So week after week I find myself doing something that I never thought I’d spend so much time and effort to improve…. Writing.
Maybe it comes from my art and programming backgrounds, but I am constantly trying to find some kind of formula or exercise that will make the construction of a storyline an easier process. Now that may feel like a kind of clinical and antiseptic way of approaching what is very much an art form. But to be perfectly honest, that’s how I approach my artwork. Now granted, that isn’t how I always thought of art, but in college I learned that a well drawn character begins with a solid construction from basic shapes, so why should writing be any different?
I tend to start my writing sessions by recapping what is happening to the characters, what they might be feeling, thinking, what they want to do… just something to get the writing juices flowing. A little like a warmup sketch.
The next step is for me to write out a series of Plot Points I want to hit. I don’t try to fill up every slot in a month of comics or anything, adding in more points between them to achieve a proper pace for the story can come later. I just throw in anything I can think of that I’d like to have included in the storyline. These Plot Points can be as detailed as fully fleshed out comic scripts or as vague as a single sentence that gives a loose idea of what will eventually become a script.
At this point I look over what I’ve got and I just kinda guess at where I need to add another strip or two between the existing plot points to correct the pacing. This is one part of the process that I don’t fully understand myself. Pacing is just one of those things that I can just tell is off by looking at it. I know it’s not particularly helpful, but it’s true. Sometimes I can just tell that I need to add a strip before a change in location or subject matter, like it needs a transition… I dunno, it’s hard to explain.
This is the point when I’ll often have a hard time coming up with ideas for those filler strips. Luckily I recently discovered a writing trick that helps me come up with some new ideas. It’s a variation of brainstorming I think of it as “the what if game.” I just make a big old list of what ifs that relate to whats currently happening in the strip.
What if the car breaks down on the way to the hospital?
What if Brody discovers he’s allergic to the gel in disposable diapers?
What if Abbey goes into false labor?
What if Max breaks his arm and they all end up in the hospital together?
You get the idea…
So this list will generally generate enough options that SOMETHING in there will spark my imagination that will eventually become a joke. You know it’s been said that ideas are cheap, that the execution of those ideas are what matter. This is true for writing comic strips. I have learned that ANY situation can become a joke, you just need to find the right angle to approach it from. Humor comes from the unexpected. Present a problem or situation and then resolve it in a way your audience wont expect and you illicit a humor response.
The last thing I do when writing a strip is simplify it. Again with the writing as a formula…. This is the point where I take the joke I have and I optimize the script. I try to take the most basic essence of the comic and I try to reduce it down to as few words as possible. Editing down your scripts is important, but there is such a thing as doing it to aggressively. You still need to maintain the tension in the strip. By tension I mean you need to build up the tension in your first two or three panels and then release it on the final panel. That tension can be lost if you edit the script down too far. But that’s what I mean by optimizing…
Anyway, that’s my writing process… Hope you guys find it interesting.
I’d love to hear from you guys regarding your own writing tricks and tendencies.