Monday, July 19, 2021

Comic Writer Advice from my Patreon!


Here's the thing -- I, like many, many others, have a Patreon. What I do is two comic strips a week (which, a few months later, become public), random blog thoughts, experimental comics, and occasionally fan art.

I also do a weekly essay in a Prose Tier. The last few weeks, I've been writing about the advice I give writers who ask me (some of it is short hits, stuff I'd give at a convention, and some is stuff I've given to folks who ask for script notes.)

In any case, I wanted to share one of those essays with you folks who stop by my website!

This one is about the importance of learning to write small. Check it out after the jump!

This is the piece of advice that gets me eye rolls like no other, and I’ve heard that other writers who suggest this tend to get the same response. Here it is:

Practice writing SHORTER WORKS.

A common thing I hear from aspiring comic writers is how they’re going to write an ongoing for years. Many believe they’re going to write the maxiseries that redefines the Marvel or DC Universe for years to come...

...As their first gig.

These writers often think in blocks of hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages.

Stop. Stop that right now. Don’t do that.

You really need to train yourself to think small and distill your stories down. Yes, need.

Try to learn how to introduce a concept and tell a complete story in eight pages. (If you’re a humor writer, or even a horror writer, it’s also worth practicing getting things down to one or two pages, but for the sake of “typical comics drama,” especially of the superhero variety, 8 pages allow enough room to stretch your legs for a little action.)

This is a worthwhile skill. First off, the most likely debut for you as a published writer is in an anthology, where space is at a premium.

Secondly, and this happens often with a professional gig, you’ll be asked to cut things more than you’ll be asked to expand. (Even with anthologies. I did one recently where I had one page to do a story. And one before that where I had eight pages but was asked if I could make it somehow fit into six.)

But let’s say you’re working on a full issue story, and you’re asked to add a beat (by an editor, maybe, or a licensor—either way, it’s a hard change. Something you can’t say no to.)

Your script is already packed full; what do you do, hotshot?

This is where having practice condensing a story down to its barest form is invaluable. You’ll be better able to cut some things to fit new content in while keeping the darlings you need to kill to a minimum, all because you’re comfortable turning a two-page sequence into a one-page sequence.

Take it another way; say you’ve pitched your way into an ongoing series! You have a couple of years’ worth of arcs that build to a beautiful crescendo. The editor is in tears at how perfectly it all works. The construction is perfect.

...But the sales numbers suck. Your book is cancelled as of issue #4. You’ll get one trade out of things, or maybe it won’t be collected at all. With any luck, you didn’t end this first arc on a cliffhanger of some sort and can work in some closure to your ideas with the space you still have left. But you can only do this if you can condense and like crazy.

(This isn’t a hypothetical, by the way; this has happened to several writers, myself included, and many of us have publicly kicked ourselves for not remembering to leave a good off-ramp.)

So: learn to cut, condense, and get as much of your story as you can in as little space as possible. It will only be to your benefit!

As a bonus, being able to write shorter stories means that if you need to get someone to do the art on your work, it will be done much faster and cost less per story (assuming you’re paying.) In no time, you can have an anthology full of your own work to show, or at least a couple of low-time-investment pieces that editors can skim when they have five minutes and an open heart.

Once again, it’ll only be to your benefit!