A few weeks ago, I sat down one day and wrote for 10 hours straight. I know it’s only one day but what a day a difference can make. I wrote in notebooks, 36 pages of outline for my saga – yes, the one I keep hinting at, that great big monstrous graphic novel I’m working on these days. It was a great day. I figured out the second half of my story and I’m thrilled with what came out [And yes, I did have an idea as to where it was going].
This was all according to the original plan… to have a few pages of notes that would be fleshed out later, when the time was right. Boy was it ever the right thing at the right time. It was just an outline, a scene by scene breakdown of my story, but it was a huge victory and a huge relief. I got it out of me and it felt just right.
In the future, I’ll return to my script outline and flesh out the dialogue, adjusting details as I go, but essentially just filling in the blanks.
If you’re writing anything these days I highly recommend this technique…
Start with your best idea. Then write out the numbers of bullet points that you want to hit on based on this idea. Then write the bullet points text based on those numbers. Congrats you have your notes. Then take these notes, put them in an obvious place [not a good place, it will get lost that way – emphasis on obvious, i.e. a cork board or something] and sit on them for a while.
When you’re ready, take out the bullet points and use those as a guide and write out a list of scenes or paragraphs based on these notes. You’ll notice things change a little – that’s normal. At this point you’re still writing just to get the idea down, this is hardly the time to flaunt your skills, you want to flaunt the quality of the idea and move along as quickly as possible to stay fresh and excited.
This, I do, in notebooks. The handwriting forces me to commit to what I am writing down. I am not showing off at this point. I’m being very clear so as to help in the next step. I admit that I took this notebook approach to heart when I learned that this is how George Lucas writes [wrote?!?] all of his movies.
Next, take your scenes list and allot a number of pages per scene. This corresponds to the number of pages in your book – or, as in my case – the number of pages in my graphic novel.
There. You have a solid structure to work from. Type it out. Next comes the stage I’m at myself : the dialogue.
You basically take each scene, numbers of pages related, and just fill in the blanks!
Things, again, maybe change along the way. Be sure to adjust your notes accordingly.
Note : Because I break down my comics pages from this dialogue I don’t need panel breakdowns to work. It’s my preferred method, however you may want to add the panel breakdown and description now. Being the writer-artist can cut out this stage, is all I am saying.
After that you reread what you wrote, all excited that you’ve done your writing. Again, sit on it for a while, an hour, a day, a week, maybe print it out and put it away.
When you can, return to it with fresh eyes.
Make notes on a printout of your manuscript. Return to your typewritten manuscript and adjust according to the chicken scratch notes in the margins.
If this will remain text, it’s time to edit, either conscientiously by yourself or with your editor. This is where you show off your mad skills. Write the best prose that you can muster with all of your talent.
If you, like me, are making comics, you can show your editor now, or, if you are confident enough [and trying to finish even before you show anyone], start making thumbnail sketches of each page according to your script, then rough it out on 11x17 comics art board, using the thumbs as guides, and, when you’re set, you start drawing, always leaving enough room for the word balloons.
You have one or two more opportunities to revise your text. You can go back into your script – or – tweak it while you’re lettering. Then… it’s done.
Congratulations, it was a piece of cake, wasn’t it!? Well, sort of…
The idea is always to be filling in the blanks. Scrivener, I believe, is built this way, though I have never used it myself. Many writers swear by it because it documents your progress and organises things logically for you to keep writing and writing.
Working direct on the final product, from start to finish, remains an option, but it’s fool’s gold, if you ask me, and I do not recommend it. At all!!! However, know yourself, this may be just the ticket for YOU!
But I believe you have to work like a classical painter, using layer upon layer to build the effect of life.
Another similar way to work in comics, but with a twist, is called ‘The Marvel Way.’
In The Marvel Way, you have a rough outline or even scene breakdowns, and then you begin to draw right away, leaving room for word balloons to be filled in later on. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby often worked this way, and it’s been used in thousands of comics.
Once that drawing is done you look at the pictures and flesh out the dialogue and finally add the lettering with word balloons and captions and all of that.
Use the method that is most comfortable to you. The idea that you’re filling in the blanks holds true for both methods. Does that make sense to you? Hope this helps.
As I write this, I’m at the dialogue phase of the second part of my saga, which is hundreds of pages long. Don’t attempt anything like this unless you’ve produced and released a number of comics and/or graphic novels already. I can’t tell you why, you just have to experience that for yourself.
Your first few comics will feel a little unreal, and you won’t remember how you succeeded. But eventually you’ll hit upon a book you can look back at and remember – and analyse – what you did. You’ll be able to lord over your book like a map, and see the paths and trails and roads you took to finish the darned thing. This will arm you with the pieces you need to replicate its success in a new book. A more ambitious book. But really, any comics project is ambitious by nature.
As for attempting to create a 500 page plus behemoth, I strongly urge you to reconsider, to make 6 to 12 part series graphic novels instead – that’s plenty of story – and to forget something larger unless it’s episodic. My advice is that you really should NOT try it at all until you’ve done a number of books that lay the groundwork for such a monstrous project [yes, you’ll thank me for that later].
I’m making a super saga because I have 25 plus years of experience making comics. I know it will take me years before I’m done, but I don’t care. The story is inside my mind and soul like a child ready to come out into the world and I know I can do this.
I guess I’m experienced and maybe a little bit crazy too.
Know yourself. Know your strengths and your limits. Know where the confidence ends and the crazy begins, and use that to your advantage. “The good ones hide their weaknesses. The great ones use their weaknesses.” I heard that in a movie recently.
If you’re starting your first comic and you want to create the next Watchmen, you will surely fail. There’s absolutely everything to gain by being humble and starting small.
Let me give you the same advice a comics superstar once gave me :
"Start with one issue. One character. One story. Grow. In time you can attempt more ambitious things." [Note : I never listened to this advice at first, until much later. I failed many times and finally succeeded when I did end up taking the advice to heart].
A few single issues and then a few graphic novels completed is a million times better than a sprawling saga that makes no sense, is uneven, and looks like crap. Or worse… abandoned. Yes!?
And before you do any heavy lifting in the comics sphere, make sure you know your basics.
Thankfully, school is a pretty good place to learn WRITING, especially if you have a talent for it, a predisposition for it, if you will. You can further this training in college or in university, and by reading more than you should. All of this will help.
ART you’ll need to learn, formally, at some point, along the way. I trained in high school and then art school for ten years straight and I still don’t know it all, but I can crush 90%of the comics artists out there [yes, sure, I’m including stick men artists who make comics – sorry… haha!]. I am in the top 5 million because I know what I’m doing now. And yes, nowadays, there are that many cartoonists. This is a golden age whether you recognise it or not… this condensed comics field is a unique time in history. It is a boon for creativity and a kick in the ass to every talented kid who really really wants to make comics that bad. That said, it remains special, and you and I can say : I was there, man.
Both writing and art come naturally to me, but I still train to this day, getting better at both so as to create better comics.
Do you have the talent? Skill? Patience? Endurance? Strength? You’ll need all of these if your books are to make it in this Wild West of an industry we now work in.
You will reap what was sown.
Well. That was good. I hope I galvanised a few careers and scared off a few pretenders. Comics is insanely hard work. If you love it and have what it takes, Godspeed to you. If you love comics but don’t have the skill, believing is seeing, use your weaknesses, win! If you have the skill but don’t much care for the medium, move along… just move along.
’til next time.
Ottawa, Canada. :)
PS : A Seven Nation Army could not hold me back...
This is the blog of writer-artist-designer-author Dominic Bercier, MCS principal and founder.