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CN"S Guide to Writing
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vulpeslibertas
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PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 10:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I recommend Scott McCloud's Books, particularly Understanding Comics and Making Comics.

Storytelling is all about symbolism. Each form of communication TV, live theater, comics, radio, books all have certain kinds of symbols that can be used. Radio can only use audio symbols, books (prose anyway) can only use words. Comics use static pictures and words in combination.

Every action or plot element is archetypal in nature: There is a vague concept which can be represented by many many different symbols. The audience sees these symbols and is able to interpret the underlying archetypal act. Each symbol used can convey multiple meanings or can add additional meaning to an archetypal act.

The trick to good writing, in my opinion, is to take your archetypal act and find good symbology for it.

Simple smooth lines symbolize childishness and friendliness. Combined with poor line connections and poorly-filled colors (which symbolizes childishness), the artwork itself becomes a symbol of childishness. Short rotund characters also symbolize childhood. Stacking all of these together, mutually reinforcing symbols become stronger and increase clarity; opposing symbols cancel each other out while increasing confusion. These same principles apply to all aspects of storywriting, art, characters, events, plot elements, story arcs: everything is a symbol.

The symbols always change, from person to person, from year to year, from society to society. Being a good storyteller means you can analyze an event, break it down into all of the primal thoughts which make it up, then take a handful of symbols from the world around you which represent elements of those thoughts and use them to create the same archetypal event using completely different symbology.

I've never done this myself yet, but I recommend taking every event and act in your comic (specifically the really important ones, the ones that inspire you to make it), and do a mindmap/brainstorm of all the symbolic elements in that archetype you see in your mind's eye. Then list all of the possible symbols you can think of which could be used to make the archetype. Eliminate everything until only the best is left.

So, for you Dorkness, I'd sit down with my story and write down every archetypal element which really makes your story tick, then create a list of visual symbols which symbolize elements of those elements.

Sorry this is so abstract.
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PostPosted: Mon May 04, 2009 4:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Plot & Story 2: Arc, SubArc, SuperArc

NOTE: This only applies to story-based comics Gag-a-Days that have no continuous story line need read no farther.

Okay, so you have your basic plot, and you've decided who your characters are and where they're going to be doing the things that make them worth reading about. So, now you have to work out how the comic is goint to get from it's beginning to its end.

Unless you're writing a graphic novel, where all issues and the entire base plot are going to be resolved in 50 to 100 pages, you're going to have to think of the main story as a SuperArc. There's probably a better word for it that literary professors use--no doubt based on a latin or middle German term meaning something like "The Rose Eats Its Young", but I like the term SuperArc because it describes what you want to do.

In the end, the SuperArc is where you're going, and every time your primary protagomist and primary antagonist meet, it should advance the SuperArc in some way. A simplified graph of your SuperArc would look like this:


Most Superhero comic titles ultimately fail to satisfy because they have no SuperArc; the story they tell never ends (even when it does end, for one character or another, it doesn't really end), so the action has to continually build with no relief at the end, and no closure. Characters that don't get to end their Great Story end up stagnating, and ultimately become charicatures of themselves.

The thing about the SuperArc is that you can't just slog it through in any story longer than a 22-page comic. It's a hard climb, and becomes boring after a while.

This is where your individual story arcs come in. Each one is a little story in and of itself, and while the path built by the individual arcs of the story should ultimately follow the path of the SuperArc, they do not have to follow it exactly. Among other things, you shouldn't paint yourself into a corner. No setback should be so great that your protagonist (or your antgonist) can't reasonably recover from it until the final denouement.

So let's revisit our Jaguar Warriors from the Future. The SuperArc is obviously the story summary you first entered in your bible. The individual arcs are the process of getting there. Arcs can vary in their length from a single issue to multiple issues--but always remember that the longer an arc runs, the bigger the payoff has to be and the more it must advance your SuperArc. So we do an introductory arc that just shows our Jaguar warriors' lives in the Empire. It opens with a short scene of their home life, progresses to a mustering call to save the village's cocoa plantation from raiders, and leads into the next arc with the unexplained disappearance of one or more of the warriors. The next arc deepens the mystery as more warriors disappear until the final warior (our protagonist) is abducted and faces the time-travellers on board their ship.

If we do it right, a graph of the overall story now looks like this:


Now while we're moving the story forward, we also have to fill it out. For this, we have the SubArc. SubArcs almost never involve the primaries in any direct way, and they affect the overall story only in a subtle fashion. For instance, one of the warriors may fall in love with the daughter of a nobleman.

This would be shown in scenes that occupy maybe a page or two--sometimes just a panel or a background scene--and would be allowed to build at its own pace without real regard to the SuperArc or any othe elements of the overall plot. But it will effect the story, besides allowing the readers to see that the characters have lives and emotions beyond the story itself, it can have a subtle effect on how the story comes out. The warrior's head may not be entirely in the game at a crucial instant that results in his death or the deth of another major character. The affair could anger the nobleman who has higher plans for his daughter than illicit love with a foreigner.

SubArcs should weave in and out of the story like the themes of a good overture.

And now, once we've looked a little more at charcters and how these arcs affect them, we're ready to start turning a plot into a story.
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PostPosted: Tue May 19, 2009 1:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Characters 2: Who Am I?
Now we're done with prep work and we're ready to start writing. As mentioned above, our first couple of arcs should be mostly introductory in nature. Essentially, we're going to spend a short amount of quiet time letting our audience get to know our characters. This is where all the information you worked out back in "Characters 1" will come in handy.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting that you should just info-dump everything about your character on the first page. If your character is an art student, nobody cares that her art professor hates her, unless there's going to be some sort of actual showdoen between the two within the first couple of pages; anyway, all art professors hate all art students, so you're not telling anyone anything new.

We also don't want to hear that you like mint ice cream, that you're jealous of your little sister's adaptive intelligence, or that you think that Yu-Gi-Oh! was pretty cool until the third season when it stopped being about the card game and turned into a standard giant-monster anime.

For one thing, you just don't have the room on a standard comic page for that kind of info dump. If we assume Twitter rules for every panel (150 characters), then a standard 6-panel comic page with more than 150 words of text is pretty fricken crowded.

More importantly, it's no fun to know everything about a character beforehand. Half the fun of reading is getting to know the characters in the natural way we get to know the people around us. The way we do that is by paying attention to three very important parts of plot (in more or less order of importance):
  • What the character does.
  • What others say about the character.
  • What the Character says about him/herself.


Let's get started, then. Let's name our protagonist "Moc". Now we already know he's a Jaguar Warrior, but let's build on that. Jaguar warriors were professional soldiers a lot like the knights of the European Middle Ages (or the Samurai of Shogunate Japan); this means they were fairly wealthy, but seldom worked their own land (although they had management responsibilities over that land), because they had to spend much of their time practicing the various arts of war.

What we don't want our script to look like is this:
Code:
Page 1 - Splash
Scene:  Aztec-y looking plantation with open field on one side and cocoa trees on the other.
Narration:  Moc is a Jaguar Warrior for the Aztec Emperor.  He is very wealthy and owns a large swath of land in central Mexico.  His slaves and servants work his corn fields and his cocoa plantations.  Moc makes sure they've done their work, but usually he just practices with his sword, his axe, and his shield.

Seriously...I'm bored already. Instead, let's let the art work for us, and try to show some of the concepts in a more measured fashion:
Code:
Page 1 - Six even panels
Panel 1
Scene:  Aztec slaves rooting out weeds in a corn (maize) field.
Narration:  Central Mexico - 1432
Panel 2
Scene: More slaves raking cocoa beans on a flat rooftop.
Overseer: Be careful!  You will pay for every bruise!
Panel 3
Scene:  An open kitchen.  Women are grinding corn.  A pot is boiling.  Nearby, rock candy hangs from the ceiling, drying and cooling.
Panel 4
Scene:  Same as Panel 3, except a small boy is rushing through.  He is taking a fallen pice of candy from the drip tray.  A youngish woman is diving at him with a spoon.
Panel 5
Scene: Exterior panorama, over the boy's shoulder.  On a hilltop, we can see Moc, practicing with his sword.
Moc's wife (off-panel): Don't bother your father!
Panel 6
Scene: Still over the boy's shoulder, but much closer.  Moc is standng in a classic defense, but he has turned and is smiling at the boy.

The artist will obviously refine the panels somewhat. He may decide that it makes more sense for the slaves in panel 1 to be rooting out sugar beets so the activity builds to the refining in panels 3&4. And he's probably going to be right when he does, because artists think more visually than writers (and writer/artists think more visually when they're drawing than they do when they're slapping words on a page).

But at least we've given him something to work with. And we're not slapping our readers in the face with a big picture and a slew of narration boxes. But the reader can glean the information we've provided from the scenes chosen. Plus they have the added info that Moc loves his family.

The next few pages build from this page. Maybe Moc does his workout with his son beside him copying his moves. We can also introduce some action on the next few pages--perhaps cutaway panels to a runner rushing through the cocoa plantation--so that when we do our title splash, we have the exposition out of the way and the readers are more or less ready for it.

(Splash is shorthand for Splash Page--a single panel page generally used for titles or climactic action.)
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PostPosted: Wed May 20, 2009 12:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Casual Notice wrote:
...that you're jealous of your little sister's adaptive intelligence...

'S why I saved that for page 31. Cool

Hey, Moc teaching his son some fighting moves would be a great opportunity for some brief exposition on what it means to be a Jaguar Warrior. For example, mentioning that he is a Jaguar Warrior. Never get a narrator to say what you can have come up naturally in conversation. Names, for example. Names are a good thing to introduce in the first few pages through this kind of exposition. This is especially important in comics (I suppose film too), because unlike prose you can't just say "this guy's name is Moc."
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PostPosted: Thu May 21, 2009 2:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Casual Notice wrote:

and every time your primary protagomist and primary antagonist meet

I got a kick out of that, but probably just because I stayed up too late.

Anyway, thanks for the guides, Casual Notice!
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PostPosted: Thu May 21, 2009 3:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, sorry, typos abound in these. I think them through, but I actually type them out on the fly and don't have much of an editing process going on. My scripts and stories are a lot cleaner.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 30, 2010 10:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the guides Casual Notice. I'll be re-reading them over the next few months most likely.

I also got Understanding Comics and Making Comics and have been making my way through them. I hadn't realised that comics could be so complex! very exciting.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2010 3:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

way to go bumping a year old thread. But it's an interesting one and since I haven't been a member here that long I hadn't seen it yet. So I too will give it a read soon.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2010 4:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, a year already? Doesn't feel like it was that long ago.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 01, 2010 7:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey, it's only a week old to me Very Happy
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2010 9:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CN is giving good advice based on real-world experience, so I won't step on his toes here.

I'm new to this site and forum and wanted to say hi and maybe add to the discussion.

I'm Kurt Hathaway -- a working comics pro with lettering, writing and editing credits in tons of books for all major publishers and a buncha small ones, too.

A few months ago I updated my Comics format tutorial and have it available for free download--it's based on my many years of handling pro scripts as a letterer and in my experience as a working writer.

get it here:
http://rapidshare.com/files/376335046/Comics_Script_Format.pdf

It's not a writing how-to -- I'll leave that to CN and others.

It's a formatting tutorial about how to present pro-level scripts to editors and others in the production chain.

And while it addresses full-issue comics, I think even web-comics creators could benefit from some of the information there--even if they never plan to present their written scripts to anyone. It may open up your idea box and influence future web-strips in a positive way.

Of particular note is the section I call common mistakes. I address a whole slew of mistakes that I see creep into web-comics and even printed comics from time to time that generally brings the quality of the work down.

Anyone interested, go grab it. It has my contact info if anyone wants me to add anything that I missed, or pose a question or two.

Best,

Kurt Hathaway
Cartoon Balloons Studio

Lettering / Logos / Fonts / Pre-Press / Page Design / Motion Graphics
for Print or Web / Entertainment, Advertising or Education!

My AIM screen name: Kurt Hathaway
contact me anytime

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETGevjPkZso
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 2:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Plot and Story 3: Babies Come From Somewhere
One of the reasons that I spend so much time stressing planning and outlining, is that it's the best way to avoid what i consider the two biggest juvenile mistakes in writing: Consequence-free action and Deus ex Machina.

More than any other mistake, either of these two can leave a bad taste in the readers mouth and destroy an otherwise passable story. Those two errors often mean the difference between an author's surrogate and a Mary Sue.

So let's look at these and see how to avoid them.

Action Without Consequences: I am not saying here that you can never give your characters a pass. Characters have to live partially charmed (or, as in the case of Harry Potter, partially protected) lives or they're just not interesting. The entire cast of Something*Positive would realistically have been in jail for the last several years, if the logical consequence of all actions were the rule of the day.

The thing that's important is keeping an eye on how far a character can go. There is a point for each character at which the audience stops caring about them or even tolerating them as a villain. Only the Joker could have murdered the second Robin in cold blood as he did; it was well-established long before that the Joker is completely random and insane in his actions. Most of his plans fall apart less due to Batman's detective skills and more because the clarity of thought required to keep the plans in motion ultimately degrades and Joker just goes back to random killing and destruction.

If JD's still urking here and reads this, he'll hate my example of actions having consequences and why (he's got a big angry on for Marvel and no love of Chris Claremont). The original Phoenix saga in the X-Men involved Jean Grey being zapped by the Shi'ar and having her powers quashed. During the build-up, however, she ate the sun of a populated planet, and killed all of its inhabitants. It was well-established that the Hellfire Club had monkeyed with her brain, unhinging it, and the stress of being possessed by a cosmic entity (and the strain of its power and hunger) broke her like a pack donkey. Claremont hoped that would be enough to allow her to just go back to being Jean Grey after she was de-powered.

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter saw it differently. He believed (and rightly so) that people don't just eat an entire planet full of asparagus people and walk away. The crushing guilt alone would have destroyed the character, and the cold-bloodedness of the act made it difficult for any of the readers to really sympathize with her. Instead, he convinced Claremont that Phoenix needed to die, and, to fully redeem herself, it had to be by her own hand. So Claremont rewrote (and Byrne redrew) the last couple of pages of the final issue, and Jean Grey died. Because that was what the plot, up to that point demanded.

Essentially, if you feel itchy about how easily a character avoided the repercussions of something they did, then you need to write in some consequences. The less acceptable the act, and the more realistic the world, the more stringent the consequences should be. In truly realistic stories, your protagonist should suffer not only real world consequences, but also some psychological damage. The world goe on, but the things we do change us in subtle and less subtle ways.

Deus ex Machina: This is almost always the result of bad planning or of wanting a result that the world won't give us. Better writers than I have gone on at length about what a horror it is. It was considered a cheap trick even in the ancient days when Menander first gave it a name. If you notice that you need a 50 page post script explaining how somebody just apeared in time to save the day, you need to either lose the scene and live with the consequences that the plot was making, or go back farther into your plot and establish how it was possible.

That's why planning are so important. If you are ahead in your plot, and you paint yourself into a corner, then you can juts backtrack and fix it. f you're plotting on the fly, then you are forced to retcon your story, and, if you think it looks stupid when the MARVELous D(C)inosaurs do it, just see what happens when a webcomic does.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 12:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ooh I didn't know that about the Claremont/Byrne Phoenix re-write thing.
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