I’m always suspect of reading about writing. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think I have chronic mistrust of those who speak in authority and those who want to. Often I skip over good advice, not wanting to hear it for fear it will turn my process end-over-end, or even scarier, make me realize that I have no good process. That all my years of ‘experience’ haven’t actually produced anything worth charting, diagraming, putting into Power Points or enumerating. Often my system of creation is – There is nothing. Chaos. Something. Do it again.
Can’t sell a million artist self-help books with advice like that.
But there are a lot of good ideas that have been expounded on by writers, people who teach writers, artists ETC. I’ve been thinking about them lately as I am currently revising a large graphic novel and the process was once again filled with surprises. Left turns on red lights, short cuts that aren’t REALLY short cuts and full stops on an empty road, in the middle of nowhere, when I am going 110 miles per hour and have no idea where I was headed.
A graphic novel is a daunting task. Writing a story and investing another year (at least) drawing 150 maybe 200 pages is best described as ‘a long slog’. Don’t get me wrong. I love doing it. I can’t imagine a better challenge or more interesting job. But if you are going to climb Everest you have to admit it’s one big mountain. And so it is.
Creating a graphic novel is more closely related to writing a film than writing a novel. Because the script is just the starting point. The words on paper have to be good (hope they are good) but there’s a lot of work ahead. Pencils and inking then post – coloring and setting the type, printing. You spend months penciling, inking and coloring. If you decide to alter a chapter or drop a scene or change a setting, you won’t just be editing copy. You’ll be drawing, inking and coloring all over as well.
When I work on graphic novels or comics there’s always some change in the dialog and settings when I get to drawing them. This is a process where the material gets more interesting and dynamic. You find a visual joke in the written material. Or a visual way to communicate something that was in dialog or description before. But, I always want a solid story in place before I draw dozens of pages. I usually write and draw my own material so when I write the script I can use the visuals in my head to pre-visualize what will happen in art. This is different than if I was handing my script off to another artist.
I mentioned in a previous post a book that I think does a very good job of introducing graphic novels but I wanted to mention another site I turn to for some great advice about writing. The site is often focused on screenplay writing and technique but just as often goes into subjects that are helpful for anyone writing fiction.
Most graphic novel scripts are not that different from a TV or film script. (Unless you want to use only third person narration in a graphic novel.) Much of the thought process behind writing for the screen can help you write a better graphic novel. I’m not talking about structure (3 Act ETC). I’m looking at effective methods to communicate ideas as efficiently as possible. Using dialog effectively and focused on character action. How to cut to the core of what is most important, usually in the present tense and understanding that a visual element will play a huge role in how the final work is consumed, understood and appreciated. The words on the page are not the final product.
If you don’t already read John August.com, check it out. It’s a site I visit often when I struggle with taking the Nothing into Chaos and beating that Chaos into Something.