All writers will know what that is. That moment the happens when you’re writing something, and you suddenly realize just what it’s all about.
Which might sound weird to a non-writer. How could you be writing something and not know what it’s about already? I know. It does seem strange, but you know what they say about best laid plans…
My process (for comics) is something like this:
- General idea: the main plot points to the story, whether it’s a series, graphic novel or one shot. These are the broad strokes.
- More detail/focus: this is where I start to break things down according to the length of the piece. If it’s a multi-part miniseries, I break down the story beats based on each issue. If it’s a graphic novel, I’ll usually break things into two or three chapters (I’m a fan of chapters in a GN, I don’t know why). If it’s a single-issue one shot, I break down the actions per page.
- Panel descriptions/dialogue: I know a lot of writers who will write out their story without the dialogue, just rough out every panel and what the action is, and then fill in the dialogue later. I do both at the same time, as a lot of my writing is very dialogue-driven, very heavy on the words.
- Second draft/tweaks: Once I have the story completed, I’ll do a spell check, re-read the dialogue a couple of times to make sure it sounds the way people actually talk, tweak anything that needs it, and I’m done. I’m a two-draft guy, unless I’m working with an editor that feels there are still adjustments to be made.
However…sometimes, in the course of writing something, the story and characters take on a life of their own, and change all your carefully laid plans. This happens to me on a regular basis. It happened with Breakneck. Breakneck was originally planned as a 3-issue miniseries, but the reception to the work was pretty good and I was able to extend it. I had written a one shot that was going to sort of cap off the miniseries, and it ended up becoming the fourth issue, but as of issue five, I realized what the overall story was, and it was nothing like what I had planned. It was better. And it was dictated by the characters and the situations I had stuck them in.
It happened again very recently with Instinct. I know I haven’t blogged about Instinct that much lately, but things are definitely proceeding nicely. Hugo is coloring the eighth and final page of the submission package, then it needs letters and then I’ll send it off for a small print run.
But I’m getting off topic…originally, when I developed the idea that became Instinct, I worked out all those broads strokes, the setup to get the characters to interact, a couple minor plot lines to run around in the background, things like that. I tightened things up and put together the 8-page script to base the submission package around.
(This is something I do on a regular basis when putting new comic ideas together – develop the idea and write out an introductory 8-page scene, something that shows just what the comic is about.)
Once work started on the art for the 8-page package, I started to slowly complete the script to the first issue. My first instinct (no pun intended) made sense to me as I wrote the remainder of that comic, until I got to page twenty (of twenty-two total pages). It was there that I introduced the second major character to the story (if you recall at all, I ran a contest on the Instinct Facebook page, where if I got 100 ‘likes’ someone would win the chance to name the female lead character, a hard-ass intelligence agent assigned to babysit our main hardcase, Dominic Arch.)
Anyway, as soon as she was introduced, the entire story changed in a heartbeat, and I suddenly knew what the story was all about. I’m not abandoning all the previous plans I had, but altering them to allow for this new central idea to take over. And manoman, it’s a good one, and I don’t normally say that about my work.
(Well, yes I do, but I am my own biggest fan.)
But seriously, as I finished writing the last page of the first issue and this new-and-now-main story line just made so much sense to me. Like everything I’d written about this idea was leading me to that point.
I don’t mean for that to sound so goddamn new age-y and shit, but sometimes these things really do take on a life of their own. I now know how every interaction between the two main characters is going to go down. I now know exactly how the book will end. I know who lives and who dies.
Unless, that is, something else pops up on me like this again, a little further down the road…
Thanks for reading. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter @mark_bertolini, or you can check out my new Tumblr at http://mark-bertolini.tumblr.com/
Do yourself a favor and go listen to “Takk” by Sigur Ros.