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 Samuli on Wed Apr 08, 2009 2:32 am

Metruis wrote:I will argue vehemently with anyone who tells me the only good way to write is by planning, outlining, or writing huge panels of background on everything and anything before starting to write.

No, the people who claim that--you guys--you might be right for you but there's aproximately a 50/50 split between the writers who plan and the writers who don't.


I absolutely agree that you don't need much planning to start writing, but if you're trying to do the epic story thing with many characters and a traditional plot, it helps to have basic structure thought out beforehand. Just to keep things consistent and reduce the number of big corrections that have to be done later in the name of continuity. Planning is a tool just like anything else - you most likely don't have to go Tolkien about it. What you said about "finishing it" is spot on! Also, the "why should I care" -tip is priceless. It should be on every writer's wall.

By the way, how did you calculate that it's a 50/50 split? It seems like a difficult thing to research. ;)

Stephen King was mentioned earlier as an example of a writer who does not plan ahead of writing. He doesn't - for the preliminary draft. Which he then goes over and over again. Although, you could argue that he has already done the legwork - he usually places his stories in the same small town and uses similar characters. So he has a firm base to build on without doing any additional research. Also, he writes a lot more than he publishes. There are bound to be a lot of misses with any kind of writing style. That's nothing to be afraid of.

For many who are just beginning to write not having to plan ahead will seem like a more comfortable approach. It's not easier. You still need to go over it afterwards many times to make it work properly. If there are those who are able to write a good story the first time around without research or planning, you should absolutely be working for some branch of the writing industry because you will save producers millions. :) What I would suggest for beginners is to start with short stories, analyze them after they are finished and then to gradually move to longer stories. It's like practising for the marathon.

Many people have also suggested to let your characters write for you. In my opinion that's good advice as long as they write on the micro-level and mostly their own reactions. I wouldn't let your characters write the whole storyline. That's closer to a RPG. Of course, if your audience goes for that, why not. But I think the larger audience would find RPG-like plots too chaotic and illogical. I do think it's a good idea to let your characters vent and go to the extreme in their reactions. You don't have to include it in the final story but it's a good way to find their limits.

These are tools for planning (I apologize if someone already posted these):
1. The story needs to be acceptable by the audience in three categories: The ethic, the aesthetic and the logical. You don't need to try to please your audience too much, but it's helpful to know their limits.
2. Think about the setting: what is the contradiction, what is the conflict
3. The same for the characters
4. Describe the story in one or two sentences. Does it sound interesting?

These also work if you have to get back to the core of the story you are writing. It's useful to periodically take a figurative step back and think about what you originally wanted the story to say.

Basically, what I'm saying is that dramaturgy and pre-planning in general is a set of tools. Use them or not, the result is always up to you. I learned the hard way with the strip I'm now publishing - had to redo almost 50 finished strips and cut 30 to make the story work. NOT nice when one strip takes 1-2 days to complete :)
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby Hydriatus on Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:59 am

Well, the discussion of planning vs free writing is very detailed...

But something that is always useful (and has probably already been mentioned) is reference material. Little details add a sense of reality to your story, and can offer up new ideas too, even if only for scenes.

Hans Talhoffer's Medieval Combat is a book I've found very useful in writing out and planning sword fights, showing several tricks I wouldn't have thought historically accurate (the murderstroke for example). Plus it has pictures so that helps with drawing...

Anyway, when writing, it is always useful to have some sort of reference to work with, no matter how small. It adds to the believability of the world you're creating.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby Herschel Dirtwater on Thu Jun 04, 2009 7:03 pm

I've only read little bits of this thread here and there, but I will add my 2% of a dollar thusly:

To get better at writing, any type of writing, one must write. Call it practicing if you like but when one wants to get better at playing the violin (something I know a thing or two about), one has to play the violin in some way or another to accomplish this. Now, please don't think that I mean churning out lousy strips or pages for the sake of practicing. I always tell my violin students not to apologize for playing badly when they practice, and especially at their lessons because if they played perfectly all the time, they wouldn't need me. However, the final version/page/strip should be the culmination of their hard work. Same for comics.

A very close second to that would be reading. The more you know, the more you can make fun of (for humor strips - my chosen area) or the more "world experience" you can inject into your pages. If all you know is the last Harry Potter book you read, or the latest issue of Spider-Man, that'll be all you will be able to write about (sadly).

HD :eyebrow:
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby mikemacdee on Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:20 am

Take a break from comics and practice writing prose. Refine your writing by getting critiques and experimenting with different genres. Read the genres you're interested in and study what those authors do, maybe rewriting pages or chapters that strike your fancy to better understand what the author is doing. Comics are a visual medium, but the writing has to be good or there's no point.

I spent a year or two writing horror fiction, studied the writing of mysteries, and read all of Dashiell Hammett's detective fiction and a few speculative fiction novels by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Deadhead Zero hails from all those neighborhoods.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby Darkdetective on Fri Nov 27, 2009 11:14 am

Writing for Comics with Peter David is available on amazon for 2 bucks. It's really good if you're writing a superhero, or even just story driven, comics. I reread it every few months or so. I highly recommend it.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby glenn57 on Fri Dec 18, 2009 2:52 am

I found looking at books about characterisation helped me in developing more dimensional characters. Not saying I've got it down pat but two books that I feel gave me the most help were Peter David's one on "Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels", and one called " Getting into Character - seven secrets a novelist can learn from actors " by Brandilyn Collins.

Last one helped me not only understand characters motivations but also to hopefully create much better dialogue, and to visualize the various drawn characters relevant body language and facial movements.

Also studying DVDs etc of your favorite actors, TV shows, movies - then analysing the structural tricks the writers or performers use. Not copying as such. But things like irony, comedy faces, pacing, intercutting scenes, dramatic angles. Obviously its not comics but some of the better writers in the comics arena are engaged in writing comics, novels and screenplays. So grab ideas from anywhere that suits the vision you are trying to achieve for your own comic.

Cheers
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby DreamerBond on Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:41 pm

Stories can be very difficult to plan out, especially when you're not quite sure where your headed with it.
But there's something that has helped me whenever I'm stuck with the plot or characters.

I just think about my comic all the time.
I'll work things out in my mind while at school, work (don't try that unless you can get away with spacing out), and while I'm going to bed.

The more I contemplate it and move the characters around in my mind, the more it all fits together. When you envision your characters and their world enough, the more everything becomes clear and connected.

There's the advice of a newbie.
Plan, but don't confine your characters. Just understand them enough to truly discover them and their purpose in the story.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby VeryCuddlyCornpone on Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:03 pm

Not bad advice at all... FOR A NOOB!

Just kidding. I agree on all points :) Welcome to the forums!
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby stormfire82 on Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:46 pm

I conciser myself lucky I was able to get Glenn McCoy as a mentor from school (see The Duplex in your Sunday funnies). I suggest if you are in college see if your guidance councilor has anybody who could help with that. If you are lucky there's a cartoonist near by if not then try looking at writers (newspapers magazines etc) also bounce ideas off friends. That's how The Edperiment was born. (that and I was on a lot of pain meds at the time due to a nasty injury) You will be surprised how an idea can snowball into something epic. Listen, observe, analyze people in a club, bar, restaurant etc. Look up old comedies. the new stuff has (at least in my mind) has gotten stale. Really look into The Marx Brothers, listen to Groucho's one liners and take note of Harpo also look at Charlie Chaplin films, and Roadrunner cartoons. That'll flex your sight gag muscle. Sometimes a sight gag is worth a thousand words. As far as writing look up Chuck Jones, Fritz Freeling, Jay Ward,Matt Groening (see his early comic Life in Hell), There's a book out there called the Quoteable Mark Twain,which is funny as hell,I get a lot of ideas from that. Read everything you can, and find ways to make it funny. Put the "fun" in funeral if you must. Don't be afraid to offend a little (please keep out racial slurs and such nobody needs to see that unless you are making fun of the kkk or something) most great comedians slap you in the face with blunt facts. Truth is funner than fiction. Why do you think the Cobert Report and the Daily Show do well? There's a lot of truth into their satire. Speaking of satire branch out your comedy, There's more to life than sarcasm, there's pun, there's farce, there's parody,satire, play on words, just research! Get into as much classic comedy as you can and don't be afraid to make fun some of the ideas. Don't do word for word because that's stealing. And I don't want the copyright gods after you. Get on a weekly theme if you get lost. With The Edperiment I'm telling a story. With Misc Soup it's just random stuff I find funny which can be harder to think up stuff if I don't have a story or a theme. Your comics don't all have to be roflmao some of them can just give a smirk. I just did one for ed on the bliss of warm clothes out of a dryer and to an alien from a cold planet that's pretty nice. Cut out a bunch of words and put them in a cup and see what you get. Scabble games work too! Good luck!
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby timsimmons on Thu Jul 08, 2010 5:58 pm

One thing that helped me early on was discovering "beats"-- A beat is basically any moment in your story that something "happens"-- once you start getting a feel for that, you start getting an understanding of scene structure and pacing.
Take an modern comic you've got-- best that it be something mainstream: Batman, Daredevil-- something of that brand. Now, with a notebook, write down where the scenes break (where one scene moves into another)-- what I bet you'll find is that it's roughly around 11. 11 things happen in the book-- now, there are fluctuations to this rule, depending on the author-- but generally, in a modern comic, you'll find that every two pages: something happens. This is designed to keep you reading, to make you WANT to turn the page.

There's some great advice in this thread, and I'd recommend looking into all of it. See what works for you.
For me, one of the best things you can do is start analyzing the stuff you like-- get a pen and paper and jot down the storytelling you see on the page. It should help you develop your own ideas about style and structure.

Good luck!
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby weirdcrimetheater on Sun Sep 05, 2010 6:35 pm

One good exercise -- if it hasn't already been mentioned -- is to pick one of your favorite existing comics and try writing the script for it. You can learn a lot quickly this way about the mechanics of describing instructions to artists.


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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby SuperWarner on Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:47 pm

Awesome thread.

I really feel like looking outside of comics can be incredibly benificial. Look at amazing television shows, and films and novels.
The best way to get better at anything though is to have fun working, that way you're always wanting to work.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby shylune on Sun Oct 23, 2011 8:24 pm

Write down every little idea you have. Carry around a notebook with you, have some sort of ideas document in your computer, whatever. Just as soon as you think of something that's even remotely good, write it down, store it, get it out of your head and on a piece of paper. That way when you're ready to start writing in earnest, you won't ever be stuck in that place no writer wants to be, thinking: "Hmm, where should I start...I had that good idea, about that one thing..." and you can just go go go. Because starting is always the most difficult part, and if you have some pieces to put together to begin with you've already gotten a good 30% of the tough stuff out of the way. Just my two cents. Awesome thread! Awesome forum! :D
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby JustSarah on Tue Oct 25, 2011 5:13 pm

Sorry, but I have to call BS on saying its not ok to write at least one story where your trying to fix some of the mistakes another writer made. As long as its not published.

Its actually a good excersize to check to see what plotholes and other mistakes you can avoid in your writing. I certainly did it once, and I'm a better writer because of it. You just need to make sure your characters are as developed as possible.

Also, just because your writing something to repair something else, doesnt mean it can't later on be rewritten later with different writing intentions.

Basically what a person should do, is finish the story their planning on writing after using a outline for their story. (Yes, outlines are important for 1,350 page opus's.) And then rewrite, and then rewrite, and then rewrite until you cut out all the plotholes, and character development issues.

At first I thought you meant on how to write the script. In which case I generally do this:

PAGE ONE: (Panel Number) Ext/Int - Shot - Angle - Location - Time

Panel 1.

Panel 2.

Et Cetera.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby Mastermind on Wed Oct 26, 2011 12:50 am

I like the irony of that post and I agree with its hidden message.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby McDuffies on Wed Oct 26, 2011 6:21 am

Sorry I had to delete it then.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby Mastermind on Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:46 am

Oh you :roll: I wasn't talking about the spam.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby JSConner800 on Sun Feb 10, 2013 1:41 pm

I find it difficult to give writing advice because I'm all too aware of the fact that, as this topic has demonstrated, everyone has their own method that works for them, and it's really just a matter of finding that method. For instance, my method is pretty similar to DreamerBond's - I spend months just working over a story idea in my head, and I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour composing the scene in my mind before writing anything down. I wouldn't recommend that method to anyone, though, unless your brain is wired for that kind of thing. You'll probably know if it is.

There is one piece of universal advice I can give, and it's something that people take for granted all the damn time - proofread! Check that spelling and grammar. You can ruin a good script with horrific typos, and conversely, you can give a decent script some serious shine with impeccable presentation. Of course, I'm not saying all your dialogue should be spoken with "proper" English grammar. Your characters will sound stilted and samey. I'm talking about basics, like punctuation, correct spelling, and sentence flow. These things are essential to every writer out there, whether you plan out your stories with insane conspiracy-theory-style flow charts or whether you sit down with no ideas in your head and just start freewriting. Don't underestimate their value.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby djracodex on Wed Feb 27, 2013 5:25 am

This has been making its way around the internet, but I still find it incredibly helpful every time I read it.
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Re: How to get better at writing comics?

Postby McDuffies on Wed Feb 27, 2013 7:29 am

Uh-oh. I'm afraid if I follow those rules, I'll end up with "Cars".
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