Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making Fight Scenes Matter

Last night, I yelled at my tv screen. At a fight. That I'd seen before.

I was on the edge of my seat.

Granted, I didn't remember how the fight ended; my memory is terrible for such things. But, still, my significant other commented on it. She knows I'm pretty jaded when it comes to fight scenes. Over the last couple years, my eyes have started to glaze over during most movie action sequences. And my days of feeling excited about two superhero teams meeting and having a fight due to a misunderstanding are behind me. But there I was, watching a tv show and yelling, like I was cage-side at a UFC championship match.

The episode in question was Deadwood, Season 3, "The Two-Headed Beast," written by David Milch. [Warning: SPOILERS ahead!]

Monday, March 28, 2011

Revealing Character The 'Justified' Way

"Whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do!

"Unfortunately, what they didn't know was once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings, they wouldn't be able to shut him up! Dysfunction this! Dysfunction that! Dysfunction va fan cul’!"         
                                                              - Tony Soprano
One of my favorite series on the air right now is FX’s Justified. For those of you not familiar with the show, it’s probably best described as a modern-day Western (though it’s set in Kentucky). Starring the always impressive Timothy Oliphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, Justified has its share of shootouts and showdowns, but what really draws me in is the way it gives characters that might have been the same old stock clich├ęs (the kind that killed the Western in the first place) some real depth.
Take Raylan himself, for example. At first glance he appears to be the kind of man Tony Soprano wished hadn’t disappeared: The taciturn lawman, a straightforward, uncomplicated guy who gets the job done. He isn’t the kind to vent on Oprah, that’s for certain. So how to reveal there’s some complexity to him?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Letting Go of "Perfection"

My relationship with a script is closer to a drunken one night stand than a long-term love affair. I finish the final draft the night before in a passionate haze, and wake up in the morning, bleary eyed, looking at a stranger I barely recognize and wondering what the hell I was thinking.

So, it's not surprising that this recent quote from Matt Fraction really struck a chord with me:
"The best comic I've ever written is the one I've just finished and the worst one is the one that just came out."
I'm my own harshest critic. As much as I love a story, characters, or a bit of dialogue, as much as I may have been excited about a project when I started, eventually I'm going to hate it.

Some of this is the nature of comic book production, especially if you're self-publishing. By the time you've written it, had it penciled, inked, colored, lettered, printed--and gone over proofs at every stage--it's natural to be a little tired of it. But that's different than hating it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Finding the Time

We're all desperately busy nowadays.  What, with work, family, friends, children, it's a wonder we have any time to do anything short of schedule our self-imposed commitments in between our necessary commitments.  Where does one find a shred of--I'm about to go full-on-new-age here--me time?  The answer is really quite simple: you have to make it.

I know, I know.  You're probably saying, "No kidding, brainiac.  Care to expand on that statement, and no I do not want to buy a timeshare after the seminar."  No on the timeshare and I will gladly explain some changes that I have taken in my life to make writing and creating a priority.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So Whatever Became Of The Muses?

It happens almost every time. You’re attending a book signing by one of your favorite authors, or maybe you’re listening to her speak on a panel at a con. She’s been entertaining, thought provoking… maybe even inspirational. You can’t wait to have her sign your copy of her latest novel.

But before that can occur, there’s the Q&A with the audience. A forest of raised hands goes up. People get called upon. And that’s when it happens: Someone, at some point, asks the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Things I Have Learned About Writing Through a Lifetime of Improv: Part 1

When I was twelve I joined an after school improv club. For a hyper fat kid without many friends and his hours spent watching Kids in the Hall and horror movies it was everything I needed. Those random jokes I would make in class that earned me sneers from any girl I might of had a crush on or black and blue marks from the bullies when the teacher turned to write on the board had quite the opposite reaction onstage. I found one of my callings in that after school club. It wasn’t picked back up the following year and I actually had to wait until my senior year of high school to get another chance at that stage but when I did I embarked on one of the greatest chapters of my life that also prepared me surprisingly well for my other calling; writing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Only Goal of a First Draft

If you’re a writer struggling with your first draft, I have great news for you:

Quality doesn’t matter.

Don’t get me wrong. Quality will matter – a lot – down the road. But right now, at this pinpoint in time, this exact moment – as you struggle and scramble to whip your first draft into shape – as you sweat and shake and feel like smashing your computer against the wall – as you glare at the books on your shelves, wondering how they do it, all those talented, successful, published bastards – as you look for advice and inspiration through your writing books, and find none – as you convince yourself that you have no talent, and never did, and never will, no matter how hard you try – as you flip back through old files, old pages, muttering to yourself, “crap, crap, crap, more crap” –as you practice writing exercises, futilely searching for some breakthrough that you know, just know, will never come – at this moment – this moment here – this moment now – Quality. Doesn’t. Matter.

So what does matter?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Everything I Learned About Writing My First Novel I Learned from J.M.S.

Okay.  Not entirely true, but after attending a panel from J.M. Straczynski at the 2008 San Diego Comic Convention (SDCC) there is a ring of truth to the title of this post.    For most of my life I have been interested in art and writing, comics and science fiction, horror and adventure.  Godzilla was my Mr. Rogers, the Legion of Superheroes my Sesame Street, The Micronauts my favorite babysitter; let’s just say I was an odd kid. 

I spent my time absorbed in distant fantasy realms ruled by diabolical despots and obsessed over quests to rescue abducted princesses and recover lost treasures of immense power.  In the real world,
this translated to getting whatever girl I was crushing on to acknowledge my existence, somehow avoiding my grade school tormentors and convincing my mother to buy me a set of nunchucks.  For the record, none of my efforts paid off—that is another story—but this meant that I spent my time drawing my favorite superheroes and eventually flirted with the notion of writing a book; I never made it past chapter four. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Deconstructing Alan Moore - Plotting in Top 10

In December of 2010, I attended a lecture by Paul Levitz at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) on "The Long and Short of Plotting." Levitz offered a number of tools to help writers improve their plotting skills, including something he called a Rising and Falling Subplots Chart.

Levitz suggested that writers deconstruct other people's stories as a learning exercise, so I decided to use the Subplots Chart to analyze the plot of Alan Moore and Gene Ha's Top 10, published by America's Best Comics/Wildstorm in 1999.

Top 10 followed police officers working in the city of Neopolis where nearly everyone--the criminals, the citizens, and even the mice--had superpowers. From a blind cabby who drove using only his Zen senses to the dog running roll call, Moore and Ha created a madcap universe that the reader could still take somewhat seriously.

My personal goal with this plot deconstruction exercise was to better understand how Moore timed his various storylines in the 12-issue miniseries. But, hopefully, you'll find something useful in the approach that you can apply to your own stories.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Race in Comics: A Few Guidelines

I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about race in comics. I’m currently working on a project called Clockwork, which will consist of around 25 five-page stories, all written by me and drawn by different artists. I’ve received final art on 15 stories so far, and in those 15 stories, nearly every single character is white (except the robots and aliens and gorilla-pirates, but you know what I'm saying).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

World-Building: The Three Key Elements

When it comes to fiction, even the most hyper-realistic story takes place in a world completely unlike our own. That’s simply the nature of storytelling. Life gets compressed, stretched and shaped. Even the most richly-drawn character is a mere shadow when compared to the complexity of man.

Viewed one way, this is a limitation. But viewed another way, it’s a tremendous advantage. It’s this constraint that makes world-building possible; people don’t go into a fictional story expecting reality, and so their minds are more open to extraordinary possibilities. And because this world-building is so fundamental, it can make or break your story.

So, what makes for good world-building?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Knight & Squire: A study of structure

The final issue of Knight & Squire comes out today. In the first five issues, this book has gone from a lighthearted diversion to an absolute, can-hardly-wait, top-of-the-stack read.

There are many great things about this series, but one of the most interesting is the overall story structure. It is rather unorthodox, but extremely effective. Let’s examine this structure a bit, in preparation for the final issue.

(Fair warning: this post will contain a bevy of plot points, or “spoilers,” as the kids like to call them. If you haven’t been reading this series, I strongly recommend you stop here, then call your local comic shop and pre-order the trade. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did … okay. Is it just us? Good).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What 'Brutal' Means to Me

One of my favorite places is the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky (and the home of writer Thomas Merton). And the interior of the main chapel is the first place I ever encountered the architectural style known as Brutalism.

In Brutalism, the form and function of a building is left exposed. Oftentimes architecture tries to hide the parts of a building that hold it up and keep it intact: the steel and brick and concrete, the columns and girders. But in Brutalism, these elements aren’t hidden. Instead, they’re a prominent part of the building’s look. In the Gethsemani chapel, the walls and ceiling are unadorned, exposed concrete, and the wooden rafters are clearly visible.

I thought about this when we formed the Brutal Circle. I believe what we’re doing here is very similar to Brutalist architecture. We’re exposing the form and function of stories. We’re breaking it down to the basic elements that serve as support for good storytelling; the intricate interweaving of plot, character arc, dialogue, pacing and so much more.

As storytellers, these things are our foundation, our support, our girders and columns and beams. They are as important to storytelling as the concrete and steel and wood that keeps our buildings intact.

We hope you enjoy your time here, as we work to create a solid foundation, and build our stories piece by piece.