Knowing Your Artist’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Okay, first, my apologies for posting absolutely nothing over the past two weeks. It has not been fruitless. I have been talking with [redacted] about a secret project, writing scripts for an untitled project, and writing the sixth eight-page script for Obscurat. Add to that studying up on the various languages of the internet for a web development and implementation project, and you have one exhausted me. It is fun stuff, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Good stress.

On to the topic at hand: Knowing your artist’s strengths and weaknesses. This is a vital area which cannot be stressed hard enough. Some artists can draw amazing hands. Others are really good at facial expressions. Some still can make absolutely any body shape look alluring and sexy. On the other end of the spectrum, some artists cannot handle perspective very well, or maybe they just can’t get the bone structure of the hands quite right, etc.

This can kill a good story, but as a writer, it is our job to adjust the story to the strengths of our artist (provided we are lucky enough to know who we are working with before writing the script…).

If you know your artist spends 40 hours a week practicing hands, and loves doing it, write panels that focus on hand actions. A panel describing your character’s hand grasping desperately at the edge of a building, barely holding on with two or three fingers might set your artist into to super-duper-awesome mode.

If your artist is a master of body shapes, give them all body types to draw. The world is not filled with athletic people with perfect forms, and while your main character may be just that, everyone else doesn’t have to be. Write a fat guy into the story. Or an anorexic lady. Or a person with a bone disease that cause them to appear misshapen or mangled.

By giving your artist something that they love to do, they will enjoy working on the project, and thus, they will work better and harder at what they do.

For their weaknesses, the opposite holds true. Most artists, deep down, know where they fall short. And though they may not admit to a weakness, their subconscious distaste for working in the realm of that weakness will make their overall work look worse.

That’s all for now, folks. Given the influx of “crap to do” I may change the title of this blog to “Weekly Beatings,” but we shall see. Until next time, keep writing every day!


Fun and the Awesome

First, there is something awesome (that I can’t talk about since it isn’t final yet) that has been taking a bit of my time. This is why I didn’t post yesterday. As I’ve mentioned before, I get distracted, but sometimes it’s good. This is one such time.

That said, I have to get back to…the awesome thing I can’t talk about (almost slipped up).

Don’t worry, though, I’m writing everyday. You?


How Spreadsheets Saved the Day

“Five words that have never been spoken together,” you ask? Probably, but they are true words. Although I am an advocate of notecards (I’ve been known to stuff blank ones in every pocket, “just in case”) when I sit down to bang away on the poor keyboard, notecards can be a bit unwieldy.

“But spreadsheets? BORING!”

Yup. Definitely. However, they are an excellent tool. You can plot out your entire story, keep a running list of your characters (including biographical data), store all those crazy notes you have on notecards, etc., all within spreadsheets.

Consider this: A story, at its basest, is a list of events. A character, sans flourish, is a list of descriptions. A spreadsheet is a list of lists.

“Why the hell didn’t you mention this in that other article?”

Every writer has their quirks, secrets, and stuff they forget to mention. This is one of those things I forgot to mention. I was reminded of it when I pulled a wad of what used to be notecards out of my pocket. I then remembered what was on them had already been put in a spreadsheet. I hope. I firmly believe in digital redundancy as a means of laziness (multiple copies means I don’t have to be rewrite if one goes “boom”), so the odds are in my favor. Hooray for Google Docs and Box.net!


#C2E2

The Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo is underway, which means instead of writing I’m watching interviews on Newsarama’s live feed and wishing I had a slab of Giordano’s pizza.


Challenges

There are quite a few challenges out there that can help you improve your output and your storytelling abilities. Here are my favorites:

Scott McCloud (Author of “Understanding Comics”) has some excellent challenges on his site, including the infamous “24-hour comic.” The 24-hour comic concept is brilliant as it forces the writer and artist to cut out the extraneous crap. The team has to finish one page an hour over a continuous 24-hour period. Nap if you must, but that just wastes time!

Script Frenzy/NaNoWriMo are excellent tests of ones writing mettle. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenges you to write a 50,000 word novel in one month (November), while Script Frenzy asks you to write 100 pages of script in one month (April). Both are more exhausting than they seem initially, but are excellent ways to challenge yourself to write everyday.

NaGraNoWriMo is National Graphic Novel Writing Month and occurs in October. It does not have quite as many participants as NaNoWriMo, but is tuned specifically to graphic novels. You have to write a 48-page script for a graphic novel during the month of October and finish by the 31st.

For something a bit more personal, Seventh Sanctum has a “challenge generator” which creates up to ten pseudorandom prompts of varying levels of complexity. Some of the prompts are “hokey” but most are pretty good, challenging concepts.

 


Characters…Your Arch Nemesis

Characters. Annoying little bastards they are, and if you want to write them well you have to deal with it. You have to know them inside out. You have to listen to them whine about their day. You have to get drunk with them, have fistfights with them, and makeout with them (As I’ve mentioned before, you have to be a little crazy…).

Generally, when I set out to write a story, comic or otherwise, I spend days upon days getting to know each character. I research nuances, psychological profiles, and habits. Overkill, you ask? Perhaps it would be were I writing a three panel stickman comic, as they tend towards being purely comedic (straight line, beat, punchline) in nature and don’t require much in the vein of characterization. However, if I intend to have an ongoing relationship between the reader and the character, that character has to be unique and flawed and ugly and strange — in a word, “interesting.”

Steven Forbes of Comix Tribe wrote an excellent article on characters, which I highly recommend. He introduces the idea that you should interview your character, learn as much as you can about the character so you can KNOW them intimately (not “biblically”, unless you’re into that sort of thing). However (sorry, Steve, I have to call you on this) he doesn’t really explain what questions to ask your character in detail. For that, I point you to the Character Questionnaire on thescriptlab.com. These 50 questions are an excellent springboard for your character interview, and though they may seem silly they give you an understanding of the subtleties of your character that will make them INTERESTING.

But the real question, I suppose, is “Why?” Why should you put that much time and effort into a character? The simple response is that it makes you a better writer. Here’s the longer version:

  • Each nuance you have pre-existing for a character gives you more to write about.
  • Each quirk can effect a plot.
  • The more you know about a character’s history, the quicker you will know how they will react in any given scenario.
  • Better writers than you or I do more than this.
  • 20 years from now when you’re signing autographs and that one guy that has every comic you ever wrote asks you why StuporMouse never ate cheese, you can answer proudly and quickly, “Because he is lactose intolerant.”

So get to know your characters before you start shoving them into scenes. Know why they are there, where they’d rather be, who they’d rather be doing it with, and where they’re going when you’re done with them. It will help you make believable and, hopefully, addictive characters.


Webcomics And Layout

I’d like to divert your attention to the ads on the page…

It may be a personal preference, but I really hate ads. A lot of hate. More so when the ads are on a webcomic that I have stumbled across from a new creator. This become even more infuriating when the navigation is nigh impossible to find. Below is a list of the six things I have consistently seen folks complain about in regards to webcomics:

  1. Comic not on front page – If your intention is to promote your comic, the first thing people see when visiting your page should be YOUR COMIC. No blog posts. No “About me” page. YOUR COMIC. Period.
  2. Awful/Non-existent/Hard-to-negotiate navigation – << < > >>. This is NO! “But everyone knows what those mean!” That is possible, but when the font you use is infinitesimal, it is difficult to utilize.  First, Previous, Next, Last. These four words should be below (and can be above as well) your comic. You do want people to read the whole thing don’t you?
  3. Ads – Sure, you need ads to generate revenue for the host or yourself or whatever. I get it. There is no need for ninety ads. If I visit your page and can’t tell where your comic is, you have too many advertisements. Many times I will simply close the window and not even give the comic a chance. Why? I’ve never heard of you and on our first meeting you start trying to sell me stuff. Trying to get new readers is like meeting a person in “real life.” You don’t walk up to random people at a social function and introduce yourself as “Hi, Google reader has many fantastic books, Amazon dot com also has some books related to the thing my comic is about, and …” (you get the picture;D).
  4. Color schemes are terrible – Magenta. Dear GODS, magenta. Magenta is a glaringly awful color for a background. It can be done, but it is rarely done well. Just about every full saturation color is painful to have projected into one’s eye, more so when the foreground color(s) are contrasting colors. Magenta and lime are a terrible combination unless you are just that “punk rock”.
  5. No archive – An archive is simply a list of the comics in order of posting which allows readers to find a specific comic or read through the whole series. You want people to do this.
  6. No “first time reader” button – If you are hoping for new readers, you should have a button somewhere, highly visible, that sends them to the first comic of your series. It should be blatantly obvious what it is and does. This way, first time readers can read from the beginning.

To recap: Always put your comic on the first page; Use your words when making a navigation bar, and place the navigation bar at the bottom of the comic; Trim down or completely remove the ads; Make the background be in the background; Link to an archive of your comic; Give first time readers a simple way to read from the beginning.

 


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