Tag Archives: creative writing

Writing for comics: how much is too much or not enough?

I don’t talk a whole lot about my day job here; I spend the day doing it, so it isn’t something I feel that inclined to write about. Oh, I love my class. In fact, I’m not shy to tell students it’s the best class in the program. Of course, I’m biased, but I get to talk about comic making all day! What’s not to like about that?

Teaching comic writing in a primarily moving picture program can be tricky. Most of our students want to write for film or television (though we have a growing number of students who want to write novels—which I find funny, because we’re not a program geared to teach that…guess they should do better research!). What they’re taught in those classes—and know that I’m not contracting what they’re taught in the classes that teach moving pictures, I just don’t have that experience—is to write very little “directions” for a director, and of course, write nothing that can’t be filmed.

They often bring that thinking into my class and it’s frustrating to try to convince them that what we’re doing in comics doesn’t negate what they do in moving pictures, it’s just a different “gear,” a different kind of writing.

I’m in several “creator” groups on Facebook and recently a thread went around about details in writing for comics. To sum up, most of the artists complained that the writers don’t give them enough details…and then complain when the art is done that something is “wrong,” or “missing.” I place that blame completely and fully on the writers.

And yet, comic companies often suggest in their submission guidelines to “write only a sentence or two” for each panel’s description. While that may be possible, as noted in the paragraph above, it often isn’t enough.

Comic writers can’t be vague in the writing and expect artists to read their minds or know their intent by words they haven’t written. Comic writers have to give artists all the information needed, and then some. Comic writing can be less than formal; in fact it can be very conversational because the writer and artist are partners in producing.

So how much is too much and how much is too little in a comic script?

My suggestion is always write with the idea that the artist has no idea what you’re talking about and that you’ve never worked with that artist before. Not only do you want to describe to them the (single) action that is happening in the panel, but you can tell them the mood of the panel overall, the mood of the characters in the panel, the tone you want in the panel (and on pages).

Always remember, the comic artist is your collaborator, not your audience.

 

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The trouble with adaptations

One of the joys of my current class (Writing for Comics and Animation) is that I get to talk about adaptations and the art of doing one in comic or graphic novel form. As fans of popular properties, we’re always excited about the aspect that something we really enjoy will be presented in a different format: when we’re a fan of a book, we want to see the movie; when we’re a fan of a game, we want to read the comic. The problem with adaptations is that there is no possible way to make everyone happy. Let me ‘splain.

Most writers, when tasked with the responsibility of an adaptation want the freedom to make changes, most of them subtle, but changes nonetheless. Most of the time writers are forced to make changes of some sort simply to fit the medium. Since I’ve only ever done comic adaptations from other formats (I’ve done film, game and novel all to comic), the biggest challenge is fitting it all in. So the writer has to take the number of pages allotted by the publisher, and figure out what parts are vital and what parts can be cut or reduced. There’s a lot of work in that the writer wants to be true to the original…but there are only so many pages. In comics, the pictures don’t move!

The problem with changes, though, is hardcore fans of the property don’t want you to change it in any way. They’re hardcore fans because they love everything about it. They love it so much they just want to see the exact same thing but in a different way. Trust me, if you fiddle with their beloved story, you’ll hear how wrong you were to do so!

Don’t believe me? Think of recent films that have been released based on novels or games or comics. How many times did you hear someone commenting on the “changes” made? I heard people talk about the recent Ender’s Game adaptation and how it made changes at the end. Some liked it, some didn’t. Or what about the superhero movies? Just spend some time googling (what a cool new verb!) them and you’ll see endless debates not only about how good or bad the films are, but how “true” they are to the original (I personally hated the fact that the web in the Toby Spider-Man was biological—I thought it changed the character of Peter Parker too much!). I also remember seeing Starship Troopers when it hit the theaters. At the time I was so mad because it was nothing like the Heinlein book on which it was based. However, I saw it a few years later (it a group setting where the group wanted to see it, not me! So I just went along like a good guest!) and—knowing that it was nothing like the book, I thought it was a decent sci-fi movie. It was NOT the Starship Troopers of the book, but it wasn’t a horrible movie (this is in reference to ONLY the first film, fyi).

Then there are those fans who want to have something different, who prefer to get something that adds to the original so they don’t just get the same thing. Stray too far, though, and it ceases to become an adaptation. If you remain close, it’s “based on.” However, when you write completely original material simply in that setting (as I did for Planet of the Apes: Blood of the Apes), then it isn’t an adaptation at all. Those, from a writer’s point of view, are fun to write.

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Plotting for Multiple Characters (part 2)

I want to pick up right where I left off last week. If you missed part 1, you can get it here.

So, once I have this down with 4-6 entries for every character on my chart, I start weaving them together to build a timeline. Essentially, what I’m doing is deciding what has to happen before the other thing happens AND—maybe more importantly, in what order I want them to occur in the story. Back in the day when I wrote everything longhand, I’d draw lines and put numbers beside the entries. With excel, I just shift things around. I’ll use numbers for my example here. You’ll also note that I know I want the protag to have the relationship with the love interest; I’m not sure how they meet at this point. That’s okay, because as I begin to fill in the blanks, I can manipulate that to make it happen.

Protag 1 Protag 2 Antag Love interest
1 Parents killed. Lost in woods. Discovered by Mountain Man 2 Wins award for science essay. 3 Comes in 2nd with science essay. Wins nothing. Completes high school under care of single mom.
4 Lives with MM who teaches tracking, hunting and other survival skills. 5 Kicked out of college—accused of copying essay but did not. It was, however, based on research from Mom. 6 Father kicks out of house for losing. Immediately moves across country. 9 Graduates college with computer science degree. Hired by NSA to hack Chinese government computers.
8 Leaves MM to go to big city where he meets Protag 2 in an alley near death. 10 Begins job at high tech espionage firm. 7Joins gang in Eastern coastal city. Quickly establishes reputation for brutality. HOW DOES SHE MEET PROTAG 1?
While “espionaging” is captured and tortured and brainwashed. 11 Promoted in gang to a capo and given a territory. Moves (takes some of his underlings)
Dumped in an alley in the big city. Catches Protag 2—remembers her. Attempts to kill—THINKS he has.

This gives me a rough outline to start working from. Now, keep in mind that before I get to the task of writing, I figure out the goals and motivations for all the characters (at least the primary characters) and I have an idea of what I want their big character arc to be. In fact, I do that before I start charting this out—I’m kinda going by the seat of my pants for the characters in the example and I hope/trust you can look past that for the bigger picture. But what it also means is that the characters can change as I create, but that’s okay, it’s part of the creation process. It also means that my chart/grid is considerably longer than what I’m showing you, and it’s also wider with more characters. One of the things this can help you do is get all your characters “screen” time.

I’m hoping you can use your imagination and fill in the blanks with your own characters and ideas.

I’ve seen it done a different way, but it always felt more formulaic to me. It looked something like this:

A Character
A Character B Character
A Character C Character
A Character B Character
A Character

At which point in time, your A character rotates off (to the left or rather, to the far right) and the B character becomes the A character while the C character becomes the B character. This is mostly a formula for EPISODIC work.

Like I said at the beginning, though, this is just the strategy that I use…Hope it helps you some.

Now, GO WRITE!

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