Since I started this blog I wrote a few articles about WHAT NOT to do and WHAT TO emulate when you are writing a comic (or a work of fiction in general).
If you don’t believe me check out Nuff Said Posting
I don’t think (and this is my personal opinion) that good fiction-writing is about being 100% original and giving echo to your own inner voice. Nor it means being popular and selling a gazzillion issues. Nor it means selling little but having awesome critics review your work with lots of kudos!
Of course you can define it in any of those terms, if you want. If you want to sell a lot, then you want to hone on you targeted audience. If you want to receive amazing reviews, learn to write like a pro, and don’t focus on sales. If you want to hone on your inner voice, and be unique, be ready to not sell, to not get good reviews, and keep knocking on doors.
Yep, this is how all writers live and work…suuuure…
The most difficult trick anyone can performs is: Writing with their unique voice, selling a lot, and being popular. It is possible.
Let’s break it down into rules:
RULE #1 Watch TV Shows, not to be entertained, but to analyze their MANY failures in storytelling.
TV is a medium to be mass consumed. And the majority of TV shows are shit on a stick. This post is not about what are good show and which ones are bad. If you want to learn about some good ones from the last 10 years, all I can recommend are Lost (innovative storytelling), 24 (some seasons, for its pacing and consistency), Shameless (learn how to write believable and likable real characters with distinct voices), Once Upon A Time (to learn how to adapt old tales with new twists), BattleStar Galactica (how to write believable dramatic Science Fiction).
But then you have the immense majority of shows. For example, SuperNatural in Season 1. You got a theme of demon hunters and supernatural happenstances heavily overshadowed by cheap and overused soap-opera topics.
Mind you, most shows during their first season suck. Usually because they don’t know what they want to be yet.
TV Shows are done (in their majority) to achieve massive audiences, and thus earn profits through advertisement. The business model is changing, and some Netflix and Hulu only produced shows are really amazing. But a TV show gets done by a writer bringing an idea to a producer, or sometimes a producer having an idea, and asking a writer to put it on paper.
Then 10,000 people have their input and re-write the concept until it (usually) is unrecognizable from the first concept.
RULE #2 Read everything and anything (and not just comics)
Do a quick experiment. How many of these terms you can talk about in certain depth?
- Operation Paperclip
- The children’s crusade
- The beast of Gevaudan
- Piri Reis Map
- Los Tayos Cave
- Lake Volstok Anomaly.
Seriously, if you consider yourself a good fiction-writer, you should know the story behind them like the back of your hand, because the ones I chose there are not that weird, obscure or unknown. And why is it you don’t know about them? Because you haven’t read enough.
And the problem with that is that there is nothing new under the sun. And that wonderful story of vampires you thought about when you were 14… it turns out a famous writer wrote about it and better back in 1975. Or that mystery story you had in mind… someone wrote about it back in the 19th century.
After you have read a lot, you will understand better controversial issues, you will understand a bit more of history, and be able to voice characters better.
RULE #3 Things to Avoid after you master RULE #1: CLICHES
“Trust Me!!” You want your characters to resolve a confrontation quickly, because they already spent two pages arguing? Use the magic of “Trust me” or any of its variants “I need you to trust me on this!” or “You have to trust me!” This is lazy, and is such a common device used in TV, that people even think is OK to use it in real live, and way too often in fiction. IT IS NOT. Is lazy and is bullshit.
AVOID “I can’t talk about it now”: In cheap flicks and TV they need drama. And to make drama their characters have to be really flawed. And the inability to reach a consensus through dialog (which is the most common sense way of reaching an agreement) creates great drama. But it is lazy and unrealistic. And bullshit.
Another variation of this is “Why won’t you talk to me? “It’s complicated.”
AVOID “We have to talk about your/my feelings”: Usually, real life is not about psychoanalysis with your friends. Usually.
AVOID “You owe me as much”: You want to force a character to disclose information to another, so you resort to this old artifice
AVOID Forensics always misses something at the crime scene
AVOID Irish guys drink and sing old-timey songs: Careful with racial/gender/nationality stereotypes. Germans being all neo-nazis, middle-easterners being all terrorists, French all smoking and smelling bad… I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen action taken place in cities of Spain (like Barcelona or Madrid) and the artist using references of rural Mexico. Also, the Asian math geeks who can’t drive, or the rural white who only has one tooth and married his cousin.
AVOID Children behaving like morons: Most TV/Hollywood writers not only do not have children, but even the ones that have them, avoid them and leave them with nannies. Thus they constantly use them (often) as a recourse for when they need someone to do something stupid to move the plot along. I saw a 10 year old girl open the door to a clown in the middle of the night, a child play with matches sin a gas station, a kid provoke a multiple car accident from the back seat… Add in this category the Troubled Teen Daughter/Son
Children usually are freaking smart, (except a noted cases) and very creatives, thinking outside the box. But writers keep using them as artifices for stupidity.
AVOID assuming people are interested the same you are about the same things you are. Recently I wrote a bad review about a comic called Evil Empire, because the writer (who I later found out was on a band) put too much emphasis on the character who was a singer. And singing and comic books… are a hard match. And he didn’t make them work because he assumed the readers would be into the music part of the comic as much as he was….
AVOID TV CLICHES: Lets see… the nerd with the tape on glasses, the comic book collector that talks like he has a mouth full of spit and gum, the Chief of medical staff who is a sarcastic asshole, the judge who goes against the protagonist, just to create extra drama, the jock who is a muscle-bound ignoramus,
Now, these tips are things to avoid in order to NOT BE A BAD WRITER.
But in order to be a mildly successfully popular writer, you can’t completely avoid these conventions.
If you want to use them, you have to make them yours. You have to twist them and use them to your advantage. And if you are writing for an audience, always keep them in mind.