Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tips for writers....

I've been submitting comments on various forums all over the web-verse and had a thought... Perhaps I'll add some tips for writers on my blog to help those who get stuck on things... I've been a world-builder of sorts since my early days of writing, so I have a tested method of writing that seems to work very well for me. Keep in mind, this is me trying to get my thoughts out, so they may be a bit disjointed at times... I think at some point I'll try to compile the thoughts into a more cohesive package.

1. Idea Phase - This is your brainstorming phase. As soon as you can after you have your original light bulb go off, sit down and write out as much as you can, stream of consciousness about the idea... Even if it's garbage, get it down on paper, on a file, or something so you don't lose it. This is the trick I use when I have a particularly profound dream that might be of some creative use later. Even if everything changes from this point, just get it down. If you don't know names, write something generic or "insert name here", doesn't matter. This is the foundation for what you will work on later.
2. World Building Phase - Here is where you take some of the comments you jotted down in your notes and you start to flush out what kind of world the book takes place in (this goes for novels, comics, or screenplays). Is it in a post-apocalyptic future, in the far reaches of space, steeped in some sort of time period, etc... What does or does not exist in this world? Magic, technology, spirituality (religion, other gods or beliefs), superpowers, mutants, aliens, what kinds of people, what kinds of jobs, social classes, governmental system(s), etc... Kind of like a program, you are setting tolerances for the world on a grand scale. Even if your character(s) never interact with some of the aspects, they are present just in case you need them.
3. Character Building Phase - Here is where you follow the same criteria as the World Building Phase, but in this case, you do it for the characters. What do they look like, what do they wear, what do they believe, what is special about them, what are their strengths/weaknesses, etc... If you have an anarchist punk who only drinks beer, he wouldn't exactly be caught in a coffee shop sipping hot chocolate, right? That's an extremely lame example, but I think you get what I mean. If a straight laced conservative type walks into a biker bar, there had better be a good reason for it! The more the character is supposed to be involved with your story, the more you should know about them. What makes them tick, did anything interesting happen in their childhood, when did their "powers" if any first manifest (if it's not an origin book), etc... Get the idea? Don't make these things up on the fly while you're writing the book because they will come back to haunt you. If you think of something that you feel is important later, by all means add it in, but do some error trapping, make sure you haven't written something previously that contradicts your changes. Make sense? It's very important that just like with the drawn character, something has to distinguish each character from each other. I'm not talking chocolate versus vanilla, I mean fundamental differences in personalities, powers, beliefs, etc... Otherwise the character might as well talk to themselves all the time.
4. Events Phase - This is where you start jotting down ideas of what you would like to happen during your book. Are you dropping a bomb on the characters, are they going to get locked into a log cabin somewhere and reenact Evil Dead? Is one of them going to get attacked by some sort of supernatural creature. Things like that... If you have a sequence of events that are somewhat interrelated, that's even better. Keep in mind that you don't want to throw the kitchen sink in here... Don't have the characters running into aliens one page and vampires the next... it might be funny, but not along the same plot-line... Now, I know X-Files and Fringe can pull off things like that, but I don't think they do that in the same episodes. Buffy doesn't fight aliens and Mulder doesn't carry a stake. Got it?
5. Drop-In Phase - This can be an outline or just dig into writing at this point (that's what I do). I have the world, the characters, and the events... Now it's just time to combine them. Drop the characters into the world you created and push them into the events. Everything needs to be logical... Get the characters established into the world in some way if you can or at least imply it and then rock the foundations. The development needs to be handled organically, which may help with problems some people have such as with dialogue. You need to think about how each character will react to the events and how they will react to each other. You're going to have calm and crazy people in a stressful situation. Sometimes the calm person can slap the crazy person to calm them down... sometimes it has the opposite effect. Start writing and see where the CHARACTERS drive you. Don't force the plot, let it roll out of you as stress free as possible. Hopefully if everything in the previous phases were carefully developed, writing will be a lot easier. If you get stuck, try going back through what you've written and get yourself in your characters' shoes, that may help. If not, get a bigger hammer... force the lock... whatever you want to call it. Write through the rough patches and hopefully you'll get to your stride again. Once you've powered through it, you may be able to go back to those rough patches and polish it up again.

That's it for phases, but I wanted to talk a little about other things... Probably just one today...

Dialogue - Dialogue seems to be tricky for a lot of people. I read somewhere in a forum recently that someone felt like their dialogue sounded something like poor dubbing from a b-martial arts movie. If you developed the characters on the front end properly and drop yourself in their shoes, the dialogue should flow out comfortably. If not, you need to try and sink yourself into the character more. Also, in some cases, people seem to feel obligated to add dialogue to a panel best left silent. The art of the medium is that we (the creative team) are supposed to tell a story with words AND pictures. This means that the artist is able to express things just as well without saying a word. Sometimes the image of two people looking at each other intently can just as easily say "I love you" or "I'm going to stick a hot poker in your eye" as well as actually verbalizing it. Try it out... Did you read any of the 9/11 books Marvel put out, especially Amazing Spider-Man Vol 2 #36 by Straczynski and Romita Jr? Not a word in the book, but the emotions conveyed in the issue were stronger than many writers can manage in their careers. Avoid having the dialogue reflect exactly what's happening in the panel, "I'm going to punch you" or "My knife is in your belly"... Again, lame examples, but a lot of people do it. Another pitfall is people leaning towards old school method of writing. This isn't done much in mainstream books for a reason. It worked in the 80's and before, but don't dot it now! How many times can you remember people stating in a panel what super-power they are going to use? I don't want to list examples because, well, I'd like to be working for a major publisher, but here's a made up sample, "With my rock hard skin, your blows are completely ineffective." If you state it in the first issue, that's one thing, but the reader isn't stupid. One thing I've seen in a lot of books in the last few years which I like is on the inside cover of the book a listing of characters, their basic personality, and what powers they have... That's assuming it's a superpowered book...

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