Archive for the ‘writing is hard’ Category
Filed Under blog, cownt, holidays, jesse james vs machine gun kelly, kill all monsters, marketing, superman, writing is hard, writing projects
Happy New Year!
Again, these aren’t resolutions; they’re just plans. And vague ones at that.
Kill All Monsters and The Cownt are priorities on the comics front. Kill All Monsters just needs a publisher, so I need to be more diligent about that. We’re just about ready to submit to a couple of more companies who needed a little more in their pitches than some of the others required. Not that we’ve heard back from everyone we initially sent it to, so there may be some following up to do if I can figure out how not to be a pest about it.
I want to get the Cownt one-shot finished and pitched by the end of the year. I’d love to see it in stores by then, and I think that’s possible, but let’s not get ahead ourselves just yet. Finishing the novel is another writing focus. Being smarter about business and marketing in general. Seeing if we can get Jesse vs. Machine Gun going again.
I think that’s enough writing goals.
Except that I’m very excited about the new digs that the old Blogarama crew have staked out. It’s going to be fun. And I’m changing the focus of my column over there slightly so that I can talk more about the kinds of comics I like most. There should be announcements by the end of the week. Maybe as soon as tomorrow.
As for this blog, I’m gonna keep on keeping on. I promised myself I wouldn’t make any more Announcements about the direction, so I won’t except to say that as my interests fluctuate, Adventureblog content probably will too.
On a personal level, I’m hoping to take Diane and David to Tallahassee this year. That’s where I grew up, but I haven’t been back in about 20 years. Yikes. Doesn’t seem that long. It’s way past time I introduced my family to those folks.
That should do it, eh? Like I said yesterday, 2008 had some disappointments and I’m still feeling that a bit. I don’t want to load 2009 up with too many expectations right away. If we keep things reasonable and just strive to make a little more progress, it’ll be a good year.
Filed Under genre, neil gaiman, writing is hard
Another Neil Gaiman quote this week. Am I in a rut or is he just that awesome? (Hint: I’m not in a rut.)
I don’t worry about it. I don’t think about it. It’s not something I feel I need to bother with. People put the books where they want to put them, but the books don’t change … From where I stand, worrying about how something you are writing is going to be received critically while you’re writing it is a whole lot of wasted worrying: there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. Why not worry about making what you’re writing the best thing that it can be, which is something you can do something about?
–Neil Gaiman, on deciding what genre you’re writing
Filed Under writing is hard
I’ve got to capture this somewhere else besides my email inbox. Sorry if you’ve read it already.
From Warren Ellis’ email newsletter:
Okay, I’m pretty sure I did do this last year, but I think it’s reconfigured in my head since then. So.
What you need is one writer and three artists. Essentially, you decide to Form A Band.
And you decide up front that all the money from the anthology comic is divided 4 ways equally. This is for simplicity’s sake — people argue this point with me all the time, but I have had publishers say to my face that they avoid anthologies, especially creator-owned ones, because THE SUMS ARE TOO HARD. Keep it simple. 25% for everybody.
What you’re going to do, you see, is one writer writing three serials for three artists.
You’re doing a two-dollar book. That’s FELL format. A 24pp unit, all on the same paperstock, including covers. “Guts” of 20pp, with the “cover”, constituting 4pp, wrapped around it, yes?
Three 6pp episodes is 18 pages. Your cover and inside front cover for indicia etc are 2pp. So that leaves you 4pp, including the back cover, to play with. Use them to interleave the serials, use them as backmatter, let the artists take turns doing full-page pieces, whatever.
The cover art is a rotating job between the three artists.
Collect it every six months as a 128pp book (therefore still splitting everything four ways) or collect each serial on its own as best fitting (each book therefore splitting 50/50). (As is blatantly obvious, but people like to ask these questions instead of thinking for themselves.)
Go and do it. I need something to read.
Form a band, boys and girls. Form a band.
Filed Under blog, writing is hard
This is mostly a bookmark because I’ve found myself going back to a couple of articles that literary agent Rachel Vater posted earlier this year about author websites. The first is a collection of her thoughts on the subject; the second is her responses to reader questions about it.
So far, I think mine’s doing okay – especially at this stage of my career – but Vater’s thoughts are a good reminder of what an author website is supposed to be for. That’s why I’ll keep going back and rereading them.
Filed Under collaboration, craft, marketing, persistence, rewriting, writing is hard
I need to go ahead and post a lot of stuff I’ve been hoarding about the craft and business of writing.
There’s a really useful critique blog called Flogging the Quill that encourages writers to grab readers’ attentions on the first page. Writers send in the first chapter of their works in progress and professional editor Ray Rhamey reviews them based on how well the first 16 lines make him want to turn the page. He usually goes into a lot more detail than just that though and points out other craft errors that he sees. It’s a great opportunity for writers to learn from others’ mistakes and – if you’re brave enough – get some free advice on your own writing. I’ve even submitted something myself and learned a lot in the process.
Anyway, Ray’s got a couple of nice articles on his blog about the importance of catching readers right away. In one he uses the analogy of storyteller as river guide:
Heezan (Author) shoves off, and they glide down the river on an easy-going current. Heezan says, “Note the lovely hues of red and gold in the rose garden on the far bank.” He steers the bow a few degrees toward the near shore. “And here is where our hero was born, poor tyke, the sad victim of – “
Ima (Reader) peers ahead. “Oh, the hero. I’m so eager to see him.”
“Soon enough, soon enough, dear reader. But first, see the ramshackle one-room schoolhouse where Hero first met Heroine, though their meeting was a tussle over who got the swing – “
It’s no surprise that the reader’s next words are a request to be let off the boat. It’s an inspirational article.
Ray’s other piece is more practical. Using a story about a couple of kittens, he gives several suggestions for powerfully opening your novel.
Telling the story in visual terms
/Film has a great quote by Alfred Hitchcock on how the introduction of sound hurt cinema. At first I was struck by how easily it could also apply to comics, but I think there are also applications for novelists as well. It’s really just a different way of expressing the Show; Dont Tell rule.
…we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise. I always try first to tell a story in the cinematic way, through a succession of shots and bits of film in between… To me, one of the cardinal sins for a scriptwriter, when he runs into some difficulty, is to say ‘We can cover that by a line of dialogue.’ Dialogue should simply be a sound among sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”
The BookEnds Literary Agency offers advice on how graphically violent or sexual a book should be. Their suggestion is to do what’s right for the book you’re writing. Don’t second guess yourself by thinking about what publishers and/or readers want. If a publisher wants you to tone something down or spice it up, they’ll tell you. As for readers…
Readers don’t always know what they want.
Writers can drive themselves insane trying to predict or respond to what readers want. I think it’s always helpful to remember that readers don’t always know what they want. Case in point, a recent convention at which Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Joe Quesada was asked when Marvel was going to slow down with the big events its been known for the last few years.
Quesada interpreted that question as, “You mean, when are our books going to suck again?” But then he gave a more serious answer that was profound in its simplicity. “At the end of the day, what it means to me, is that our stuff is so compelling that you want to get it. My job … and all our jobs here are to make you want to buy everything we put out.”
Fans sometimes talk about being “forced” to buy comics they don’t want, but of course that’s ridiculous. No one forces you to buy anything, it’s your own collector mentality. You can’t really blame the comics creators for recognizing that though and exploiting it. That’s like blaming McDonalds because you like their fries so much that you quit eating salads.
WALL-E’s director agrees
Andrew Stanton on making animated films for adults:
“I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I don’t think of the audience at all, because I don’t go to see a movie hoping the filmmaker’s second-guessed what I want. I go to see what he wants, because I like his taste and style, and I want to see what he’s going to do next.
“The day we start thinking about what the audience wants, we’re going to make bad choices. We’ve always holed ourselves up in a building for 4 years and ignored the rest of the world, because nobody are bigger movie geeks than we are, so we know exactly what we are dying to see with our family and kids. We don’t need other people to tell us that. We trust the audience member in ourselves.”
Science Fiction author Crawford Kilian agrees with and comments on Robert Heinlein’s “Five Rules for Writers.” The rules are more about getting published than the craft itself, but unless you’re just writing for your own edification, they’re vital. Here they are in list form, but you should also read Kilian’s insightful commentary.
- Writers write.
- Writers finish what they write.
- Writers never rewrite, except to editorial order (this one requires the most clarification by Kilian).
- Writers put their work on the market (that’s the publishing market; not the bookstore market).
- Writers keep their work on the market until it sells.
More on rewrites
I used to have Neil Gaiman’s “Advice to Authors” printed and hung on my wall next to my desk. I don’t know why it’s not anymore; I should probably do that again. It’s incredibly helpful.
One of the things he says in there concerns rewriting: “The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.”
But recently, an unpublished writer challenged him on that:
…the thing is, I don’t do it like that at all.
For one thing, I don’t write a first draft completely, then edit it several times. I work with scenes. I write a scene, I correct it, a re-correct it, I edit it and so on. I usually have a story planned out in my head entirely, so I end up writing the scenes in any order, really, although it’s mostly chronological.
I’m guessing your advice would probably be “whatever works for you”, but the thing is, I don’t know if it works for me. I’ve never finished a novel yet.
To which Gaiman responded:
The biggest problem I can see with the way you’re doing it is that it doesn’t seem to give you anything finished. (If it was working for you I’d have no suggestions…)
And then he goes on to offer his brilliantly useful advice that you should go read yourself. It comes down to something that another writer called “making mud” though. Your first draft, especially when you’re just starting out, isn’t supposed to be a completed masterpiece. Using sculpture as an analogy, you’re just creating the mud that you’re going to sculpt from. That metaphor of the first draft as a pile of dirt and water was hugely liberating for me. Now, I’m all about writing every day until I eventually complete that draft. Then I’ll be able to go back and make something cool out of it.
Finding and working with artists
This is comics-specific, but editor/writer Jason Rodriguez (who’s worked with a lot of artists) spills the beans on his method for finding and building relationships with artists. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
I think the number one reason writers have a hard time finding an artist is because they find someone they like and they send them an email saying something along the line of, “Hey – I love your work. Blah, blah, blah. By the way, I have this project that I’d think you’d do SO well on. We should totally work together.”
That’s like asking for sex on the first date. Actually, that’s not true. That’s like asking for sex immediately after introducing yourself.
“Come here often? My name’s Jason. Let’s f***.”
I also love how he totally dispels the Artist Flake-Out Myth.
What to write next
The BookEnds Literary Agency has more advice, this time on what to work on next while you’re shopping around the first book in your series. Do you begin the next book in the series or start on something completely new?
I would never urge a writer to work on the next book in the series while I’m submitting the first. When a series idea is on submission I talk with the author and encourage her to start coming up with fresh new ideas. Why? Because if the first book in the series isn’t going to sell, it’s very likely the second book isn’t either.
Here’s a podcast interview with a very smart comics retailer about what he’s looking for in new comics to sell and what you can do to grab his attention. It essentially boils down to getting readers excited enough about your book that they’ll pre-order it, and letting retailers see the work before they have to make a decision about whether or not to carry it. But there are also practical suggestions for how to do those two things, so it’s worth a listen.
Other retailers echo that advice and offer additional opinions in this excellent interview at the Newsarama blog.
Tim Broderick also stresses the importance of getting out and meeting not only retailers, but libraries and bookstores as well. And having freebies. Bookmarks and postcards and mini-comics are awesome. I’ve got to start using those to create interest in my stuff at conventions.
Filed Under writing is hard
EE Knight has the best advice I’ve ever read for bringing your characters to life. Here’s an excerpt:
Now, the most important thing a reader needs to know is exactly what the character looks like. It helps them better imagine the person as they create the scenes in their heads. For that, you need lots and lots and lots of detail, and the sooner it appears in your story, the better. You’ve got to be careful that your audience sees exactly what you do when you imagine your character. Otherwise they might mess up and just substitute someone from their own experiences.
Now, if you’re shaking your head in disbelief: good. Click through and keep reading. It’s brilliant.
Filed Under marketing, writing is hard
I’m always interested in marketing and I’m a big Walt Disney World fan, so this post on Disney Marketing Rules is fascinating to me. Steve Spalding doesn’t have any inside information, he’s just an observant fan of the park who’s noticed some things. Three, to be exact.
I thought it might be a good exercise to see if I could apply them to promoting books.
“It’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see.”
I think that – when it comes to books – this might be more of a craft concern than marketing. I know when I’m reading, I don’t want to be distracted by the mechanics the writer went through to create the story. That’s difficult for me because I’m always thinking about that on some level, but it’s such a joy when I read those rare books where the storytelling is so easy and seamless that I can forget about what the writer’s doing and just enjoy the tale.
In other words, good writing isn’t something where I want to stop and marvel over the choices the writer made. Those choices should be transparent. That’s really hard to do, but it’s an important rule.
“You don’t sell products, you sell an experience.”
This one’s easy enough to apply to writing, but difficult to execute. When promoting a book, you’ve got to convince potential readers that they’ll feel something as a result of reading your stuff. And that means so much more than just telling them that your book is “funny” or that it’ll “leave you in tears.” Nobody believes that. Nobody buys a book because that’s written in a blurb about it.
Figure out what the experience is that you want readers to have and then figure out how to give them a taste of it before they buy. The first one is free; they’ve got to pay for the rest.
“Learn to turn work into play.”
The idea here is to take the most negative thing about your product and turn it into a positive. With books, the biggest negative for me is how much time it takes me to get through them, because I’m always wanting to get to the next book in my reading pile.
The easy solution (again, easy to determine; extremely difficult to do) is to make your book so engrossing that readers don’t mind spending a lot of time in it. Every page should have something on it that not only makes that page worth reading, but makes the reader excited about moving on to the next one as well.
If I’m correctly applying this rule to writing, this one’s also more about craft than it is about selling. I admit that hearing the words “page-turner” applied to a book gets my attention, but I’m also a bit skeptical about it. I’ll be the judge of what gets me turning pages, thanks. So, yeah, you can tell people that you’ve got a fast read, but it’s another thing entirely to actually write one.
Stay tuned, because later on I’ll post a review of Stephen King’s Duma Key and talk about how he nails two of these rules, but doesn’t do so hot on the third.
Filed Under christina ricci, indiana jones, iron man, narnia, rambo, speed racer, spies, writing is hard
Iron Man: I’m not a fan of the character, but I am a fan of Robert Downey Jr. His charisma — along with Jon Favreau’s passion for the movie — makes me way more excited about this than I ever thought I would’ve been.
Son of Rambow (limited release): The poster makes this look like a cheesy kids’ movie, but the trailer reveals what looks to be a really funny, really charming British comedy.
Speed Racer: Another property that I never cared about until I started seeing trailers. I didn’t think I was so distractable with pretty colors, but the look of this movie is mesmerizing. Now I know how my wife felt when she saw the Sin City trailers.
Of course, having Christina Ricci in it has nothing to do with my attraction to it. (Ahem.)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: Not sure why, but I’m looking forward to this one more than I did The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Maybe it’s that I never read Prince Caspian and don’t know what to expect. Maybe it’s that it looks like a darker, less-Disneyesque film than the first one. Whatever it is, I’m into it.
Reprise (limited release): I’m not sure what to expect, but it’s a film about writing and I’m curious to see what kind of themes they pull out of that subject.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Do I even have to explain this one?
War, Inc. (limited release): I’ve got a very low tolerance for political satires, but this one about John Cusack as a spy trying to protect US oil interests in the Middle East while falling for liberal reporter Marisa Tomei looks fun. It hasn’t forgotten to include the guns and explosions. Or Hillary Duff with purple hair and a Russian accent.
Filed Under batman, spider-man, writing is hard
This was going to be another installment of “Awesome List Catch-Up,” but one topic pretty much took over the post.
I mentioned yesterday how some “adult” Batman fans raised a fuss over the fact that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a kids’ cartoon. Character designer Mike Manley couldn’t care less.
The message boards are already full of babymen angst about the show, how they hate the art, the idea of a kid friendly Batman and I have to just laugh at the ridiculous comments. IMO one of the biggest reasons comics suck ass and have since the ’80s is the rise and overtaking of the biz by the Babyman fan and the loss of kids reading comics as a hobby. Now we are stuck with an aging fanbase with limited taste, long memories, a twisted taste where the comic heroes have to be dark, gritty, sexy, adult…REAL!
I don’t expect the babymen to ever see what I’m talking about, they can’t. But the fact is their taste is not the taste of a large pool of average readers, it’s the taste of the fetishist, the niche collector. They so resist change and want such a limited type of product that unless you have been following this stuff for years it’s really not something the average reader could even get into.
I don’t know if I’d be quite as insulting about it, but I agree with him about this certain type of fan and can see why he’s not pulling any punches. I know the kind of fan he’s talking about and they don’t pull punches either.
I’m all for a show that includes kids in its audience. It doesn’t have to be dumb to be a kids’ show. And all superhero shows and movies shouldn’t be created exclusively for an adult demographic. That’s just silly.
All that said, it sounds like the fan uproar may be a moot point anyway. According to Brave and the Bold director Ben Jones:
…there will be an element of comedy, but that doesn’t mean that we’re skimping on the action. We’re trying as hard as we can to make sure the action will be as amazing and exciting as any previous incarnation of the Batman … Character-wise, Batman is still the same gruff perfectionist that he’s been for the last twenty-five or so years. Everyone here is a Batman fan too, so we want to do right by him.
Sounds great to me. If it’s anything like The Spectacular Spider-Man, which my six-year-old son and I absolutely love watching together, I’m very excited to see it.
Filed Under comics, writing is hard
I’ve got some reviews coming (Doomsday and The Bank Job, at least), but I haven’t been able to get to them yet. I’ve got a set of interviews coming for Newsarama that’s been taking all the time I usually spend for reviewing.
So instead, I’m gonna talk about writing some more. I’ve added a Writing is Hard link to the sidebar under Writing Craft and Life. It’s basically a collection of my posts on the craft of writing, but I don’t mind recommending them because hardly any of them contain original ideas by me. Most of them are other people’s ideas and me just sort of learning aloud as I share them. Anyway, good stuff in there.
One of the recurring themes in Writing is Hard has to do with the obligation (or more accurately, the lack thereof) that writers owe to their audiences. This seems like a hard idea for readers and fans to swallow, but the more I listen to writers talk about it, the more I believe that you have to write (or draw or paint or whatever) first for yourself and then hope that people dig what you’re doing.
This comes up again because of a recent(ish) post by Cheryl Lynn on the whitewashing of non-white characters. I mention this with some fear and trembing partly because I absolutely love Cheryl Lynn and I think she’s right pretty much all of the time. And as far as her main point goes, she’s absolutely right this time too.
But I’m mostly nervous about saying what I’m going to say because I’m not going to address her main point other than to agree with it. Instead, I’m going to nitpick her suggested solution to the problem:
[There] are those artists who have wonderful artistic skills but simply think that white women are the most beautiful women on earth. Scratch that. The only beautiful women on earth. And because they believe that all heroines should be beautiful, the result is that they depict non-white heroines with stereotypically white features. They give a character like Storm the features they think a beautiful woman should have instead of the features a beautiful woman from Kenya would likely have.
And that’s a problem. How do you resolve it? Well I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to change what he or she finds to be beautiful. Hell, that’s impossible to do anyway. But those artists will have to work against their brains a bit. Those artists may think that giving a character a wider nose or eyes without lid creases will make that character unattractive. What needs to be realized is that the audience has a much broader definition of what is attractive. Have you ever given someone a gift that you didn’t like but you knew the other person would love? You put the other person first. Those artists need to put the audience first.
The bold text is my emphasis, because that’s where I disagree with her. I would much rather see Vixen (and Jubilee and any number of other whitewashed characters) drawn accurately, but I don’t think my wishes on the matter should affect how any particular artist chooses to draw. There’s a lot I don’t like about Ed Benes’ art, but I don’t think he needs to change it to suit me. Not if that’s the way he really, truly wants to express himself artistically. He should absolutely be able to draw however the hell he wants. I don’t have to like it though and I don’t have to buy his stuff.
Now please don’t get me wrong and think I’m saying that Cheryl Lynn or anyone else doesn’t have the right to complain about this. They so do. But the complaint needs to be married with a strong, economic message that those who are concerned about this aren’t going to keep spending money on it. The solution isn’t for Benes to suddenly change his art style because someone wants him to. The solution is for DC to hire another artist because no one’s buying Ed Benes anymore. Then, if Benes isn’t getting work and decides to rethink how he’s expressing himself, that’s something he’s going to have to wrestle with. But it’s not going to happen – nor should it happen – just because we’re crying out, “Think of the fans!” while continuing to buy whatever he’s putting out.
Thinking of the fans, after all, is what got us Venom in Spider-Man 3. It’s what got us Nikki and Paulo in Lost. It’s why most fantasy novels suck and why there are three billion new vampire-romance novels published every week. Thinking of the fans makes creators less creative. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Benes draws the way he does precisely because he is thinking of the fans. Just not ones like me.