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All About Writing (for comics)

I don’t think I’m very good at writing. Sure, I like to write, and it’s much less time-intensive to tell a story in the written medium than any visual medium (just facts, not hate), but I’ve never much been good at weaving words together to paint pictures. I prefer to… well, paint pictures. That won’t cut it when you want to delve into comics, for obvious reasons.

When faced with the prospect of writing Self-Conclusion (my webcomic stuck on hiatus), I thought writing more in a small amount of time and just drawing for as long as I could would be the best bet. Maybe it is for some, but for me it didn’t work out- I got too excited about what was coming to care about what was happening now. I think, personally, that if you write a rough draft for the future (I’m a believer of knowing where you’re going before starting to drive) and stick to the present, it’s easier and you won’t lose motivation. Of course, now I have a writer helping me with Memento Vivere, so…

I am working on What Has Been Lost, my novel in the works, but I find myself skipping around. I’m not interested in the now, I want it to be done. That’s the trouble with art, the creation process is long and it requires work so it feels longer. When writing for comics, though, I find I have a few tips here found from various sources and also gleaned from personal experience.

  1. Have an End Goal, but don’t get Attached.

Put simply, don’t dwell on the end, or any one part of the story. The story needs to be appreciated for its whole. Of course you need to be excited for what you write in the future, but you need to do your best to be equally excited about the part you’re currently working on. If you think it’s boring, your audience probably thinks it’s even more boring. Be excited, because if you’re not, how can you expect your audience to be? Often (not always) your readership is only about 20% as interested as you are. Or at least, that’s a good rule of thumb. If you’re passionate, it will show.

2. Don’t sweat over Dialogue so much!

Dialogue is hard- ask anyone (except savants). You’re not sure if what you’re writing is how you would put it or if it’s how your character would put it, and sometimes you’re not sure if anything should be said at all. What about smart characters? What if they’re smarter than you? How would they speak? You don’t want them to sound like they’re from the 1800’s, right?

To you, my advice is to chill.I can’t count the number of times Ellen (MV Writer) has said, “I really am almost done, the dialogue is just giving me problems.” Relax! Writing dialogue when you’re fretting about it is not going to work. Often, especially if you’re writing for your own comic, the words will come to you when you’re bubbling- not that I recommend writing all the dialogue at the last second. What I’m trying to say is this: Write out what you would say, or what you think the character would say, and move on. Certain text can’t fit in certain bubbles, and sometimes seeing the emotion on their face will help. Make the final tweaks at the last minute, not the full conversation.

3. Establish the scene, write the dialogue…. You’re 99% done.

Don’t spend so long on establishing exactly what needs to be in each panel. I find the creativity of knowing I can establish their positions in the scene and their movements throughout as well as their emotions makes it 100% easier to draw. If you get attached to something specific, you’ll just make yourself feel like garbage if you can’t recreate it on paper, and how often can we really draw what we imagine? Almost never, or if you’re like me, just never.

So, my advice is to establish a scene, write what needs to be said (not necessarily how exactly it’s said), record actions as needed. Nothing else. Move on! Don’t even fret over layout- if it makes sense to you that’s all that matters.

 

Maybe you already knew all that, or maybe I’m too disorganized of a comic planner for you. That’s fine as well! There’s really no correct way to do a comic- it all depends on you. Some people need a structured script with keys and exact dialogue to do any work, other people get stressed out by the mere concept of writing it down beforehand. Hey, if you can skip a step or give yourself more framework, more power to you.

More importantly: Create. Just go.

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The Pre-Steps

Ideas are fickle and hard to come by- and motivation is likely even moreso. If you have an idea, though, and a minute amount of motivation, you may still be confused as to how to get started. If it feels like too big a challenge to undertake, you’re certainly not alone.

The fact is, looking at a comic- be it a Marvel comic or a manga straight from Japan, or even another webcomic- it’s hard to comprehend how an idea can become a completed work, and I can tell you now, it won’t be easy. In my last post, though, my advice was to begin. Easier said than done? Absolutely! But it doesn’t mean it’s too difficult.

I have a couple tutorials here that can help you take the first step, but before I get to those, I’ll tell you how I started the comic I have on hiatus currently, Self-Conclusion.

I was working at GameStop at the time, and since it wasn’t near any holidays and I mostly worked weekdays, I had some free time here and there, and of course breaks. I had a notebook with graph paper in it and started writing. Bullets are the best way to start, in my opinion. Mine look something like this:

Page One

          – Open scene: Rooftop, brown tones. Summer. A busy intersection nearby. Tim is standing on the edge of the rooftop. You just see the building in a large one-page spread and Tim looking small at the top.

                      >Tim: “Well, I guess that’s it.”

Page Two

           -Tim’s feet, edging toward the end, his toes are slightly hanging off the building’s wall. The intersection is in view, it’s busy and bright.

                       >Shadi, off screen: “Hey, you!”

            -Tim’s profile, just under his eyes and down. His hair is blowing in the wind, and his lips are slightly parted.

                       >Shadi, off screen: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” (This bubble spills over slightly onto panel three.)

            -Tim’s turned, he looks only slightly surprised. His eyes are slightly visible behind his glasses- the different colored irises contrast a bit with the warm-toned (but dark) surroundings.

Of course, this is just what works for me. There are many other ways to set up your bullet points and the best way to do it is what works for you personally, even if it looks like a mess to everyone else. From my bullets I took it to OneNote to start working on thumbnails. I won’t go over thumbnails too much here, as we’re mostly focusing on writing, but I’m happy to show an example of what I mean and why I use OneNote over another software.

Barely legible? Absolutely. But it works for me, so it’s what I do. From here I can take a screenshot of the thumbnail and blow it up in Photoshop to start sketching over it. Then, when I get to lettering, I can just double-check what I had written next to it and type it in.

I promised you some tutorials though, and they’ll likely make more sense than my ramblings, so I’ll give you those before I leave you high and dry.

Comic Tutorial – PLANNING by Eisha on DeviantArt

How to Write a Comic Book Strip by Chris Oakly on www.chrisoakly.com

How to Write a Script for Your Comic by Todd Tevlin on www.makingcomics.com

With all the world at your disposal, what excuse do you have not to get started? Okay, other than a million things. As always, if you’re looking for something specific you’d like to see or if you have any questions, let me know! I’m happy to help you out. 🙂

Taking the Leap

Likely the hardest part about starting a comic- be it on the web or just on your own time- is starting. You get all these ideas in your head that you have to have 200 pages of buffer, or you need to improve your skills more, you have to have full references and an entire completed plot all before you even start. This simply isn’t true.

The fact of the matter is, starting is going to make you start thinking critically. It’s going to make you think about when to upload pages, how often, and it’s going to make you do the work itself, and as all artists and writers know, practice is what ultimately makes perfect. Starting, you’re going to want to have a bunch of pages in case something happens, which isn’t inherently a bad idea… Unless you work better under pressure. I know I do (which is great for my anxiety, but that’s beside the point). Do what works best for you! If you don’t listen to anything anyone says ever except for one thing, let it be this.

Start. Go. Begin. Put your pencil on your paper, open up Photoshop. Open up the nearest notebook and start writing down dialogue or plot, open up Word right now and start typing. Just do it. It’ll seem much easier when you do, and when you have that first page plotted and drawn, you know you can do at least that. It only gets better from here.

I’ll never forget the video I found scrolling through tumblr. The world needs people who finish, not perfection.

Scared? We all are. But what’s the worst that could happen? You stop? Well, you have a page now. That’s one more page than you had. You miss an update? You can still keep going. You get burned out? Doesn’t matter, you can always pick it back up. Don’t go by someone else’s timetable- go by yours.

And more importantly, start.