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The Art and Science of Killing Characters

Article length: 1900 words (preview 400/wds)

I was recently watching the Korean Series SWEET HOME on Netflix… toward the later issues, I mean episodes, the series changed its narrative approach and started killing off many of the characters.

Oh, sorry, spoiler alert (not really you don’t know who they killed.)

Anyway, this is a trend in a lot of modern fiction, Walking Dead and Game of Thrones come to mind.

So how does some fiction get away with it, where other fiction falls to pieces because of it?

Glad you asked.

Bad fiction introduces a character, begins developing the character, creates interest between reader and character, then kills said character unexpectedly for shock value.

Don’t do this.

This is low art and bad science character murder.

You might be able to get away with it, if the other elements of your story cover up the crime, but why force extra work and responsibility on the rest of your story? They’ve already got enough to do.

Instead, hire a professional assassin from the start, and let the other elements of your story focus on their own jobs!

Ok, so to explain why you don’t want to do it dirty like this, let’s talk about the three types of characters in your story. The Hero/Protagonist, Core Cast Characters and Red Shirts/Extras

Let’s start at the top;

Hero/Protagonist

I want you to think for a second;

If you’re going to kill the hero of your story, when in the story would you do it?

Forget about a fractured narrative…

or flashback narratives…

or a story that switches protagonists half-way through…

or one guy’s telling of another guy’s story…

or whatever…

In a standard, single-hero, sequential story, when would you most likely kill the hero?

At the end, of course.

Either in the climatic battle of act 3, or possibly shortly after as part of the denouement to the climax. While we could argue a number of narrative reasons why you would do this, the core reason is simple;

The hero is the most important character of the story. The reader experiences the story through the hero.

If the hero dies early on, the hero never has time to develop.

Meaning either, the hero wasn’t actually the most important character of the story to begin with, or the reader never gets a chance to fully engage and empathize with them…

In either case, killing the hero of the story early, pretty much guarantees the story is going to fall apart.

Luckily, because this cause and effect is so fundamental to story structure, most writers never really run into a problem here. Even newbie writers get this one instinctively.

The real problems arise with Core Cast Characters.

 

Core Cast Characters

Core cast characters are the main and secondary characters supporting the hero. (Technically, potentially the protagonists themselves in an ensemble cast story, but let’s not add Vodka to the well water.)

  • Han Solo
  • Ned Stark (GOT),
  • Alfred Pennyworth (Batman)

are all examples of Core Cast characters.

Core cast characters are the ones bad fiction falls upon to kill as a means to jolt the reader. The shock value of their death is used as a gimmick to establish narrative tension; to scare the reader into thinking, “well, if they just killed that dude, who are they going to kill next? Holy crap, I better read some more.”

When applied strictly from a shock value perspective, there’s an old writing adage that warns us why it doesn’t work!

Every character is the hero in their own story.

When bad fiction kills a character for shock value, by its nature, in order to be “shocking,” it has to come before the character’s arc is completed.

It’s not the means of death itself that shocks the reader, but the timing of the death relevant to the character’s personal journey (arc) and the readers engagement to the character.

In other words, if the murder comes after the character’s natural progression to the end of their development, if the character actually reaches their climatic hero moment (see above) of facing–whatever ‘they’re suppose to be facing’–their death would not necessarily be expected, but would fundamentally be accepted. A natural end to the character’s journey (for better or worse).

Only by cutting the character’s journey short, does a character’s death really come across, at the deepest level, as shocking. (We’re not talking jump scares here, we’re talking psychological.)

And there in lies the rub.

By not allowing the character to reach their personal climax, the writer completely undermines the worth of the character and the bond between character and reader.

Murdering for shock value, literally tells the reader “Nope, this character is NOT the hero of THEIR own story. They’re a loser… irrelevant.”

Killing irrelevant characters for shock value, disengages readers.

It instantly reduces the character to a mere story mechanic and undoes all the empathy established between the reader and character. It tells the reader, their time building empathetic bonds to the characters… and even the story itself as a whole, is not respected.

A reader who empathizes with a character, who begins to build a connection with a character and then see them exterminated outside of their proper climatic conclusion, can not possibly feel satisfaction–in fact, in almost every scenario, they will feel robbed, cheated and disengaged from the rest of the story.

Readers don’t dictate the pace or direction of a story, but their effort and time is always respected by good fiction.

 

Murder Artistically. Murder Scientifically.

So when you want to murder your Core Cast characters, here’s how you do it.

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the Writer’s Logline

Article length: 2000 words (preview 500/wds)

In the Writer’s Guide to Comics I explain what a log line is.

In Storycraft to Comics, I explain the fundamental structure to a good logline and give some examples.

On NickMacari.com “Loglines: Is my story any good,” I explain the significance of the logline, today, I’m going to further the discussion of their importance, and break down the process of making a successful one.

If you’re not running a logline on your typical story build, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

For those coming to the concept for the first time, a logline is merely a single sentence summary of your story

Too often, even in the shi-shi’est of writing circles, folks abandon the idea of structure to the logline. Instead, they focus on trying to be clever, distilling the story down, not to a technical reflection of the story, but to a flashy or ambiguous hook… a marketing gimmick. Or a one-line pitch (not an actual Logline); “Rambo in space.”

Because most script writers don’t release loglines with their published work, the internet is awash with clever gimmick loglines to the most famous stories and pitches masking as genuine loglines.

Of course these are all writer interpretations.

“A Jersey kid learns karate from an L.A. janitor.” – Karate Kid

I mean it’s not wrong.

It’s just doesn’t really tell us much of anything.

A real logline, one that actually conveys the story, is what I refer to as the Writer’s Logline, and it’s the one you’re here to master.

The Writer’s Logline includes a few specific points.

From Storycraft;

“In strict writing terms, loglines are stated in a single sentence. We capture the story goal and summary with a bit more detail, anchoring it with the main character, their goal, the force working against them, and the stakes if they fail. Stand out loglines usually incorporate a sense of irony. They come across with a clever, fresh angle, which like the high-concept, immediately drums forth visuals and potential.”

Only a writer intimately familiar with his story can write a proper Writer’s Logline, and there in lies its supreme power.

The single sentence summary, forces the writer to distill the story down to its key essence… and when written with purpose, reveals the story’s CORE STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS.

I snatched this one off the internet;

CASABLANCA

Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Let’s put it to the test;

  • Story goal/summary
  • Main character,
  • MC goal,
  • The force working against them
  • Stakes
  • Irony.
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Writing HORROR

Article length: 8619 words (preview 2000/wds)

Put up some coffee and grab a notebook.

You’ll need both to tackle this 8500 word article, but if you have the courage to do it, you’ll be writing some of the best horror you’ve ever written in your life.

Horror covers a lot of territory and can be broken down into a number of subgenres, each with distinct considerations. I have a passion for most of them, but I’m not going to try and tackle all of them here.

For the focus of this article, we’re going to discuss what I consider the quintessential horror story, which stems not from the origin of horror itself, not from Walpole, Shelly or Poe (all of whom are profound in their influence), but from Stephen King, Clive Barker, John Carpenter; primarily stories from the 70’s & 80’s that directly gave birth to horror as an industry we recognize today.

Horror is such a fundamental part of being human (chew on that for a while), we all know what it is, but sometimes it’s a bit hard to articulate into words. The most commonly held definition of horror is that it’s story that scares or elicits a sense of dread.

While both true, I expect a little more from horror fiction, I think it’s deserved it as a genre, and like to define it as;

Expectation of an unimaginable worst case scenario.

Notice I did not simply say, “Expectation of a worst case scenario.” If it’s simply a worst case scenario, we know or presume what that scenario is… if it’s an UNIMAGINABLE worst case scenario, that means we as readers, recognize that we don’t know what it is. That the scenario about to unravel before us, while clearly bad, is beyond anything we can expect.

This expectation of the unexpected is where true horror lives.

Genuine Horror always surprises us, subverting and exceeding our expectations far more than we could have imagined.

In other words, we know going in, the vampire story is going to have vampires drinking peoples’ blood, and the zombie story will have lots of zombies being shot in their heads and burned alive (well undead), but we expect that these things are going to happen in a horrific manner we haven’t seen before.

After all, nothing is ever quite as horrific once it’s been seen.

It is the fiction that breaks beyond what we expect, that enters new territory, that truly terrifies us.

Which coincidentally, is why so many works of horror fiction fall flat, because they simply never go beyond what we assume is coming in one way or another… or have simply seen many times before.

Hold these truths tight when you develop the core concept to your story.

Either innovate with something completely new, OR, if you go down a familiar path, bring a fresh new take on it. Doing the same that’s been done before, in horror, is the fast track to an ineffective forgettable story.

 

Fear

The king emotion of the Horror story, of course, is fear.

You may find it valuable for your horror writing to understand why readers find fear so alluring. We all know fear is a primal, maybe THE MOST primal emotion of them all… but why are we so drawn to it in fiction (well, at least some of us, my girlfriend hates horror flicks–it’s something I still cope with daily.)

Back on point.

Personally, I believe that human existence has always existed intimately with danger. For most of our species’ history, there were surely more questions than answers to much of this danger. So unexpected death and the unknown (to which we use our imagination to somehow make sense of things) are hardwired into the human condition.

Today, most of us live fairly safe lives, under the impression that humanity has a lot of, if not most of, the answers.

Again this is only my personal interpretation on the subject here; but I think this disconnect leaves us with a macabre sense that something is lacking or missing from our lives.

Of course, nobody I know on Facebook, wants to be eaten by a large predator… And I’d guess throughout all of human history, the folks who did get eaten by large predators, were pretty upset about it.

But the point is, by exposing ourselves to this missing element, perhaps it helps us feel “more complete.” I think Nine Inch Nails might have said it best; “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real…”

Taking a journey into horror fiction presents one other very important element on a fundamentally psychological level.

Only by facing fear, do we find courage.

We can tell others and ourselves all day long how courageous we are, but until we’re actually tested and live through something, it’s all talk.

So not only do horror stories give us a connection to a dangerous horrific side of life, most of us are no longer attached to, but it gives us a chance to prove we have the courage to face that dangerous horrific part of life… and survive.

In my travels, I’ve found that horror fans are always more adventurous, willing to try new things, accepting of challenges, and at the end of the day, some of the most courageous people I know.

Imagine that?

We can’t proceed any further without mentioning the second emotion closely tied to the Horror genre;

Disgust

Since disgust often travels hand-in-hand with Fear when it comes to horror, I refer to it as the Queen emotion of the Horror story.

Disgust is more closely associated with anger than fear.

Disgust supports our macabre sense of Fear as we discussed above, in the sense that by seeing it unfold before us, we are immediately reminded of our appreciation for our safe lives.

“Ok, danger, death, and unknown… I see you… and, now that I think about it… I’m good. Sitting behind a computer desk all day not getting my head smashed like a rotten grape, yeah this life is fine.”

Disgust removes any romantic element of death.

As disgust triggers closer to anger, when we are totally disgusted, we want it to stop with more urgency. That is to say, if you read a slasher story, and every time the killer killed someone the writing cut away and left out the gory descriptions, you might grow a little distant or indifferent… but when you see and experience the grotesquerie first-hand, an urgency develops for it (and by proxy, the source responsible for it) to be stopped.

While torture porn, splatter films, and hard-core gore stories are always thrown in the horror genre, I would make an argument that disgust alone does not make a horror story. While disgust is potent, useful, and supportive, fear makes horror. Period.

Alright campers, we’ve got a fundamental understanding of what horror is and the underlying emotions that control it.

Sharpen up the machetes; grab your crucifix and let’s breakdown the essential elements into writing stories that will scare the shit out of your readers.

 

Terrified Characters

It’s near impossible to have an effective horror story if the protagonists aren’t scared themselves.

Always remember that readers empathize and live vicariously through the characters. If the characters are not afraid, if the cast shows courage, no matter how effective your atmosphere and no matter how hard you hit the other elements discussed in this article, your readers will not feel fear–they will be bolstered by the confidence and courage the characters exude.

This concept leads us to our golden rule;

Where the MAF performs violence, we generate fear and horror.
Where the Hero performs violence, we generate action/violence.

So while, of course, your heroes may express moments of courage, especially toward the end of the story, in the third act where they move toward conquering the MAF, the more you push the source of violence onto your heroes, the further away you move from horror to action/violence.

For maximum fear transference to the reader, keep your heroes terrified as much as possible, and where they find the courage and confidence to stand against the horror, never let them do it with 100% conviction. Instead, even when they find courage, make it clear, they are still terrified, using every ounce of strength to stand strong despite their intense fear!

 

Survival Horror

Survival horror is a subgenre first coined from the Resident Evil game series (as far as I recall offhand), where the protagonist is trapped alone in a mansion and left to face an undead horde with extremely limited resources.

In truth, ALL horror is about survival.

We’ll talk more about this in “stakes” later, but make no mistake, in genuine horror stories the character’s always face a struggle for survival.

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Writing DRAMA

Article length: 4100 words (preview 1000/wds)

In Defining Genre, we already defined the parent genre, Drama as;

  • more serious in tone
  • focusing on character arc development and theme
  • digging deep into the humanity behind the story
  • encompassing not one primary human emotion (as with other genres), but many, or all of them.

In Getting Drama on Point, I gave some practical general tips in establishing drama in any written work. Today, in this first article on the “workings of genre”, we’re going to look more at depth at the parent genre.

Before we get started, let’s digress for a moment;

Character Driven vs. Plot Driven

Read a dozen different blogs on this topic, and you’ll get a dozen different answers on this. Some of them a bit more off than others. The truth is, many folks make it more complicated than it needs to be. After all the answer is literally right in the title.

Here’s the crux of it;

Character driven is just how it sounds, the story is literally, driven by the characters… and when we say the characters, we primarily mean the main character. More specifically, the main character(s) are more often the catalyst for their own problems/obstacles in the story. (The external manifests from their internal.)

Marky Marks Gambler movie is a perfect example that comes to mind. The dude is a gambling addict and as soon as he gets money, he runs to the casino and gambles it all away. When he meets the love interest in the story, his addiction takes priority, he puts it ahead of the girl, and creates a further mess of things. At every turn, his own personal issues manifest into the major problems/obstacles/events of the story.

Contrast this to plot driven, where the source of problems/obstacles are more often initiated outside the realm of the main character’s influence. (The external manifests from the external.)

When Luke is chilling on Tatooine, he’s got nothing to do with Vader capturing Leia. In fact, we can go further back, and say, Luke had nothing to do with being born as Vader’s son. These external problems/obstacles/events arrive irregardless of the problems Luke faces as a person.

So in a character driven story, the character makes a mess of things, then has to deal with his mess. In a plot driven story, life makes a mess of things and the character has to deal with the mess. Notice there is always a mess… and we get to see the character’s internal struggle whichever way conflict arises.

In both of the definitions, I specifically use the term “more often” because the truth is much of fiction is both character driven, and plot driven at the same time. Meaning at times the characters are driving the bus, other times, the plot is.

We only “define” stories as character driven or plot driven, when the clear majority of bus driving is done by one or the other.

While we could analyze this topic further, producing more specific rules for every possible version of story, the amount of fiction outside this presented definition of character driven vs. plot driven is pretty small. It pays, to keep it simple.

Before we get back to all the points we’re going to discuss about writing the Drama, note that by understanding the difference between these two approaches to story, we can apply this focus to one specific area for big results;

Make KEY TURNS your character’s fault

Particularly;

  • The 1st Act Turn
  • The Midpoint Turn
  • The 2nd Act Turn

While it’s not 100% required to do this to create an effective story, (again, you can let the plot drive the bus at times) anchoring these three key turns of the story, to your character (or more specifically your character’s flaw), instead of some outside forces, will push the story deep into Drama territory.

Ok, so now that we have a clearer idea of character driven vs. plot driven, let’s get back to it.

First and foremost, writing the drama is about characters and their relationships.

This may sound obvious.

And of course, to some degree, all writing is about the characters and their relationships. But where other genres may take advantage of characters and their relationships, for the drama, it is the primary vehicle of the story.

It is, after all, certainly plausible to enjoy the spectacle script, for the thing(s) it makes a spectacle of; watching a boxing movie for the boxing, a kung-fu flick for the kung-fu, and a war movie for the clash of heavy weaponry, none of these movies outside the drama genre require an in-depth understanding of what personal sacrifices the boxer made, what personal demons the martial artist struggles with, or how the soldier manning the 50 caliber gets along with his drunkard brother.

So the question simply becomes; how do we capture characters and their relationships effectively enough to carry a script?

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Violet Sun Outline

Below is the Comprehensive Outline for an original sci-fi horror story I wrote. You may notice in this 8000 word, 38 page outline, there is a distinct current of the protagonist running from one point to another, with a specific series of highly defined goals.

Violet Sun was originally conceived as a story to a video game (never published), with a focus on level-by-level game play progression. Even the main alien antagonists were built with a game-play progression in mind.

I’ve always loved this story; from the religious vs science undertones, the zealot Minister villain, the crumbling Earth solar system, and insane escalation toward the ending…

I’ve pitched this story as a mini-series to a publisher that expressed interest (but never followed up) and discussed it with a couple of different comic book artists. Nothing’s come of it yet, but…

It’s high on my priority list to bring to life in comic format some day.

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Focused Writing

Article length: 1300 words (preview 400/wds)

In a recent podcast I was talking about how a writer doesn’t get a chance to explain their work.

When a reader or audience engages with your writing, your work stands or falls on its own legs. Period.

Often, when I give editorial comments to newer writers on why something doesn’t work, they’ll try and defend their writing.

“Well the hero does that in this scene, because this, this and this.”

The minute you have to explain it, you’ve failed. Clear, effective writing requires no explanation.

So even if your argument is valid, you’ve still failed because you did not express your elements effectively enough that they need no explanation.

This concept circles back to one of writing’s most fundamental covenants, something you hear me say all the time;

“At any given moment, you must know the narrative significance of what you’re trying to express. Whether it’s at the act, sequence, scene, page, panel, dialogue bubble level, single line, or even word.”

With this level of constant awareness, you can then keep three considerations in mind at all times;

  • Intention to Express. Or simply, Intent.
  • Execution of Intention. Or simply, Execution.
  • Effectiveness of Execution. Or simply Effectiveness.

Keeping IEE in mind, allows focused writing. There are no complicated tricks here. The hardest part is merely taking the time and effort. Let’s break it down;

As an example, I’m gonna reverse engineer a panel from my new series Peerless.

Panel 1

EXT. SHIP AT SEA – DAY

KIARA leans against the deck railing of a large ship on a choppy sea. She holds a well-worn letter in her hands, a letter she’s read many times and contemplates reading again while she stares off across the water, with a distant, brooding look on her face. Her hair rustles in the sea wind.

CAP           36 hours earlier.

Think you can guess what the intent is?

Well, this one is too tricky for you to guess, you can guess the obvious one, but there are actually 2 equally important narrative expressions in this panel; the second is only understood within the context of an upcoming panel, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Let me explain;

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Robot Kids Outline

In my book on Story Discovery and Story Structure, “Storycraft for Comics,” I take a story from Concept, all the way through to Skeletal Outline, the first of the two-part outline method I teach.

Here is the completed second part or, Comprehensive Outline for that story.

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Developing Effective Mystery

Article length: 2200 words (preview 500/wds)

The primary goal of any good story is to engage the reader.

You’ve probably heard me say countless times before, “Predictability is the death knell of good fiction.” If your reader knows what happens next, there’s a good chance they won’t continue reading, or if they do manage to press on, they’ll be distanced or otherwise disengaged.

A fundamental method to engage readers in any story, is to lure them with mystery and suspense.

[We’ll tackle suspense in another article]

The clinical definition of mystery is; something difficult or impossible to understand or explain… But this is only half the accurate definition when it comes to writing.

Because in fiction, mundane, irrelevant, superfluous or minor elements all lack mystery, no matter how difficult or impossible to understand you make them.

So while “how the bag of coffee beans got from the bottom shelf to the top shelf, with all the roommates denying moving them,” might be mysterious in real-life, in a story, it’s a distracting waste of time.

To establish mystery in fiction make sure the element is interesting by itself, important & relevant, and contains significant narrative drive.

Also, “impossible…” impossible is a bad word in most instances of establishing mystery. I’ll explain why later, but for now, take my word for it, which leaves us with the following more accurate definition for establishing mystery in comics;

An interesting, highly relevant, difficult to understand or explain element with high narrative drive.

Let’s break it down.

Someone has been found murdered, stabbed in the heart, outside the local comic shop. The only clue is a footprint in the mud outside the back door of the shop. It’s a size 10 sneaker.

There are actually two areas of potential mystery here. The first is the murder itself. The second is the murderer.

I was originally going to unpack them both, but for the sake of room in the article, let’s focus on just the murder itself.

Since the murder was committed by a stabbing through the heart, there is really nothing difficult to understand here (if the murder remains what it is at face value-meaning no new additional reveals pop up that suddenly alter the understanding of the killing).

Next, we look to interesting. A stabbing through the heart is not totally boring or commonplace, but as far as crimes go, there’s really not much to it, so I’d say; it’s not very interesting.

The last two are hard to judge without context, so let’s give it a shot making it up as we go along.

Highly relevant. It turns out in our story, four teens have disappeared from the comic shop in recent days. All from wealthy families tied to politics. Our murder victim in the alley, is a middle-aged homeless guy with a bad drug habit who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, which makes him irrelevant.

Lastly, narrative drive. This is closely associated and often confused with relevancy. Truth is, if the element is not relevant at all, it can’t have narrative drive. BUT, here’s the twist, if the element IS relevant, it could still be fumbled and NOT have narrative drive.

Remember Narrative Drive means progressing the story.

Let’s rewind a bit and instead say;

The murder victim is the sister to one of the missing teens. That’s no mere unconnected coincidence, that’s a potential bombshell. But narrative drive isn’t about potential, it’s about action and momentum. If the sister’s murder doesn’t springboard the story in new direction, if doors leading to new discovery don’t fly open, it’s a highly relevant element void of narrative drive.

Ok, let’s take a crack at rewriting our story, hitting proper mystery points;

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Heroes, Antiheroes, Villains and More

Article length: 2700 words (preview 700/wds)

We all know what each of these character types are and how they’re integral to genuine story, but what if I told you, all three of these are actually the same character type… only on different points of the same scale.

Mind blown?

Let’s get into it.

With the exception of some abstract Buddhist zen-like mental kung fu (the best action is no course of action kinda thing), heroes, antiheroes and villains are defined by their actions. Ok, really, all characters are defined by their actions, but broad generalizations do apply to this specific group.

In essence, when you say you’re going to create a hero, antihero, or villain, you’re really saying, you’re going to use an archetype template for the core nature of the character.

Character Archetype p61 Story craft for comics;

“Character archetypes are “genres” for characters. If I tell you I’ve got a horror comic, slasher script, your mind automatically opens a drawer of preconceived notions. You sit to read the script with expectations.
Character archetypes are exactly the same thing. Classifications of traits that define a role—universally accepted roles that transcend culture, creed and nationality.”

White Spectrum

At the top of the scale we have the HERO.

Someone concerned primarily with the welfare of others and who acts in a manner that puts their welfare ahead of his own. In fact, he’s likely to sacrifice himself or his personal desires, for the benefit of others. Heroes generally have a high sense of moral ground, distinguishing clearly between right and wrong, and following this morality without wavering.

If you want to be a good writer, dare I say a great writer, you should always look to Robocop to guide you.

Robocop’s prime directives were;

  1. Serve the public trust.
  2. Protect the innocent.
  3. Uphold the law.
  4. Any attempt to arrest a senior officer of OCP results in shutdown.

Clearly, everyone knows not to arrest a senior OCP officer, so let’s forget about that one.

Serving the public trust, means adhering to fundamental principles of ethical behavior. Ones that place the character’s loyalty to the law of land, and principles above private gain.

Heroes work within and uphold the law. They recognize the symbolic and inspirational weight of their actions. While they often have the power to act outside of the law, they don’t, because working within the accepted system is–the right thing to do.

I’ve saved the protect the innocent for last on purpose, as this is a real benchmark of the character template. We can even be more specific than simply saying “protect” and say heroes do not harm the innocent.

A hero can not intentionally harm an innocent… and if he somehow did, he would suffers serious psychological consequences from the action conflicting with his core nature.

If you’re reading this article, you’re already aware of the importance and necessity of a well-developed character arc. Hero character flaws (the beginning part of the arc) are not dark in nature. While they need to be potent, the flaws heroes wrestle with do not stop them, or skew their perspective so far to the side, that they can’t function as heroes.

  • Noble to a fault.
  • Arrogant.
  • Always taking on everyone else’s problems.

These are the kind of character flaws and problems heroes deal with.

 

Grey Spectrum

In the middle of the scale we find the ANTIHERO. Someone who concerns himself primarily with the welfare of… well, himself.

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Effective Loose Scripting

Article length: 2400 words (preview 600/wds)

When folks hire me to write a script, I don’t like to take shortcuts.

Genuine story is freakin’ complex. I get a solid page rate, and you can bet I’m going to leverage my experience and expertise at every single opportunity, and bring my client maximum value for the money they spend with me.

For this reason, I’m not partial to loose scripting.

Ok fine, simple can be hard. In fact, at the highest level, I’ll admit, you could have some genius level loose script that expresses story brilliantly. Leonardo da Vinci probably could have pulled it off, if he was into comics.

But let’s call a spade a spade, fact of the matter is, most writers go loose when the material covers content of lower narrative drive… another way of saying; material that’s less important (or less interesting to them), so it doesn’t matter how their artist conveys it.

This alone should be a red flag to the conscious writer.

Material that isn’t too important, should almost ALWAYS be cut, leaving more room for the material that is important.

No matter how you justify it, loose scripting passes a lot of the narrative work to the artist. Writing for the last 20+ years I reckon I’ve developed a pretty good eye for story. I personally, tend to run a tight ship and like to keep closer tabs on my narratives.

Don’t get me wrong, comics are absolutely a collaborative medium

but the writer’s initial take on a script, is the stage 1 rocket fuel. The more you put in, the greater the chance to break orbit when you launch.

All that said, you may find yourself wanting or needing to write loose on a particular script.

Ultimately, writing loose means you outline instead of script. Listing core beats, instead of unpacking them with detail.

The easy and quintessential example, is the fight scene.

Pages 14-20

Thing One and Thing Two fight. Thing Two wins.

That’s about as “Marvel Method” as it gets.

Since I’ve already discussed fight scenes extensively here on Story to Script, let’s breakdown a different example.

Let’s write a 10,000 BC caveman/dinosaur comic. We’ll focus in on the bit where Rocko and his small tribe have to cross a vast expanse to get to the mysterious obelisk that can heal the members of his group ailing from an unknown, deadly disease.

At some point you might want to condense a description to cover an entire page or specific scene, which in this case, spans 3 panels. (This panel(s) description is actually modeled after a bit I recently edited on a client’s work.)

Panel 1, Panel 2, Panel 3

Rocko and his family travel miles in search of food and water. Beneath prehistoric birds soaring against azure skies, passing through desert savannas speckled with trees, boulders and scrawny shrubbery. The cavemen grow more tired in each panel. In the last of the sequence one of the tribe spot a tiny river in the distance.

As I pointed out the wrong way of writing loose at the beginning of the article, we can look at the inverse of that, to find the right way to script loose, or in other words;

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