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Thread: Week 1- Story

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 1- Story

    Iíll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

    Did I just date myself? More importantly, did I just date you? It doesnít matter. Todayís Tuesday, and itís time for our first real installment of Bolts & Nuts.

    Iím going to start at the very bottom of things, and talk about story. Itíll be a few weeks before we get to actual scriptwriting, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. We start at the bottom, because itís the foundation, and without the foundation, you donít have anything to build on. Simple, right?

    So, what story do you want to tell? Itís really not as simple as it sounds. There are lots of things to consider when you decide you want to tell a story, the biggest of them being, do you have enough story to actually carry the story? Sounds stupid, but itís something that most beginning writers donít take into account. Theyíre too caught up in the Great Idea to actually get down to the Bolts & Nuts of actual storytelling. (It was easy and it was there. Címon!) Great ideas are all over the place, and itís easy to get distracted by them. The hard part is wrangling that great idea into a story.

    Generally speaking, stories need three things: a beginning, middle, and an end. Our job as writers is to provide those three things in a satisfying way. The order of them doesnít really matter. It can be as disjointed and out of sequence as you want, but three things need to happen: you need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end to your story.

    You need to have these three things before you even begin to show your work to anyone in a professional capacity.

    I used to have a great problem with my endings, and would just start writing before I had one, generally trusting myself to find an end before I ran out of pages to tell my story. While it makes for a great exercise, itís not something I recommend when trying to find work. Iíll come to what I do when I get a Great Idea in a little while, and the reason why I adopted this method. You may have your own method, and thatís fine, too. Anything to get the story down. First, letís examine the aspects of storytelling. More accurately, the aspects of storytelling within the confines of comic book scripts.

    There are many examples of comic book scripts all over the 'net, and they vary in format from writer to writer, company to company. However, when it's broken down, you're going to find the same elements again and again. We'll come to those elements in a moment. Before that, I want to talk about film scriptwriting.

    Screenplays and comic book scripts both share a lot of elements. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of comic writers that use screenwriting programs such as Final Draft. However, there are vast differences between the two.

    For screenplays, you're generally writing a moving action. ďJane runs across the street to meet Victor. They kiss, right there in the middle of the torrential downpour, heedless of the rain, and the crush of people under ineffectual umbrellas walk around them.Ē That's moving action, and has no place at all in a comic script. (Plot-first scripts, maybe, but we'll come to that at a later time.)

    Generally, as a comic scriptwriter, you have to understand that you're dealing with static panels. (Yeah, yeah, Steven, I know that.) Well, no, you don't. Honestly. I don't know how many times I've seen something like the above written into a comic script. It's not hard to think in static panels, but it's a learned trait to write in static panels. You want to stuff so much into action into a panel that you forget what you're doing and lapse into film writing instead of comic writing.

    And that's the real trick of comic book writing: being able to tell an effective story using static panels and dialog. Even if you see the action like a film in your head, as the writer, your job is to find the most crucial frame in that film, freeze it, and describe it in something like the format I'm about to describe. And you have to do it over and over and over (and over) again. Sounds like fun, right? Then, let's talk about the format you'll use for a little bit.

    Like I said before, formatting is not consistent from writer to writer or company to company, but it's generally going to go something like this:

    Page 1

    Panel 1: panel description here (remember to think in static panels!)

    Character 1: character 1 says something. This can be in all caps or not. Depends on what you're comfortable with.

    Character 2: character 2 responds to character 1.

    SFX: sound effect

    And that's really all there is to it. Simple, right? I'll tell you that learning format is the easiest thing to learn when it comes to writing comics. It's a breeze. The hard part is learning what to put in, when to put it in, what to leave out, and why you're doing any of the above. The real question is if it's so easy, why are so many of you doing it wrong?

    (Steven, you said that formatting changes from writer to writer and company to company. That means there is no ďwrongĒ way, correct?)

    Incorrect. And I'll give you some examples.

    I've seen a ďscriptĒ where the panel description started where Page 1 is. I've seen scripts where there are panel descriptions are in character dialog. I've seen sound effects placed in panel descriptions. I've seen it all, and I'm here to tell you that if you do any of that, then you're wrong. It gets no easier than that. However, if you use an approximation of the example given, you've got a decent start, and it becomes a matter of what do to within the confines of the format.

    There's one other aspect of comics that you should grasp before we continue. The ďacceptedĒ length of today's comics are thirty-two pages: ten pages of ads, and twenty-two pages of story. These are the comics you'll find from the larger companies: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image. Some may have more, most will not have less. (Remember, we're speaking in generalities. No hate-mail telling me that Pen-Man was one billion pages of story with no ads, please and thank you.)

    Now, most writers won't talk about ads, we'll talk about story space, and in that case we'll generally say twenty-two pages. Everyone on the same page? Good.

    Okay, I've said all that to make sure you understand that your story needs to be able to be told within the confines of your page count, and if you want to pitch to certain companies, that page count is twenty-two. I'm only talking single issues, not a limited series or graphic novel. If you don't have enough story to carry twenty-two pages, then don't start writing until you do.

    Earlier, I spoke about having a beginning, middle, and end to your story. I suggest that before you start writing, when you have your Great Idea, see if you know it backwards. If you know where you're going to end up, then you'll have a general idea as to where to start, and the middle is what you use to get to your ending. That's what I do when I write- I make sure that I know where I want to end up, and then point my story in that direction.

    So, you've got your Great Idea and you know it backwards, but it won't fit into a single issue. Steven, what do I do?!

    The first thing to do is not panic. You're panicking, and you shouldn't do that. Panicking never helped anyone. I never said you had to tell the entire story in twenty-two pages, I said to make sure you had enough story to carry your page count.

    Let's say you have enough story for a limited series, and we'll call it four issues. You know exactly where you want to end up, and you won't do a LotR: Return of the King ending. How do you break it up?

    The basic formula is this: the first issue is the set-up, the second and third issue is where the action is, and the last issue is the payoff. Sure, there are technical terms, but I want everyone to understand me. Just be happy I'm not using the ďpickup someone in a barĒ analogy. And yes, I thought about it.

    Okay, so you have to make sure you ďendĒ your story four times. Think of it like chapters in a book. Every chapter ends, but builds up the tension of the story as a whole, so that when you reach the end, it's hopefully something that is satisfying. So you break your Great Idea down into issues, and have a vague idea as to what happens during each issue so that yo get to your ďend,Ē which in turn will get you to your real end.

    This is both easier and harder than it sounds, and we'll talk about it next week. So, yes, the thrust of next week's article is Plotting. And I promise to have all different bad jokes.

    For your exercise, I want you to do a few things. First, go to your comic stash and do a page count. A total page count, and then just story pages. This will help to reinforce just what it is that you're doing. Then I want you to read the comic. As long as it's not a one-shot, you're looking for a beginning, middle, and end in that comic. If it's part of an overarching story, like an ongoing series or somesuch, see if you can identify the parts. Do this for a few comics, using different writers. See if you can tell the difference between some writers and others.

    Then I want you to come back and tell me about it. See? I just made this interactive! And it's on a Tuesday! Tomorrow is new comic day, so you get to try it out on your new purchases! Didn't know you were gonna have homework, didja?

    And there's the bell. Don't run over each other to get out of here, and stay safe out there. Watch for random paper cuts!
    ________________________________________________________

    Any specific questions, ask them in this thread, and I'll answer them. If it's something of a more delicate nature, e-mail me. I check my e-mail constantly, and will do my best to get back to you within twenty-four hours, depending on the number of you who decide to flood my inbox. No attachments, please. They'll be deleted without being opened. (I know, I know, but blame the virus-makers.)



  2. DavidPaul Guest

    Great start, man. All very helpful in establishing a foundation. I enjoyed the read a lot. Don't know if you plan on doing this later when you get to scripting but would you mind expanding on "static writing"? I don't have the level of experience that you do but I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain this to others. By the way, I was doing the exact same thing when I started scripting for comics and I've seen so many others doing it. I had started writing screenplays a few years before (something I have given up and really have no wish to go back to) and that way of writing in moving action sticks with you so it was a bad habit that took me a while to break. Another issue I would like for you to address: I know this sounds possibly mundane, but could you address scripting from programmed formats vs. (let me just call it) "doing it yourself"? For me it's a personal preference but I have never used a formatting program. I really REALLY hate them. Actually, I do very much enjoy doing it all the old fashioned way. I understand both methods have benefits and drawbacks, so it could be a good issue to discuss when you get to scripting. Anyways, good stuff. Thanks for being here and sharing your experience and knowledge with us.



  3. Join Date
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    I can't believe you dissed Pen-man like that! That million page opus embodies all that is right with comics and graphic novels!

    Other than that, great first column, man. Not only was I right about you being a perfect fit for this gig, I think I need you to come to florida and do a guest lecture on writing for my 9th graders.

    In fact, why don't you just assume my life, you're apparently a much better me than I am!



    No, really.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  4. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by David Paul View Post
    Great start, man. All very helpful in establishing a foundation. I enjoyed the read a lot. Don't know if you plan on doing this later when you get to scripting but would you mind expanding on "static writing"? I don't have the level of experience that you do but I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain this to others. By the way, I was doing the exact same thing when I started scripting for comics and I've seen so many others doing it. I had started writing screenplays a few years before (something I have given up and really have no wish to go back to) and that way of writing in moving action sticks with you so it was a bad habit that took me a while to break. Another issue I would like for you to address: I know this sounds possibly mundane, but could you address scripting from programmed formats vs. (let me just call it) "doing it yourself"? For me it's a personal preference but I have never used a formatting program. I really REALLY hate them. Actually, I do very much enjoy doing it all the old fashioned way. I understand both methods have benefits and drawbacks, so it could be a good issue to discuss when you get to scripting. Anyways, good stuff. Thanks for being here and sharing your experience and knowledge with us.
    Thanks, David!

    Actually, I plan to talk about format a LOT, and will have to break it up into several sections. It'll just take a while to get there. However, the plan is to talk about "static panels" in detail during that big chunk of info, as well as formatting programs. It's a lot of stuff, and there are times when I don't know when to shut up, but I just want to make sure that I get the muddy water as clear as possible.

    So, consider yourself ahead of the curve for my "lesson plan." I'm going to be writing pretty far out, with the ability to change as it goes along, but your suggestions are definitely ones that need to be addressed, and I had already planned on them.

    Thanks again!



  5. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastian Piccione View Post
    I can't believe you dissed Pen-man like that! That million page opus embodies all that is right with comics and graphic novels!

    Other than that, great first column, man. Not only was I right about you being a perfect fit for this gig, I think I need you to come to florida and do a guest lecture on writing for my 9th graders.

    In fact, why don't you just assume my life, you're apparently a much better me than I am!



    No, really.
    For a fellow former New Yorker from Nassau County, I'll come and lecture the class (as long as you pay my airfare and put me up in the spare bedroom), but I won't take over your life. Your wife would kill me! (However, I do have a story idea about that basic premise... One day...)

    Thanks for the kind words. I don't know if "perfect fit" is the right choice of words- I'm just happy for a home in which to try and help newer writers avoid some pitfalls.

    There's just a LONG way to go. I hope that others are enjoying it, as well.



  6. kris Guest

    Apparently, I'm a little late to the party.
    Last edited by kris; Monday, March 15, 2010 at 05:02 AM.



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