (season 5, episode 3) where Charlie Brooker interviewed various leading TV writers. Its in three parts here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifQsLMQhBrg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkdN02axkE0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY03pHxWeMQ

I thought it was a fascinating insight into the range of approaches to the process of script writing (and quite a bit of the advice/comments transfer over to comics), some of which sound like torture. The one I liked the best was Graham Linehan's and you know it can be just like having a poo. You need to feed things in one end, let everything break down and digest, then it needs to bake a while and when it is ready to come out it will - there is no point sitting on the can straining (it gives a whole new meaning to "staring at a blank sheet of paper").

I think the most important thing to bear in mind that finishing the script is just the start of a process. Obviously, the editor may want some changes or have some clever ideas (or not so clever ideas ;) ), but it is also the artist's job to tell the story visually. It may be you bump into the occasional artist who is just lazy or a bit rubbish (so they dump the background or details to make their life easier) but I've never encountered anyone like that myself. Artists can come up with a different way of telling the story visually or it may be you have added too much detail to sensibly fit in the panel (you need to keep this in mind and make sure you flag anything that is vital for the story so it doesn't get lost). I found it interesting reading TPO where it describes how the artists deal with Alan Moore's scripts (which are probably the most detailed in the business) - Ian Gibson just focused on the important things and Dave Gibbons drew pretty much everything he was asked, which made the latter the best choice for Watchmen as it required a lot of the detail to be as it was described. I often try and include what I was thinking of and similar cultural works (TV, books, paintings, etc.) as it is often useful to give the artist the general feeling of what you are aiming for and they can work out the details themselves. It may also be useful to give a quick run down of the characters at the start (note Russell T. Davies' ideas about providing quick thumbnail character descriptions) along with describing scenes in one place. This lets the artist get a much better grasp of the character/location than if you were to it piecemeal which could lead to confusion (if someone can get a view of the room in their head then they can figure out the details on any particular angle).

I've also found myself thinking about the process of writing as I've committed to writing more, soI need to get more efficient. I'm sure no advice will fit everyone, just analyse what you are doing - what works and what doesn't (dicking around on the Internet is a great way to waste time). As the "poo metaphor" works for me I try and have different stories at different stages of my "alimentary canal" so you can switch to one story, if you are fed up with another, which can keep everything moving along. It can also help you get passed the trickier stages, like giving the script the last final polish (in the metaphor this wouldn't be the turd you are polishing, but presumably your ringpiece) and you can use cracking on with a new script (or doing some research - whichever is best for you) as the carrot to get this done (although carrots near your ringpiece can be dangerous). I also find that Notepad can be your best friend - dump snippets, thoughts or lines in a file and you'll build up a solid body of ideas (also a paper notebook is handy too for those unconnected moments). I also now write the first draft in Notepad, as you can just hammer it out without any distractions (like dicking around with text formatting), then when you transfer it over into a word processing document it pretty much forces you to do an intensive run through on your second draft ( which is where I often spot any problems which might need a solid rewrite), print it out and go through it all again - each change of format can force you to re-engage with the script. However, that is just me, I'm sure you'll be different - you just need to keep an objective eye on what you do.

Anyway just a few thoughts, I've thrown some other in over here:
http://downthetubes.ning.com/forum/topics/writing-comics-useful-links

and John Freeman has prepared this:
www.downthetubes.net/writing_comics/index.html

I'll have a think about this and see if I can come up with anything specific but this'll do for now.

So over to you.

*The script archive at Barney has quite a few:
http://2000ad.org/?zone=droid&page=scriptindex

You can find some on the submissions page here:
www.2000adonline.com/subs.php


There are some recommendations for freeware writing tools here:
www.2000adonline.com/forum/index.php/topic,29011.msg523464.html#msg523464
« Last Edit: 04 November, 2010, 11:21:55 pm by Emperor »
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locustsofdeath!

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Re: General writing discussion
« Reply #1 on: 09 August, 2009, 12:01:07 am »
Excellent write-up Emperor!

I've just started writing comic scripts (not for any money mind you), transitioning from writing short stories and screenplays, and I made great use of a few issues of Marvel's "Eye of the Camera" series. In case you don't know, in "Eye of the Camera" a finished comic is presented with the script, allowing a would-be writer to compare finished panel to scripted panel - and we're treated to scripts by the likes of Kurt Busiek no less.

What has been working for me as far as writing scripts (now I have to figure out how to market them....thread?) is to storyboard key segments or scenes and jot whatever notes I need for scripting. This was something I did while writing screenplays for my short films - and even though what ends up in the finished project might be radically different, it helps me to get into the flow of the story and action and also makes me feel like I'm "catching the moment". Then I go back a shape it all up into script format.

Hope I don't sound like a know-it-all, cause this is just what works for me! I look forward to reading tips from others.

Emperor

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Re: General writing discussion
« Reply #2 on: 09 August, 2009, 03:21:25 am »
I wouldn't worry - I suspect everyone has their own way to get the best out of themselves, the important thing is to really work out what it is that gets your creative juices flowing. I did give storyboarding a go but I am so bad at drawing it would only confuse me so I have to rely on my mental projector (which sounds a lot more fun than it is ;) ).

That said there are clearly tips that are generally useful, like:

I've just started writing comic scripts (not for any money mind you), transitioning from writing short stories and screenplays, and I made great use of a few issues of Marvel's "Eye of the Camera" series. In case you don't know, in "Eye of the Camera" a finished comic is presented with the script, allowing a would-be writer to compare finished panel to scripted panel - and we're treated to scripts by the likes of Kurt Busiek no less.

Sounds good - I'll keep an eye out for them. Along similar lines is the Cradlegrave script to page breakdown over on 2000AD Review.
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Emperor

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Re: General writing discussion
« Reply #3 on: 09 August, 2009, 03:47:12 am »
(now I have to figure out how to market them....thread?)

Sounds like a good idea. I suppose we could do with pitching, self-publishing and promoting threads. I'll post it up in the thread suggestions and see what people think.
if I went 'round saying I was an Emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

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HubertWindell

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #4 on: 10 August, 2009, 03:47:12 pm »
A small press struggler’s two cents:

Taking advice from screenwriters is relevant in my opinion. Screenplays and comic scripts are both basically instructions for visual mediums. You are describing a picture for someone else to make.

I can't stand comics with over blown narrative panels (usually filled with bad prose and/or unneeded exposition). They remind me of movies with irritating and unnecessary voice-overs.

The Show Don't Tell rule is often repeated because it's true. The audience like to process the information themselves. The cognitive process is stimulating. Info dump dialogue and narrative panels are boring. In the Brooker programme someone says that he’d rather be confused for ten mins than bored for an hour. While the most important thing is to remain coherent, I reckon temporary confusion is preferable to boredom.

...but then again, I don't want to be overly prescriptive either. I just think it's a basic in writing for visual media that is worth pointing out. There are always exceptions to the rule. 

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #5 on: 12 August, 2009, 04:36:30 pm »
For what it's worth, I've applied the following simple rule to any scripts I've done for Futurequake:

What is written as two panels can be done as one.

The scary thing is, like some diminishing Moore's law, the rule holds true for three or four drafts. Only when you absolutely, positively, cannot combine a couple of panels is the thing right. Not good, but as good as it is going to be.
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Emperor

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #6 on: 18 August, 2009, 07:13:42 pm »
A small press struggler’s two cents:

Taking advice from screenwriters is relevant in my opinion. Screenplays and comic scripts are both basically instructions for visual mediums. You are describing a picture for someone else to make.

Very true - watching how shots and camera angles work can be a big help in describing panels.

Also something I forgot to mention is The Writer's Journey. It started as a look at how Joseph Campbell's ideas on myths work in film but has changed to be a more general guide for all writers of stories (although it still has a cinematic focus. Best go for the most recent edition:
www.amazon.co.uk/Writers-Journey-Mythic-Structure/dp/193290736X/

It is important to know about such things, if only so you use it to subvert the reader's expectations - if they (even subconsciously) recognise the pattern then you can hit them with a swerve.

I can't stand comics with over blown narrative panels (usually filled with bad prose and/or unneeded exposition). They remind me of movies with irritating and unnecessary voice-overs.

The Show Don't Tell rule is often repeated because it's true. The audience like to process the information themselves. The cognitive process is stimulating. Info dump dialogue and narrative panels are boring. In the Brooker programme someone says that he’d rather be confused for ten mins than bored for an hour. While the most important thing is to remain coherent, I reckon temporary confusion is preferable to boredom.

...but then again, I don't want to be overly prescriptive either. I just think it's a basic in writing for visual media that is worth pointing out. There are always exceptions to the rule. 

Yes, reading some earlier comic books can make you realise how clunky this can be. Good writers can still use this effectively (reading Fetish after Cradelegrave finished I was struck by how well John Smith evoked the stifling heat using very tight captions) and/or to make some kind of point. However, often it is there because of poor storytelling and/or literary pretensions.

This struck me when I was watching the Wire the other week when Chris Patlow brutally beat Michael's father. Given that the character has been set up as a cool and methodical killer the switch in behaviour implies this all happened because he was molested as a child or raped in prison. None of this needed explaining and it underlines the whole idea of treating the viewers as grown-ups and letting them work it out for themselves (which is much more satisfying).
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Emperor

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #7 on: 18 August, 2009, 08:12:18 pm »
Also while we are on story structure I stumbled across this today (on Bleeding Cool I assume):

www.dramatica.com/theory/articles/Dram-differences.htm
if I went 'round saying I was an Emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

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Emperor

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #8 on: 28 August, 2009, 03:23:19 pm »
A couple of random links I found digging through my bookmarks:

Comic Boook Script Archive
http://www.comicbookscriptarchive.com/

Getting Things Written - Antony Johnston
http://www.antonyjohnston.com/gtw/
if I went 'round saying I was an Emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

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Emperor

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Hoagy

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #10 on: 30 September, 2009, 06:50:17 pm »
I want to start creative writing again. But I am well rusty and the inner voice a mere hoarse whisper.

Is there any pointers on getting back in the saddle and, you know, balking out the basics.

What about rules of scifi?

Short stories for a character you hope to expand upon?

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #11 on: 30 September, 2009, 07:11:30 pm »
What about rules of scifi?

Sounds like something from John Byrne's forum - "Of course you can't say THAT - it's against the Rules of Scifi!;D

Kerrin

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #12 on: 30 September, 2009, 08:03:17 pm »
I want to start creative writing again. But I am well rusty and the inner voice a mere hoarse whisper.

Is there any pointers on getting back in the saddle and, you know, balking out the basics.

Write more, that's what I've found Krom. I hadn't done any creative writing for years till very recently and it's surprising how quickly you get back into it. I'm realising just how much I've forgotten about grammar and punctuation, but it's all good fun. Why not have a bash at the short story comp? Trying to write a decent 500 word story is an excellent exercise and it tends to make you leave out a lot of extraneous crap that you could probably do without (you grudgingly admit as you keep trimming away at the 600 word masterpiece you've lovingly constructed, swearing at the wordcounter).   


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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #13 on: 30 September, 2009, 08:11:23 pm »
I want to start creative writing again. But I am well rusty and the inner voice a mere hoarse whisper.


Chuck yourself in at the deep end, say I, and join in this year's annual National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org/). Only 31 days away!
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Zarjazzer

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Re: General Writing Discussion
« Reply #14 on: 30 September, 2009, 08:21:43 pm »
I know there's plenty of creative writing web sites many of which look at sci-fi and fantasy.

one of the ways I read about is to come up with the villain first, and then go on. why? Cos he/she/it is uusally the driving force behind the story. The "heroes/protagonist" are often reacting to the villain or thwarting their nefarious plans.That said i've not tried it myself but it sounds interesting. i might have a go!

Most stories have a basic structure-the heroes have to do something(hunt the killer alien/steal the wizards hard earned treasure), at a location(s) (eg.Death Star, Death world, Death alley/Watford/Mordor etc) whilst being confronted with some complications (the hobbits are all pissed/Space Marines on strike/rebels have become too jaded to carry on/main characters hate/love one other etc), AND facing (usually much more powerful)  opposition. (eg.Dragons/Dark lords,Paul Daniels,armies of goons, etc)


wow that almsot made sense.
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