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Story to Script Posts

Scripting an Outside Outline

At the end of the Working Writer’s Guide to Comics and Graphic Novels I go through the main method I use to write a script directly from a comprehensive outline…

It’s fairly straight forward and the most efficient method I know–at least when it comes to working on your own projects. That is to say when you’ve developed the outline yourself, have a good grasp of where the story is at any given moment and have some degree of flexibility with the page count (or at least, ample time for editorial passes to make the content fit).

As a freelance comic writer, there may come a time when you are required to work directly from a client’s outline.

In these instances you’re likely to find yourself under more stringent restrictions with specific direction such as; “Take exactly what I’ve written in my outline and turn it into a XX page graphic novel…”

Tackling a project like this with the process I outline in the guide will certainly still work, but it may not be the most efficient method. I present the following method as a strong alternative method.

I’m going to showcase material from a Manga outline I wrote for a client a while back, working title “Wolf.” Like the process explained in the Writer’s guide, I’m only going to focus in on a small section of the outline… It’s not important that you don’t have context for the story–just pay attention to the process.

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Symbolism

Symbolism is an advanced level of subtext that can be applied to virtually any aspect of story telling. Adding it to a script pushes your brawler of a script to the next higher weight class.

The technical definition of symbolism is as follows:

Symbolism (sym•bol•ism) noun: Putting ten pounds of meaning in a one pound bag.

In Storycraft I mention the core types of symbolism;

  • visual symbolism
  • symbolic names
  • symbolic actions
  • symbolic situations.

When you sit down to add symbolism to your story, the first thing you need to clarify is; what do you want to symbolize? Sounds like a question from Captain Obvious, but really, if you don’t know what you want to express, how can you find a symbol for it?

And more to the point, when writing a story, there will be a multitude of elements you “could” symbolize… In order to see the forest for the trees, you need to stop and recognize the key elements worthy of deeper subtext/emphasis and…

How are these expressions working to serve the narrative?

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Throughlines: Threads of the Story Tapestry

Ok, so you’ve got a futuristic, dystopic, anime-inspired, story idea for a script, with male and female MC leads… They start off cold towards each other and eventually fall in love with one another. You’ve got that much and the overall concept in your head, so you figure you can get to writing.

Lots of folks take this approach.

If you’re a bit more organized, you may even throw together a spiffy comprehensive outline and nail down a few specific scenes that capture the relationship.

But what if you’re not exactly sure how it needs to play out… what if you’re having trouble developing this love arc when you sit down to write the outline?

This is where handy dandy throughlines can really help organize and pull together a story.

If you’ve read Storycraft For Comics, you’re familiar with the term Throughline;

“Throughline is originally a theater term developed to give actors a broader understanding of their motivation at any given moment in a performance… not just looking at the present moment, but looking at the decisions and materials that lead to the moment, and the repercussions afterwards.”

In essence a throughline is a mini-outline.

A closer look at a specific element, tracking its changes over the course of the entire story.

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Contracts 101 – [Download]

When working with intellectual properties, hiring freelancers and getting paid as a freelancer, you must use contracts on all substantial jobs.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I’m not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination. Any advice or documents you find here (or anywhere on the site) should only be used as a starting point for your own research and due diligence. Hire a real lawyer before you sign anything or exchange money.

That said, I’m gonna post some of the documents I use from project to project, explain how I run my own stuff and my philosophy on contracts. You may find it works just fine for you or you may decide you require something significantly more robust and a lawyer on retainer (don’t say I didn’t warn you).

Most people have big misconceptions when it comes to contracts, especially folks in comics.

Contracts are merely capturing a negotiation and agreement in writing.

The basis of any negotiation is for each side to get what it wants. Primarily when dealing with comics, that’s gonna be:

The publisher wants to spend the least amount of money, for the most and best quality work. The freelancer wants to receive the most amount of money, for the least amount of work (work equating to time).

  • First and foremost contracts are about putting in writing what people are required to do and what they’re gonna get paid for doing it.
  • Deadlines/milestones both, for when the work is due and when the money is due, are also key components to a contract.
  • Last of the major contract considerations are rights of the work. Rights to work equal value, which potentially equals more money to whoever holds them at some point down the line. (But to call a spade a spade, most times on indie IPs, rights to work adds up to a whole lot of bupkis.)

Of course there are tons of other considerations, contracts can get insanely complex, but those are the main ones you’re most likely to be concerned with.

The Truth About Contracts

Contracts are not magical documents that bind their signees like a bottle binds a genie. Anyone can sign a contract then fuck all, do whatever they please (believe me it happens all the time).

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12 Tips for Spectacle Scripts

Computer says Spectacle is “a visually striking performance or display”.

In comic writing (story) terms, it is a narrative that while may contain all the elements of genuine story, does not fully develop them, relying on superficial/surface elements (action, visual eye-candy, gratuitous genre convention, obligatory scenes and tropes) to engage the audience.

Often spectacle fiction is particularly weak in thematic expression (Master Theme), character development and plot. And often serves as the vehicle to showcase unchanging (non-arcing) protagonists, like James Bond, Indiana Jones, Mad Max and the like…

I’m not really a fan of pure spectacle fiction, as I feel theres always room to add substance to a story.

That said, I am a big fan of genre fiction, Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror being three of the primary genres I work in. Because many elements and practices of writing good spectacle overlap into genuine story, understanding some of the mechanics of spectacle will serve to improve your writing whether or not you embark on a spectacle heavy script.

Ok, grab your mocha and let’s get into it…

The spectacle hurdle.

Without the real substance of genuine story, all the superficial elements are pushed front and center. Instead of taking the time to assemble a fine wardrobe, offer an intellectual greeting and discuss what makes you tick, you’re stripping off your story’s clothes in the middle of gym class and screaming as loud as you can “Yo, check me out!” (gratutious 80’s movie reference)

Only above average content survives this level of scrutiny.

Plainly put, if your material isn’t above average, you’re sunk.

So if you’re about to set sail into spectacle comic writing waters, you better put down the rum, and look to the horizon with every ounce of objectivity and honesty.

The waters of genuine story telling are forgiving, the seas of spectacle take no prisoners.

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6 Things Done Best In Comics

Comics are an incredible medium, art from the in-between space. Visual like movies, yet driven by words. Pictures powered by prose.

Having read comics for over 35 years, I’ve seen the trends come and go. Lots of folks say the medium has grown up. That today’s audiences are more sophisticated, their tastes more eclectic.

I’d agree that there’s definitely more people creating comics today, than the days when Stan Lee and Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson first started.

But I often wonder if many modern creators jump into the medium with a full appreciation of what it represents and where it came from. Or if they just look to comics as a quick fix—a production of their IP quicker than a novel and far cheaper than motion pictures.

Whatever the current cultural status of the medium and whatever the future holds, you’ve landed on this article of mine today… and today we’re gonna stop and take some time to discuss what makes a comic unique. We’re gonna reflect and analyze the medium itself, and see if we can’t grasp the concepts that thrust a comic toward its true and full potential.

Originally, I wanted to title this article something like “What you can do in comics, but not in the movies”. But in the last bunch of years, computer graphics have really come along. I’d argue that there is little (if anything) you can’t do in movies these days.

Subsequently, I gravitated toward the title, “What you can do in comics a hell of a lot cheaper than you can in the movies”. This works for a lot of what we’re gonna talk about, but to simplify it, I threw away any kind of stringent comparative format, we’re just gonna focus on the core strengths of the comic medium, bouncing around with comparisons to its sister mediums (movies and novel fiction) as it fits the discussion.

As a comic is a collaborative effort between 6 distinct roles: Writer, Editor, Penciler, Inker, Colorist and Letterer, the lines of a comic’s core strength do tend to blur among them. For the purposes of this article (as always on this site and in my books) we will be focusing from the writer’s perspective.

Lastly, before we get into it, this is gonna be one of those long articles, appx. 4000 words, (I actually think I’m gonna start referring to them as “epic” in my newsletter so people know they need to grab a full cup of coffee before reading). Today, I’m gonna get down the main ones that jump out in my brain.

All the ones I forget… I’ll come back and add them in at a later time (I’ve already got a follow up list).

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Comic Pacing Decompression and Compression

In the Working Writer’s Guide to Comics and Graphic Novels I have a section dedicated to pacing. I cover the basics there, discussing the relevancy of panel counts, word counts and the content itself. One of the things I didn’t discuss is the more advanced concept of Decompression vs. Compression.

Whether or not you’re familiar with these two terms, if you’ve written any comics, you’ve already been implementing them.

As comics are not a complete look at an entire narrative, but rather glimpses of the most important (and hopefully entertaining) parts, comic scripting at its heart IS compression. Taking ten pounds of story and stuffing it into a one pound container.

Let’s look at the following scene breakdowns (not panel breakdowns).

Scene 1:

Our cop hero is transporting a criminal. The criminal gets loose in the back and has a wicked fight with our hero. The car crashes, the fight continues outside. Our hero gets splattered with acid, burnt with a flame thrower and his clothes are mostly torn from his body, before the criminal escapes.

Scene 2: Our hero now cleaned up and bandaged, walks into his captain’s office where he’s quickly chewed out for screwing up big time.

There are distinct visual changes between the scenes. Our hero is no longer covered in acid (it must have been washed off somewhere). He secured bandages and applied them to his burns. And found (bought, stole or by some other means procured) a change of clothes. None of which is shown to the reader. The reader (who’s paying attention) knows this all happened because the elements have visually changed. From scene 1, to scene 2, the story’s been compressed.

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The Cost of Making Comics

The following article discusses the costs associated with the creative end of comic production, budget brackets, and both successful and unsuccessful methods to reduce these costs.

Before we get into it, I’d like to thank you for purchasing membership to the site and paying for this article. I hope everyone that visits my site recognizes it as a community for comic writers… as such, your support directly allows me the time to put out more articles and engage the community. Thank you.

It’s kind of ironic that my first paid membership article is going to be a very rough, uncomfortable one for many of you. A lot of people in the public forums don’t like me for my bold opinions. As I’ve stated elsewhere, a lot of my own clients grit their teeth when they receive feedback from me. Though they appreciate it at the end, it’s never easy for anyone to get tough love and honest feedback.

I recently finished reading Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose… You might have seen the World War 2, HBO mini-series of it. Good book, good series. So the guy who trained Easy Company (the main group of soldiers of the story) was a guy named Herbert Sobel. A real hard ass who everyone in the company hated. But after they went through World War 2, lots of guys had a different opinion on him. One said (off the top of my head) “Sobel made Easy Company. His hard-ass training saved many of our lives in combat.”

Business (and comics) is war.

You may not take a bullet or have to jump out of a plane, but when your hard earned finances are on the line, it might feel just the same.

I’m hard on you boys (and girls, of course) because I want you guys to make it through. I want you to be successful. And telling you everything is peachy, not letting you know what the real world is like out there, while that approach might get me more likes on social media, it won’t get you any closer to your dreams.

So, How much does it cost to make a comic?

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Conversation Vs. Dialogue

In Writing Natural Dialogue, I discuss a number of focal points to do just that. In this article we’re gonna discuss an important common problem and dive into a more advanced approach of structuring dialogue.

Understanding the difference between conversation and dialogue is key to good writing (especially in comics).

I see a lot of scripts these days where writers try to be uber-stylish and inject their scripts with natural sounding conversation. I call this the Tarantino effect. And it doesn’t work in comics.

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Outline Development – (*updated*)

If you’re not running your writing with an outline, you’re either a genius talent or a lazy bastard… either way, I don’t like you.

You probably didn’t even bother to read my article Outline Basics. Shame, shame, shame, I know your name.

For the rest of us hard-working mortals, outlining is a critical step in the creative process. As I discuss in the above article (and Storycraft for Comics) outlines arrive first, in the simplified Skeletal form (basically a beat sheet) and second, in a more Comprehensive long form.

Since Skeletal outlines are fundamentally shorthand notes, there’s not too much to go over there as far as how you put down your details (the structural points themselves are the important part—different conversation)… but when you move into Comprehensive outlining… it’s crucial to work efficiently.

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