Wednesday, November 6, 2019
7 Indispensable Tricks for Writing Comic Books
7 Indispensable Tricks for Writing Comic Books As the longtime creative director of Marvel Comics and one of the most iconic comic book creators of all time, Stan Lee (1922 Ã¢â¬â 2018) was the mastermind of a Marvel Universe full of timeless characters and stories that continue to capture the imagination of new generations of comic book fans.At first, however, Lee lacked confidence in his writing. As he would later explain in his autobiography, he felt that comic books (and therefore, comic book writers) had a low status in the literary world. As a result, he used a pseudonym for some of his earliest comic book work. He writes, I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in peoples lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if youre able to entertain people, youre doing a good thing.As we all know, Stan Lees comic books not only brought h im (and the Marvel company) massive success- they also played a large role in elevating comics to a genre that is well-respected and continuing to grow in popularity. If you have been thinking about writing a comic book and are unsure of how to go about it, here are seven little tricks to keep in mind as you write.Photo by Lena Rose on UnsplashTip #1- Focus on story first, then layout secondEven though comic books are often best known for their imagery, as a rule of thumb, when writing a comic book, you should first focus on the story. Stan Lee puts it simply: Comics are stories; theyre like novels or anything else. So the first thing you have to do is become a good storyteller.While were on the topic of storytelling, if you are unsure which story you want to tell, consider the fact that many comic books and graphic novels published in todays market are retellings of older stories. This graphic novel retelling of William Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet and this comic book-inspired ver sion of Victor Hugos Les MisÃ ©rables are great examples. Even Stan Lee borrowed much of his storytelling from classic Greek and Roman myths, so dont be afraid to put a new spin on an old tale if you are stuck on the story part.Tip #2- Know the end and work backwardsThis same piece of advice holds true for writing any type of story, whether it be a short story, novel or comic book. When you know your ending first- before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for the first draft- youll be able to write a more succinct storyline with fewer holes in the plot.This doesnt mean that you need to know every detail about how your story will end. It only means that you should have a general idea of the major events that will take place at the end. You should know which character will be involved and the overall character arcs for your major characters (particularly the protagonist).This is especially important if you plan to write a series of comics. Knowing what happens at the end w ill help you divide the story correctly into segments and end each book on the right kind of cliffhanger (which well discuss more in tip #4).Tip #3- Outline completely before writingHeres another tip you should follow in the writing process, regardless of what type of fiction you are writing. Having an outline is one of the most important things (if not THE most important thing) you can do before sitting down to write your comic book. You dont need to know every detail at the beginning, but you should have a general idea of your setting, plot structure, major characters, their motivations, and their character arcs as the plot progresses.If youre stuck at this part, I recommend reading Blake Snyders Save the Cat! series. While he initially focuses on writing a screenplay, he offers invaluable advice on two different facets of outlining a story for any media. First, he provides a beat sheet focusing on the 15 major beats that occur within all great movies/screenplays. You can essentia lly take these beats and fill them in with your storys unique details to have a well-rounded plot outlined quickly. Second, he reviews the essential ten types of stories that encompass most plots. For example, he breaks down the most popular types of stories into easily digestible, overarching themes. A few examples are:Monster in the House (Alien, The Ring, etc.)Dude with a Problem (Die Hard, Open Water, etc.)Rites of Passage (Napoleon Dynamite, Kramer vs. Kramer, etc.)Buddy Love (When Harry Met Sally, Brokeback Mountain, etc.)Fool Triumphant (Forrest Gump, Legally Blond, etc.)Tip #4- For multiple issues, end on a cliffhangerI touched on this briefly above, but this is especially important during the outlining process if you are creating a series of comic books. As with any series- and particularly in comic books- ending each issue on a cliffhanger is essential if you want to keep your audience engaged in the overall story youre writing.In writing comics, its important to keep this in mind as you outline each issue. If you are creating a series, you should outline the entire series before writing the first comic book, and the outline should be completed before any artwork is begun. Pay special attention to page numbering as you outline and determine cliffhanger cut-off points for each issue, as this will determine the level of interest you are able to maintain with your audience and whether theyll want to purchase following issues (after reading the first).Photo by Andreas Fidler on UnsplashThere are also software programs available such as Celtx, which includes a comic book option for its script writing features. Using software to assist with layout and page numbering during the outlining and writing processes helps extensively with this cliffhanger strategy.Tip #5- Make sure your setting and characters are memorableSince comic books have limited room for extended exposition, having a memorable setting and unforgettable characters is important. Stan Lee puts it like this: To my way of thinking, whether its a superhero movie or a romance or a comedy or whatever, the most important thing is youve got to care about the characters. Youve got to understand the characters and youve got to be interested. If the characters are interesting, youre half-way home.When you think back over some of the bestselling comic books and graphic novels (Neil Gaimans Sandman series and Robert Kirkmans The Walking Dead series come to mind), youll find that two things they all have in common are a unique, intriguing setting and fascinating characters. Both drive the story when limited exposition and dialogue are necessary (such as in comic books) and both will ensure a comics success if crafted properly.Tip #6- Notebooks and audio recorders are great for stealing dialogue you hear throughout the dayThis tip comes directly from Tony Max, indie comic book author and illustrator of The Golden Silence series. As a writer, he often catches conversations on audio rec orders (with the permission of the speakers, of course) to get a feel for the cadence and word choice of everyday conversations between people. He is then able to listen back through and recreate a realistic dialogue in his comic books.Since comic books rely heavily on dialogue to fill in details of the exposition, creating realistic dialogue should be a focus while youre writing. Often, panels dont have enough room to have a lot of dialogue either, so the dialogue you do include needs to be sharp, poignant, essential to the narrative, and realistic for the genre. Think of it as the bones that hold the narrative framework together.Tip #7- Phrase books help to find the right wordsPhrase books are great resources for writers of all genres in that they can help spark the creative Muse when writers block sets in (and lets face it, all writers experience writers block at some point or another). For example, this phrase book by USA Today bestselling author Jackson Dean Chase offers over 5 00 descriptions of weapons, wounds, wild animals, weather, emotions, dangerous places, and more, plus a combat thesaurus that covers everything, from attack to defense, ranged to melee, and from monsters to magic spells and psychic powers.Action Writers Phrase Book by Jackson Dean ChaseWhether your comic book is sci-fi, action and adventure, romance, fantasy, or somewhere in between, youll be able to find phrase books offering a plethora of information on costume, weaponry, fighting techniques, survivalist tricks, technology, period-correct verbiage, naming strategies, and more. They are really indispensable to any writers collection of source books and are especially useful in writing comics, where elements like worldbuilding and costume are essential for success.