Tag Archives: resources

Square One: How to focus your story

I got another question from a blog reader that may resonate with all of you out there. We all have amazing stories to tell, and often the story is huge, epic, world-shattering and life-changing. But how do we focus this and make it both marketable and powerful? You can do both. In fact, you have to. Less is more in many cases. So let’s look at the question and my answer, and hopefully this will help you reach your dream of telling stories that matter.

Q: I have 110 page script typed and finished, which is only the prelude to an even bigger comic. The bigger comic is the main attraction with over 3 seasons mapped out and 510 pages ready to go for season 1. Only submitted to one company but looking for advice and an opinion.

A: First off, we should talk about your project. Most of us have a huge story in our heads that we are eager to tell, but you have to chop it down to something bite size and marketable at first. Think of Star Wars. Lucas had a huge story in his head, but in 1977 he was a relative unknown pitching in a genre that was not popular, and he had to cut out everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. You have to do the same thing at first. What that means for you is you need to make sure your 110 page script is cut into 22 – 24 page chunks, and that the first 22 pages are a self contained story, and a good one, that makes people want to read more. Don’t worry about season 1. Make sure that issue 1 is just plain awesome. That’s where you have to hook people.

Good that you are pitching to publishers, but you must be realistic about what the market wants. Be aware that no one wants an epic. Publishers want a 3-5 issue story arc that they can sell as single issues and then re-package as a graphic novel. It has been proven that if people love the single issues, they’ll go back and buy the graphic novel because 1) it proves they are true fans and 2) the graphic novel is less likely to get damaged when re-read. So when you pitch, don’t pitch the epicness of the story. Pitch the sellability of a mini-series. The project I am publishing this year, The Rum Running Queen, is 3 issues, 96 pages. We will sell the single issues first, then release a graphic novel. The singles help create a fan base, and the graphic novel generates profit. It’s that simple.

I’ve seen a few publishers who are accepting projects – Rats and Crows Publishing has been active, and Monkey Brain Comics may have something. Firestorm Comics and Crazy Monkey Ink both recently put out requests for pitches. Scout Comics might be another way. (Avoid Dark Horse and Image – they are only taking established creators at this time.) In general however, comic book publishers don’t want scripts. There are almost no companies looking for scripts without art. You need art to pitch a project. So don’t rely on other comic book companies – they are all small presses started by people like you who just published their own book and picked up a couple other books. Get your work out there – I have a project that I wrote and desperately want to publish. It is called Ashes of Faith and it is an adventure about a Kurdish female soldier fighting for redemption. It focuses on religious tolerance, and most of the publishers out there sell super hero stuff, noir, horror, or sci-fi. I can’t find a home for Ashes of Faith. That’s ok though – your comic has to fit the company you pitch to. My suggestion –  self-publish and sell and network at comic book conventions, go on Comixology and a few other online comic sites. If you think you can meet the minimum order, you can go to Diamond, (only if you have a well know name doing the art and/or cover).

After finishing Sevara (and seeing really bad sales) here is my advice-
Make sure the story is perfect. PERFECT. Have dozens of people read the script, good people, not friends, who will give constructive feedback. (I have yet to find a good editor, I’ve paid them and they still suck.) The Chopping Block at Comixtribe is a great way to get your ass handed to you, but honestly the feedback is not constructive. So I can’t point you in the right direction but never let anyone who knows you read your story. Your friends and relatives will all praise it. Let a stranger give you an honest critique.
Go big or go small. Either make a very small cheap black and white comic and get it out there, or hire well known people to do the interiors and covers. Like people who have worked for DC or Marvel, or have a massive following on Patreon. Don’t go medium. For The Rum Running Queen, I am looking at getting a very well known artist to do the cover. It is a bit expensive, but in the long run it will make the work stand out. There are some wildly talented artists out there who will meet your price range, you just have to ask.

So like I’ve advised a few other people who wrote to me about their projects, cut the length down to something that is marketable. Focus on the quality of the first issue, not the epicness of the multi-season story arc. Make sure the basic message and story resonate with readers, and make sure you have some well know artists to bring your story to life.

For a 110 page story, re-read the whole thing and find those 22 pages that encapsulate the whole tone and message of your comic. You only get one chance, one issue, to hook your readers. So which 22 pages are the most significant? Pull those out and make a kick-ass issue.

Q&A about comics and breaking into the industry

I recently got an email from a young man (I can say that now that I’m 40!) who dreams of breaking into comics. I don’t blame him, comics rock! Here’s his email and below I’ve put my response so that it might help others. The kid sounds a lot like me. And yes, I answer all emails!

 

Q: I’m a young writer looking to someday have my comic book out there for people to read. I’m 19 but I’ve been working on this story since the 8th grade. I’ve started over numerous times and scrapped a lot of work and ideas. One thing I’ve never changed is the main character’s name, personality, and what he fights for. Just this year I started writing the script for my story and I’m nowhere near finished. One thing that scares me and is always on my mind is, how am I going to get this published? How am I going to turn this into a book? What do I do after finishing this script? I read your article and I was hoping I could get some more information on how you got to where you are now. Maybe through you i can get one step closer to my dream.

 

A: First off, ideas are a dangerous thing, and they are rarely, if ever, finished. I’ll use the analogy of the original Star Wars because that is so well documented and so easy to relate to (and has a lot to do with the problem you are having). Lucas’ original script for the film was massive. It was way too long, and had enough story for 3 or more films. It was cumbersome, but he had all these ideas in his head and could not let them rattle around up there. He had to put them all down on paper, which is fine, but once Fox gave him the green light, he had to cut down the ideas into something that he could actually film (and the studio could actually make and distribute).

 

This is much the same way with comics. It starts with an idea. We have tons of ideas pouring into our heads at all times, that’s just what happens to creative people. And then we go to put them down on paper, and it goes nowhere (or it’s so huge you can’t pitch it!).

 

What Lucas had was a huge problem. He had a big pile of nothing. So he cut out the last 2/3rds of the script and filmed just the first part, assuming that it would bomb and the second and third parts would never be made. Sci-fi wasn’t popular back then. He had a frame to work in – he had to make a film about 2 hours long. Comic books are the same. No matter what, you have to limit your story to 20-24 pages (depending on the publisher), and each page or series of 2-3 pages needs to be a compelling story within itself. The problem is, how do you do that?

 

I don’t know what your comic is about, but comics are a visual medium, so there needs to be something happening on each page. I’m not a fan of comics that are just 2 people talking, although if the visuals are telling a story or the writing is compelling and compliments the art, it can work.

 

For your specific case, I’m going to recommend that you completely throw away the concept of ‘idea’. Why? Because comics are not ideas, they are concrete people, places, and situations. Each page takes place in a location, filled with characters, so let’s start there. And I’ll go ahead and use a Star Wars analogy, since we’re already here.

 

Think of Star Wars. The original 1977 film, the one I called Star Wars growing up, but is now called Episode IV, a New Hope. Anyway, let’s look at the film in terms of actions, not ideas. I’ll break down the whole film from memory (’cause it’s that easy to do).

 

  • fight scene (very short, 1 second)
  • chase scene (again, 1 second)
  • capture scene
  • break in
  • fight scene
  • rout
  • interrogation
  • capture (of Leia)
  • escape (of droids)
  • interpersonal conflict (droids argue)
  • capture (of both droids)
  • escape (droids sold to Luke)
  • escape (R2 runs)
  • chase (Luke chases droids)
  • fight
  • conversation
  • run (Luke going home)
  • entry (to city)
  • fight (in bar)
  • fight (in hangar)
  • escape (from planet)
  • training
  • capture (by death star)
  • escape (in Stormtrooper armor)
  • rescue
  • fight
  • escape (to trash compactor)
  • escape (from trash compactor)
  • fight
  • run
  • fight
  • escape (death star)
  • fight (battle of Yavin)

 

That’s basically Episode IV. I left out a few conversations, which are very few, very tight, and serve to show character and also move the plot forward or explain things to the audience. As you can see, the action is constant. Things happen, not ideas. Although the ideas are there, and the action carries the story of a boy trying to be more than he is. But since your problem is you have a huge idea, I’m rolling everything back to square one and breaking it down to the basics.

 

Fight, run, escape, run, fight, break in, break out: this covers almost everything in Star Wars. Instead of rescue you can say break in, instead of escape you can say break out. There are a few common elements missing, namely the seduction scene (not sexual, but simply when one character tries to convince another character to do something they don’t want to do) and a few others.

 

As I said, I’m leaving out a lot here. The key to Star Wars are the 4 connections between Luke and Obi-Wan. First in Obi-Wan’s house, second the training scene on the Falcon, third is Obi-Wan’s [spoiler alert] death, and 4th is Obi-Wan’s voice during the trench run. Take those elements out and the film/story fails. Star Wars is about a boy with no father who meets a father figure that allows him to be the man he always knew he was. Those 4 moments seal it all. So don’t think that this is about action and more action. The story has to be solid. And it doesn’t take much, just a few moments between two people will drive your story. But if you’re stuck, start with the action. You can move to plot, character and story later. This is just one method. There are other ways to go. But the ‘scene by scene’ method is a good place to begin if you are stuck.

 

Here’s my suggestion. Take a piece of paper and make 22 bullet points, each square representing a page. Then map your story in terms of action. Characters break in, fight, get captured. They steal something, they run. This will force you to set the location and time. And it will force your characters to make decisions – remember that your characters make the decisions, not you. So you can build this comic organically. Put the characters in a tough situation, and then let it play you. What would your characters do if they were in a fight? How would they act? Let the situations unfold naturally.

 

Map out one issue. Start with the characters in a tight spot, and end in a cliff hanger. Remember, you want people to be dying to read the next issue. Start right in the middle of the action, which usually means writing a story and then cutting off the first few pages so that we land in the middle of something that is ongoing.
Work on your script and polish it. Get that done before looking for an artist and a publisher. I recommend self publishing at conventions or POD at first, but you’re a long way away from that. I have tons of tips for that – my second graphic novel is being produced right now. But it took me years to develop my first script, so I feel your pain.

 

Let me know if this is helpful. I wrote a whole book about the entire process and put it on Amazon for 99 cents. I also recommend in your case that you go on Amazon and buy Screenwriting 101 by Film Critic Hulk. Do the character map described in that book, it will work wonders I promise.

 

And when you have a new 22 page script, send it to me. I’ll take a look. I hope this helps!

Need help writing your comic?

Are you writing a comic book? Here are the websites and links that helped me. I adapted my play into a comic book by reading tutorials that others posted online. I love the internet!

But it all starts with the story. If you don’t have a story, you have nothing.

Perfecting your story

 

Robert McKee; I talk about McKee in depth in this book because I found this work extremely useful, I highly recommend checking it out: http://www.amazon.com/Story-Substance-Structure-Principles-Screenwriting/dp/0060391685/

 

Screenwriting 101 by FILM CRITIC HULK! on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Screenwriting-101-Film-Crit-Hulk-ebook/dp/B00H0NQE7S

 

HULK’s blog: you should seriously spend some time reading his blog posts, he blogs here: http://birthmoviesdeath.com/author/film.crit.hulk

 

Writing an episodic story; comic books are long form storytelling. Not many articles deal with this. Here’s one about TV storytelling: http://storyfix.com/the-key-to-writing-an-inherently-episodic-story-effectively

 

Sample comic book scripts; Scripts & Scribes has many other resources as well: http://www.scriptsandscribes.com/sample-comic-scripts/

 

Writing for comics, 5 rules by Joe Edkin: http://revista-comics.blogspot.com/2011/10/writing-for-comics-by-joe-edkin.html Joe’s web articles about writing for comics are fantastic. His site is down, but some of his tips are archived on other people’s blogs.

 

Outlining your comic book by Joe Edkin: Joe’s resources are the best there are, unfortunately his page is down. This is a saved snapshot of a page from his website about outlining and page breakdowns: http://archive.is/vWv5

 

Plot points; The Script Lab has lots of resources that are handy. Check out this page and many others for help with story and plot. You can see that the movies that have weak plot points tend to be weaker movies overall. Click on your favorite movie and look at the plot points. This will help you look at your comic book story: http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting-101/screenplay/five-plot-point-breakdowns#

 

mtvU Sand In: Trey Parker and Matt Stone talk about getting rid of the ‘and then’ moments and making sure your story is full of ‘but’ and ‘therefore’: http://storyfirstmedia.com/storytelling-tip-the-principle-of-buts-and-therefores/

 

Dialog; sometimes I just get stuck on dialog. When that happens, I reread this article by Chuck Dixon. I can’t find it on his site, but it has been reposted here: http://apologiesdemanded.blogspot.com/2006/08/chuck-dixon-teaches-dialogue.html

 

How to give your character some flaws: http://scribemeetsworld.com/2012/screenplay-writing/six-things-need-fixing-definition-examples/

 

Making a good bad guy; Chuck Dixon has many worthwhile articles, you can start with this one and then check out his other posts: http://dixonverse.blogspot.com/2015/05/once-twice-three-times-bad-guy.html

 

Comic book scripting, 10 short and simple words of wisdom from Chuck Dixon: https://dixonverse.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/the-ten-commandments-of-comic-book-scripting/

 

From plot to script: Cullen Bunn always had the best posts about plotting and scripting. His site isn’t always working, but try this link or find him on social media: http://www.cullenbunn.com/process/plot-to-script/

 

How a comic book page works; this is a fantastic, must-read article about how panels work and how action takes place in comics: http://www.adamgeen.com/guest-post-the-write-stuff-writing-comics/