Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Writing for Readers and the Weight of Worlds

So, I continue to plow through the book "Writing Fiction for Dummies" and it's tough.  I mean, it's like a crash-course in building an entire world, complete with full-color characters, dramatic locations and desperate moments.  When you start out like me, and say "I want to write a graphic novel" (you poor fool!) with just an idea and a few cool scenes and characters, diving into this book is like boot camp.

And it's great.

Seriously.  Every other page forces me to stop and think about aspects of the story that I never considered before.  Heck, I think of new ideas while I'm reading so often that I have to go back and re-read what I'd just gone though.

For example, one of the questions that really made me do some soul-searching is the question "who are you writing for?"  I think everyone starts out writing because they want to tell a really fun story, but very few people actually think "who the heck is gonna read this thing?" 

It's important.

It's important to know your "ideal" audience because you want to write a story that is as compelling as possible, and, let's face it, you can't be compelling to everyone.  What works great for teens doesn't work so well for adults (unless it's Harry Potter...more on that later), so it is worthwhile to imagine who would enjoy your story most.

The description I came up with sounds remarkably like me...which shouldn't surprise anyone...we typically write what we enjoy reading....well, we SHOULD, anyway. 

The point of doing the exercise is that it makes you AWARE of the reader.  Of WHO they are and what they might like.  Instead of writing being just an act of sitting and thinking of a story, it forces you to think, "Would Jack (or whatever you might name your imaginary reader) get a thrill out of reading this?"
It makes the reader suddenly present to the writer.  That's a good thing.
There's actually a lively little discussion going on about it on the "Making Graphic Novels" forum here.

The next challenging part is world building.  In order to convince the reader to suspend their belief that they are reading a graphic novel, you have to portray a world that is utterly convincing to them, even if it is a fantastic one.  The writers who have most of the heavy lifting to do in this department are the "historical fiction" writer and the "fantasy/sci-fi" writer.  Guess what type of story "Doc Monster" is?  Yep, "historical sci-fi".
The book suggest that in order to successfully pull off the illusion of a complete world, you have to know 100 times more about the world than the reader does.  That includes tons and tons of stuff that will NEVER make it into your story.  You need to know it anyway.
So, lots of thought, and because it's a GRAPHIC novel (meaning pictures, not hacksaws and blood), you have to do lots of sketching.  Hopefully, I'll have some world stuff that I can show you that won't give away too much.

On the totally random and fun scene, I'm totally loving a website by Daniel and Dawna Davis called "Steam Crow".  It's full of just eye-popping goodies that are quite monster focused, so you know I love it.  Make sure to check out their daily webcomic "Monster Commute".   Amazing stuff.
Oh, and I'm not sure if you've seen my YouTube video about my art process, so I thought I should show it here.

Enjoy!  Have a FUN HALLOWEEN if I don't see you before!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Character turns

Consistency in drawing characters over a long story is really important.
And I suck at it.
So, while I'm trying to stitch the parts of the story together, I thought I'd do some "cheat sheets", technically known as turns...kind of a guide that shows the basic landmarks of the facial features of the main characters.
So, over here on the left is what I want Doc to look like..sans glasses.  He has heroic features...strong, but not stupid...with some inhuman features like the eyes, eyebrows and slightly pointed ears...without losing a look of intelligence.  It's not perfect, but I like it ok.
Of course, Doc can't see too well without his glasses, so I printed out the scan and laid in a pair of his monstrous specs.

Ah, that's better, isn't it?  Well, he doesn't have his pipe or his fashionable clothes, but the basics are there.  Very good.  Now, how about other characters?  Well, I managed to work out one for CIA Agent, Carson Clay.
I like how it turned out as well.  I should do more sketching from life, but I think I captured a bit of his essence.....honest, everyman features with just a bit of wear and frailty around the edges.  Poor Clay has had a bit of a hard life, and it isn't going to get easier very soon.  Hanging around with Doc has it's hazards, I suppose.

So, I have at least two more turns to work through for regularly appearing characters...a male and a couple of females.  I'm both looking forward to and dreading the women...I'm a bit out of practice drawing them, but they should make an interesting challenge.
I've also ordered a book from Amazon called "Writing Fiction for Dummies", which is from the author of the Snowflake Method that I've been admiring.  I'll let you know what I think of it and how much of it applies to writing Graphic Novels when it comes in.  Should be any day now.  I'm looking forward to getting started on this thing, but I want to make sure it really, really rocks.
I mean, why tell a story if you aren't excited by it?
Ok, more later!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Killing off Clay, or the rise of the robot women!

by Simon Whitelaw
So, I'm still in the writing process, following along with the Snowflake Method that I spoke about earlier, and I happened upon a great blog about making graphic novels.  It's called...ironically enough...Making Graphic Novels and it's chock full of great resources and inspiration.
One of the nuggets of wisdom I located there was a pretty darned funny (and NSFW) review of the plot (or lack thereof) of "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace".  I recommend watching all 7 parts, because...well, it's funny, and I found myself asking a question that seemed pretty obvious, but wasn't really:

"Who is the main character?"

The idea behind the main character is the lens you use to draw the readers into the story.  I had thought that in my story, Doc Monster would have been the main character.


You see, the main character has to be an "everyman" kind of person.  Someone people can relate to and feel for.  Doc ain't that guy.  He's weird, super-intelligent and....well, weird.  So, unbeknownst to me, Agent Clay was actually set up in the 4-page story I had on Zuda (rest in peace, Zudites) he's the guy that doesn't have it all together...who gets to ask all of the silly questions so that the reader needs to know.
Wow.  Who would've thunk?
So...I'm ok with Clay being the lens that the story is seen through, but then I thought, "how can I make his character more interesting?  What's missing in the story?"  The answer I came up with? Women!  In most of my stories so far there have been NO main characters that were female.  None at all.  So, why not add one?  It makes me a bit nervous, because not only would I be writing a gender I haven't before, I'd be writing a 1950's female character, which is different from the variety of females we typically see.

I know, this whole thing is a fantasy, but I want to make sure that my lady (not sure of her name yet) acts and thinks like a woman from the period.  I think it's more challenging and authentic that way.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked making Agent Clay's character a woman.  I mean, I'm a romantic at heart, and though there will be other females in the story, this gives me a chance to add the kind of elements that have been and sexual tension! :)

I did some digging around for images of 1950's ladies that I could use as a model for my new character, and I think Grace Kelly would just be the cat's meow.
Don't you think so?  She's got a sunny kind of grace that would offset Doc's dark, stern looks, with a girl-next-door kind of vibe.
I'd better start digging up reference for 1950's fashion!  I know that the series Mad Men is a bit later than this story is set, but I'm looking forward to renting Season 1 from our library to check it out.
No, I haven't seen it before.  I don't have TV.  Heck, who has time for TV?  I've got a graphic novel to make!

More next time,


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Destroying alien invaders with Snowflakes!

Art by Sam Little
Well...I suppose well-placed kicks work just as well, but I wanted to post a bit on my progress toward creating a better story for "Doc Monster: Shadow of the Skies".  You see, I consider myself primarily to be an artist.  This presumption often brings me great disappointment when I see the end result of my artistic efforts, but nonetheless, I felt my strength lay primarily in art, not in writing.

So, I decided to do my best to remedy that situation by digging through any writing tips I could find on the interwebs. 

Oh, and I found plenty of tips, my friends...but here's my problem.  I don't like the idea of having every single panel of every single page scripted out for me.  You see, given that I work a full-time job to support my nasty comic habit, I have roughly 2 hours each evening (more on the weekends) to work on my craft...which is pretty labor-intensive.  I might be able to complete a normal comic-sized page a week if no problems appear.  How many pages does the average graphic novel contain, you may ask?  Well, from what I've read, anywhere from 64 to 164.  So, assuming that I encounter no problems at all and am in perfect health for the duration of my work on the Doc Monster project, I can look forward to a year and a half to just over three years to complete it. 

Yeah.  I mean, I like reading books...I read all of the time...but reading the same book for three years would get tiring to even me.  So, I want to leave the individual pages as something to figure out on the fly. 
Still, I need structure.....and I wanted this thing to be more like a novel in it's process than a comic script....which is more like "Page 1: Panel 1.  Doc Monster and Carson Clay are playing rollerball.  CLAY: 'This is stupid, Doc.  I hate rollerball!' ".  Everything is mapped out, with nothing left to do for 3 years than to draw panels.  Boring.

So, instead, I started looking for something that would help me bring structure to the story...major crisis points, set character motivation, that sort of thing.  So, I found the Snowflake method of writing in this cool article by Randy Ingermanson.  EXACTLY what I was looking for.  If you're interested in any sort of writing and are looking for structure, I recommend it.

Last night, I started the process....developing a sentence that summed up the entire story in less than 15 words (man...that was TOUGH), followed by a paragraph that is along the lines of what you'd read on the back of the book.  In particular, I loved the ideas Randy gave of developing a story by "three disasters and an end"...meaning that there's the first crisis for the hero, followed by two, progressively worse incidents (typically caused by the hero trying to fix things) before the end where the story resolves itself.  That idea ALONE gave me a much better sense of how to structure the book, and made me pretty excited.

So, stay tuned as we go along and I'll try to blog about the whole experience.  If you've got insights or comments on the process...I'd love to hear them!