How to get better at writing comics?

Think your comic can improve? Whether it's art or writing, composition or colouring, feel free to ask here! Critique and commentary welcome.

Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby Jin-roh on Sun Dec 04, 2005 12:13 am

princess wrote:It seems like there are loads and loads of advice on how to draw comics but I really want some tips on how to improve my writing?

Any ideas?


Someone already mentioned this, but a Creative Writing course is a good idea. I'm in one right now and its very fulfilling. More fulfilling than my major classes. A script writing class might translate best into a webcomic. I'm doing short stories though.

When I concieved my writing, I started with characters. I sketched out their personalities and tried my best to make them multi-dimensional. I don't feel any of my char's have "blossomed" yet, but I've only been at this since august. I really think that one-dimensional characters KILL a comic. I've lost interest in more than a few.

The other is to find experts who can give you advice. I showed my scripts and Characters to a friend who got a BA in english and to one of my proffs at a Junior College. Their feed back helped.
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Postby Webkilla on Sun Dec 04, 2005 12:05 pm

I first wrote a couple stories...

one 210 pages - one 160 pages

I'm still working on two more, both now around 80 pages each and neither anywhere near halfway done... and ideas for at least one more which is cannon to the comic I'm doing right now. I've got material for loads more.


I use them as scripts.


thats what I'd suggest anyone to do: Write EVERYTHING there is to happen. This of course requires that your comic is suposed to have a plot... how gag-strips made one at a time are kept up is beyond me.
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Postby FinbarReilly on Sun Dec 04, 2005 1:43 pm

My Top Ten Tips:

10) Take acting classes. It may sound weird, but having the ability to role-play characters is a major advantage, and doing it by getting into the character's mind is a major plus.

9) Study script-writing. Look at more than just the format; consider pacing, beats, and why the three-act structure works, as well as proper escalation.

8) Take some journalism classes. As a writer you need to learn that less is more, and this is probably the best way to do it.

7) Spend some time in a bar or a park. You want somewhere busy, where people are talking to another, the busier the better. The idea is that you're going to need to learn conversation, and where better to learn than where people do a lot of talking? There's a reason so many writers have a reason for being drunks...

6) Kill your darlings. If something is cool, but it doesn't fit with what you are doing, then don't be afraid to not use it. The cool scene may end up being the albatross that kills whatever you're working on. You can note it, and use it later, but don't feel obligated to use everything you write.

5) Character>Plot. Don't force your characters into doing things that they wouldn't do. If your plot requires that your villain make a really stupid mistake, give him a realistic reason for making the mistake, like his girlfriend is breaking up with him or he has some serious bad news to deal with.

4) Avoid gratuities. Always tip your waitress, but don't use sex, violence, and language unless you have a reason, and shocking people isn't an acceptable one. John Woo should be your role-model, not Quentin Tarantino. Now, if you're making an erotic comic, use all the sex you want, but otherwise try to avoid it.

3) Read and watch. Any arguments re: "but then you don't have any of your own ideas" are BS. You would be surprised when those bits of trivia come in handy. Also, you need ideas to get your own. And watch the bad as well as the good; you never know what diamonds you'll find in the mud.

2) Have fun. Don't do this if you see it as a chore; just remember to take it seriously.

1) To thine own self be true. If you're doing this to pick up girls, or impress people with your ability to write, this is the wrong place. Write because you need to do as badly as breath, not because you want to get rich or laid...

If it helps...
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Postby Anywherebuthere on Sun Dec 04, 2005 2:40 pm

READ

Read comics, read literature. See what makes a "good" character.

Watch films, understand how scenes are composed. Understanding camera angles helps a LOT. Seening how someone with a good eye sets up how characters are presented in a frame of referance does help. Honestly I watch a lot of Kubrik, simply because the man has this sense of how a scene SHOULD look.

Let your characters move the strip. Yes, in my own dealings I DO have a larger storyline planned. But your characters will move themselves more times then not.

Trust them. Let them breath, let them grow.

For Dialog, I will ALWAYS speak out my dialog (which garners a TON of strange looks when I walk down the street working out scenes.) A number of my characters have a certain voice...and I'll speak in that voice, aloud, to really get a feel as how to make a character "sing" dialog wise.

And for "Sweeping" story arcs, I tend to write from THE ENDING first, and plot my way TO it.

Granted, this seems like it's a revision of the "let the characters move on their own" rule, but I've found I have one very uppity character who HATES to just let me tell her what to do. I have to give her the freedom to come to terms with some stuff. Otherwise it wouldn't be the character.

BUT, you just work around it. Sometimes it's a nuanced stance, some times it's a cosmic bitch slap. But it's ALWAYS trying to give the character the full freedom to move on their own and give them gentle nudges on the way to make the plot work witout gutting them of what makes a character great.

Hope that helps a bit.
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Postby Princess on Sun Dec 04, 2005 6:44 pm

This is just a crazy amount of help and ideas! Thank you so much for all your suggestions.

(does anyone think this would be a good topic to sticky?, 'cos I do)
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Postby Faub on Sun Dec 04, 2005 7:39 pm

Sure. Why not?
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Postby LibertyCabbage on Sun Dec 04, 2005 7:42 pm

FinbarReilly wrote:breath

anywherebuthere wrote:breath


it's breathe
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Postby Anywherebuthere on Sun Dec 04, 2005 8:43 pm

You say tomato...I say


I CANT SPELL TO SAVE MY FAMILY IF THEY WERE BEING HELD BY HOSTAGES WITH VERY LARGE CALIBER GUNS BEING POINTED AT THEIR DELICATE PAPER THIN CRANIUMS AND THE ONLY DEMAND THAT HAD TO BE MET WAS FOR ME TO SPELL THE WORD STRATEDGERY.


:sigh:

I knew I should have paid attention during elementary school.
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Postby Popsicleman on Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:25 pm

FinbarReilly wrote: 3) Read and watch. Any arguments re: "but then you don't have any of your own ideas" are BS. You would be surprised when those bits of trivia come in handy. Also, you need ideas to get your own. And watch the bad as well as the good; you never know what diamonds you'll find in the mud.
FR


I concur; go out there and read comics which are doing what you'd like to do--not to rip them off, but just to get ideas of what they're doing, how they achieve what they do, what keeps you reading, etc. This can also help with pacing; I write at varying lengths (a couple novels, some short stories, and now a webcomic) so to help me mentally switch 'pacing' gears, I'll read a lot of works of the same length beforehand.

Also, a valuable thing to do is to keep an eye out for what you don't like to see in a comic. This is why critiquing groups or writing classes can be handy: if for no other reason, they help train your 'critiquing' eye. So if you come across a comic and think "I don't like this," you'll be able to say why: "Oh, it's because the author is doing info dumps constantly" or "This character just isn't convincing." And that'll help you avoid making the same mistakes.

Hope this helps!
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Postby FinbarReilly on Sat Dec 24, 2005 3:09 pm

For some writing help, check out my blog; I just started "how to write" comics thing...

If it helps,
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Postby Sincerely on Sat Dec 24, 2005 11:08 pm

For dialogue, my best friend is a thesaurus. Read through something you've written, if you repeat a word more than once, think about all the synonyms you could use instead. After you've done that, decide whether you need them or if it's better the way it is. I find this applies best when used on profanity. Over-using a swear word kills a statement.

Also, remember who your characters are. Less intelligent characters will repeat words, more intelligent/learned characters will use more synonyms.

It's not just the words you use though, it's also the pauses. Sometimes a stiff speech works once you separate it into multiple word bubbles or panels. Stuttering, pausing mid-word, and repetition imply hesitation and frustration. Run-on sentences can be nervousness, or something else. Think about the character's mood and situation. Put a wide variety of emotions into their speech.

Of course, all of this is complimented heavily by a good grasp of facial expressions.
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Postby LibertyCabbage on Sun Dec 25, 2005 12:39 am

sincerely wrote:For dialogue, my best friend is a thesaurus.


i'm going to disagree 100% with that. dialogue should be written as fluently and naturally as possible. people talk fast and they make mistakes or sound awkward. having a character use bad grammar and repetitive words is an example of good dialogue writing. when people speak, they try to express themselves with the least time and effort they can. your action of looking up a comparable word for variety is inconsistent with dialogue in the way that it would be disruptive for someone to pause midspeech trying to think of a synonym to make their words more colorful. the exception would be if you're trying hard to impress the reader with their intelligence, or doing it as an exaggeration or joke; then a thesaurus might be useful. although even smart people usually talk casually/informally anyway. just focus on writing it naturally and especially try saying it out loud and seeing if it sounds right.
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Postby FinbarReilly on Sun Dec 25, 2005 9:44 pm

I'm definitely agreeing with LC. Dialogue writing is hard enough as it is, without adding on weird limitations. Dialogue should be as natural as possible, not subject to the usual rules.

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Postby Sincerely on Sun Dec 25, 2005 11:54 pm

I don't actually use a thesaurus while I'm writing dialogue, but I have made myself familiar with the concept and use of synonyms. When I speak, I, personally, do not often repeat complex words. I repeat my thoughts a great deal, but I rephrase them as much as possible. This doesn't happen with forethought, it's just how I speak.

The concept I'm trying to convey is that if you write hard and fast every time you might get convincing dialogue, but you you're less likely to capture voice. You will have a dozen faces saying everything the same way. Everyone says that practice improves writing, but it won't do anything for if you live in a confined environment. Reading other comics and books has already been mentioned, I'm just suggesting another way. Take it or leave it.
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Postby Taiwanimation on Mon Dec 26, 2005 9:09 am

I got a writer. :D

In general even having the script be reviewed by another person helps a lot in catching bad writing and developing more better stuff.
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Postby FinbarReilly on Mon Dec 26, 2005 4:23 pm

Re: Dialogue: If you think that everyone is speaking the same, then delete the names, and see if you can figure out who's speaking what.

Also, don't rely on dialects; there are also pauses and the way each character uses punctuation.

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Postby Michael K on Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:47 am

To give your characters more personality, when you have one character in a particular situation consider what your other characters would do in that situation. It'll help you to understand the differences between your characters.

Every now and then stop and consider your assumptions. You've never drawn that character touching anyone else. Sure it's because it just never came up in the script but what if instead they are incorporeal or curse anyone that they touch?

What would happen if your main characters just took a holiday, stopped working on the events of your story and went on vacation to France? Or your villains? Or all the extras? Who's really involved in your story and who could as easily be left out? What are the stakes?

Have two of your characters never met? What would happen if they did?
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Postby Michael K on Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:52 am

Edit: That post went kind of weirdly...

When was the last time your character had a shower, went to the toilet, ate a meal or drank something? Occasionally include a bodily function being fullfilled, but make it part of the story. For example: your characters are driving along, one of them goes to the toilet leaving the other alone in a really intimidating truck stop, where they run into the recurring villain... or whatever. Your character tries to call their friend needing their help but they're in the shower... you get the idea.

The key to good writing (I believe) is always ask "what if?", that's what fiction's about in the first place anyway.
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Postby ChaosBurnFlame on Mon Mar 06, 2006 8:22 am

My dialgoue improved pretty much 200% when I first started scripting my comics ahead of time. My first real editor(I consider April of '04 a bad experiment) was Ping Teo, who did a great, but brutal, job.

After that, I've been bouncing between Christwriter and Kevin O'Connell as editors.

CW likes some of the messages I put in comics, Kevin likes humor-based stories(in fact, The last two months was his favorite PG comics ever!).
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Postby Qwanderer on Wed Mar 29, 2006 9:59 pm

Writing a comic isn't the same thing as writing anything else. I can write poetry no problem, a short story or two and I know it's good, I've even got a book or three I'm working on, but comic writing I really struggle with. Yes, reading is good. A lot of the same skills do apply. Practice is good, although I don't know how credible I am saying that since the first page of my comic is about to post. It helps to be good at art and good at writing, but if you don't make a comic more than a combination of the two then it's just an illustrated story. The page design and the interaction of the two are what make comics unique. It is an artistic element but if you don't think of it as part of the writing then you're not writing comics, you're writing plays or something.
This doesn't come from experience writing comics, it comes from trying and ending up with other stuff.
I like what Neil Gaiman says at the end of the third volume of Sandman. Everyone writes comics differently. His have a lot of words, but the script behind the finished product, the writing, is full of images and shots like a movie. You can see it when you read his words.
I think the hardest part of comic writing is coming up with an idea for a story that couldn't be told better another way.
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