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Issue Two is nearly scripted

WHERE IT'S AT

It took us almost two months to the day to take Issue One from a blank page to a completed script. My rough math said that two-month script only received about forty real work hours, the result of resigning to work mostly when Jordan was available to write with me in real time.

As I mentioned before, the last two months have been less productive due to my unexpected unemployment and a death in the family... or so it seemed until I checked the dates today. We're coming up on two months since work on the Issue Two script was begun, and we're pretty close despite having spent less time together. Chatting over video instead of text really speeds up the discussion process, and after getting through the outlining stages (which I explain below), I scripted the first third of the issue in two days. If we can match that as we continue, it wouldn't surprise me to see the second issue also finished in two months, and the coming issues getting done even more quickly so long as we can stay on a consistent schedule for meet-ups.

THE PROCESS

Yes, the process seems to be working well. First, we start with the issue's big picture in mind, roughly break down the number of pages each scene will require, and figure out the page-by-page beats.

Once we have a sentence or two for each page, we start breaking page beats down into panels - usually six, sometimes as many as eight, and I think only a handful of times we've done five. It's pretty dense storytelling, so I don't think we ever have the option of using four panels or fewer.

These panel breakdowns often include rough ideas of dialogue, or at least what it needs to accomplish ("he tells her she's crazy," or "she lets him know she isn't happy"), but once our paneled outline is in place, we go back through and clean up the lines, trying to get it as close to working dialogue as we're able.

At this point, the outline is a very readable representation of the issue, so we finally take a fourth pass to try and write the final script. The panel descriptions have all the information an artist would need to bring them to life, the dialogue is almost always cleaned up even further, panel beats change as we begin to better visualize how one moment will move to the next, how a facial expression can communicate something we'd previously had as dialogue, or how a series of panels might need to be cut to put more emphasis on another part of the scene.

I am VERY much a planner. I believe in laying a very strong structure so that each stage requires less heavy lifting. As I add layers to the work, it's more and more about details and refinement, and I never have to go back and reset the foundation because I gave that the majority of my thought and my time.

You might think that this would reduce the opportunity for following a creative spark, but not so! It's often more likely you'll be creative in your choices when there are certain rules and presuppositions that must be followed. Doing whatever you want can be a real killer of creative opportunities. Not being able to go with the easiest answer will almost always lead you to much more interesting solutions. See any heist movie for examples of this.

MOVING ON

I thought I'd be able to catch up my sketchbook posts this weekend, but it appears I was wrong. Boy, I wish I had a scanner. So convenient, those things... As it is, I'll have to go through the slow process of photographing each page until my wife's camera's memory card can't take any more, uploading it to GIMP, and shrinking, cropping, and normalizing the sizes of all the files.

Ugh.

I really ought to stop doing a month at a time and just get the pages prepped as I finish them. I say now that I'll try to get the pictures up tomorrow. We'll see what I do.

Followers of mine on Facebook will know that I spent October participating in the Drawlloween challenge. I drew 31 pictures (or was supposed to - some days I just posted a sketchbook page full of images for that day's theme). Those images and the practice pages and discarded attempts are what you'll be seeing for October. I've never done anything like that before, and I was impressed with myself for sticking to it and getting it done. My art improved over the course of the month, which was exciting to see. I was forced to draw things I never would have thought to draw. Some days it was definitely more of a challenge than fun, but I did it.

And now like a writer of sketch comedy, I find I don't know how to end this.

-db

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Today I will be writing.

After outlining Issue One with Jordan, I worked alone on much of the scripting. We'd meet once a week and get done what we could, but I'd spend a few days between meetings writing into the pages as much as I was able.

When I could, I tried working on the outline for Issue Two by myself, but then the next time we'd talk I would end up going over everything I'd written with him anyway, and because it was already written, it wasn't as easy for him to offer direction for a scene, and I don't know that we wouldn't have come up with something better had we been working together. So after seeing how much more productively and creatively things moved along when I waited to write with Jordan, I took to working only when we were able to chat.

However, a recent death in his family put the writing on hiatus for a short while, and while I like the fact that I've been spending a lot more time drawing (urry day, son!), I think I need to stop neglecting the script and see what I can get done on my own. So that's what I'm going to do today.

In other news - after seven and a half weeks looking for a job, I got three calls yesterday. One of them was a no-go - the pay was too low. One of them sounds promising but it goes through a recruiter and I'm not sure how many other applicants they might be getting. Today I have an initial phone interview with the third. Sure would be nice to have a job again. I like money.

I need to put up September's sketches, but my priorities are: writing a blog update (done), writing a few pages into the script, and doing today's Drawllowen sketch. I'll try to get to the sketchbook, but make no promises.

Off to write now,

- db

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Okay, I think we have some time.

I have not done well to keep you updated this month. Five or six brief Facebook updates, but only one blog post since the site launch?

This is unacceptable.

The good news is, I haven't much time to write about the process because the process is keeping me too busy to do it.

In my early days, I picked up a good amount of information from Jim Zub's  tutorials and a lot of inspiration from Jason Brubaker's reMINDblog.com and podcasts, but an article eventually led me to a Facebook group called Connecting Comic Book Writers and Artists, and it was the discovery point for most of what I've learned so far about just how much it really takes to create and print a comic book. It has really been a great resource of discussion and information. I mostly lurked for about seven or eight months, but in writing my last blog post, I realized that I needed to place a job posting in the artist's group I frequent, and I did it that day.

We were looking for two things: an artist who can draw environments and help to build the world, and a character designer to do our second round of named characters from the first arc. We received twenty-eight applicants.

Holy crap. Twenty-eight.

I spent the first night looking at everybody's art to get a feel for the spectrum of possibilities, then collected them all into an email to Jordan with links to their portfolios and my immediate impressions. When he got back to me with his opinions, I went one-by-one down the list, writing a personal message to each artist.

Nearing the end of my writing time for the night, I saw that I'd only sent eight messages

Ugh. This would not do.

I knew that I'd be far more efficient if I grouped the messages I needed to write by the course of action each needed to contain ("Compliment", "Consider for later", "Request rates"). I spent half an hour creating a spreadsheet with each artist's name, portfolio link, my impression, Jordan's impression, a course of action , and a current status. Lastly, I sorted the list by the course of action, and was ready to go for next time.

And it worked. I spent my next work day sending the rest of the messages, then sat back and waited for the rates to roll in.

It took us a surprising two weeks to receive everyone's rates and narrow down our choices. We had a very tough time deciding between three artists for the character designer position (others I liked just as well were a bit too pricey for our current stage of production), but finally landed on one guy - Luca Cichitti - and sent the message. I don't have a link to a public portfolio at the moment, but I'll see if I can get that to you. Definitely want to give this guy some traffic if I'm able - he has very strong stuff!

Finding a background guy was comparatively easy. I waited until we'd also found our character designer to send his "You're hired" message, but we knew almost immediately who we were going with. His name is Scott Sackett. He mentioned in his response to the job posting that he was a former architecture major, and linked to some examples of sketched environments which I thought were really tangible and somewhat interpretive.  He's already delivered some really cool progress shots, and we're very excited see what else he can do. I can't wait to show you the world.

I'm very happy to say that professionalism has been the name of the game on all fronts. Everyone I had to turn down took it graciously, congratulating me on finding the talented artists we did, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't a total a-hole about it, so we all seem to be on good terms. Which is great for the future, because I really liked a lot of these artists and would be interested to see if we're ever able to do something together.

Yes, It's been a long month of spreadsheets, correspondence, and taking care of business. But it's hasn't been all work and no play, no sir!

Halfway through the month, having outlined the beginning, middle, and end of the first issue, Jordan came over and we stayed up to the wee hours of the morning doing a rough page layout from beginning to end. I taped the pages together and ended up with something like a twenty-four page comic book.

It was a very exciting moment for me. As I said on Facebook - thirteen years ago, this seed was planted. This was the most legitimate the endeavor had ever felt.

And still, it continues on. Artists are giving us art, and after all these months of planning and outlining and studying and connecting and revising and hiring and corresponding and documenting... we've finally begun to write it. Like, actually write it.

There are at this moment words, phrases, and perhaps even paragraphs in a document that will certainly be a part of the finished product. This must be the first time the actual thing itself has existed in any form.

I mean sure, a comic isn't a comic until it's got art as well, but a comic script is certainly a thing unto itself. When we gave our arc outline to readers, a few of them reminded us throughout their questionnaire responses that the thing they were reading was not a story, but a summary. Which we knew... but this script will tell the entire story: what you see, and what you read, exactly as you will read it.

We blasted through its twenty-four pages over a couple of sessions, mostly turning our outline and page layouts into a legible format (with a little help from Fred Van Lente, to whom I was of course directed by Jim Zub, as I imagine many an aspiring comics creator have been). We moved along at a pretty good pace with me running through the pages, getting down a description of our basic panels and incorporating the notes Jordan had taken while I was sketching them out that late night in mid July, and him coming up behind me fleshing out the first draft dialogue. It's  mostly all there. It's good enough to move forward.

Last Thursday, I spruced up the first four pages, actually flexing my writing muscles for the first time in a long time. The last time I wrote something worth reading was when I was putting this site together and before that, I can't even tell you. So for three hours the other night, I really worked to paint the word pictures and get the dialogue closer to something good enough to keep.

Ahhh. Writing. Really writing.

Feels good, man.

And now I've written a blog post! Hoorah for getting back into the swing of things. I'm putting together the gallery for my July sketchbook pages now, so you can expect that very soon. Maybe today or tomorrow, even.

Oh, and one more note - we reached 100 likes (and more) on our Facebook page! Hoorah for that too. It's kinda funny - we were stuck at 95 for possibly a month or more, and then in just a couple of weeks we got almost twenty likes. A few were referred thanks to a friend participating in a tiny contest we had, and I really can't be sure where the rest came from or why - but I'm glad for it!

I hope not to take so long to write another - and hopefully shorter - update on production. I also still have another feature in mind for this site, I just have to find the time.

Thanks for reading,

- db

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Scripting Begins

Facebook followers have already been made aware of the new feature. See the Sketchbook link at the top of the page (or in the menu for mobile user). There I'll be posting my daily sketches (though probably not posting them daily) along with notes about what improvements I'm seeing and what I'm seeing that needs improvement. I'm not sure who this is for other than myself, but I do think it's worth keeping track of.

A couple more minor updates on the site - I made a favicon to replace the SquareSpace icon and I changed the website's logo to include the "TM" and exclude the "production blog" tagline. I hadn't initially expected the front page to be the marketing material it turned out to be, and it seemed odd to keep "a production blog" at the top of every page when there's a page dedicated to that specific aspect of the site.

I also mentioned on Facebook that Peter Aymard Cacho, the artist we'd hired to do some concept sketches, finished his interpretations of the five most prominent characters from the first act of the story. You can see three of his designs right now on the front page of SpookyCorps.com. Being a freelancer, his time with us was temporary, and he has moved on to another job. We're happy with what he gave us and have been preparing to widen our net for artistic interpretations. We're going to need other characters drawn as well as world-building images such as buildings, clothing styles, and technology.

Plus, we need to be on the lookout for someone to actually draw the pages themselves. Halfway through year already! Wow. We're going to want to have six to eight completed pages for the pitch and I haven't even started looking for an artist for the book, or at least I haven't looked in a while.

Time keeps on slippin'.

I guess I should go ahead and put up a job posting today.

Jordan and I were happy with all the feedback we got. There are still a number of people who haven't replied, but at this point we were just itching to keep moving forward, so we went ahead and paginated the first issue. We know what we'll see and what will be said on each page. It came together really easily. Surprisingly easily. That's our reward for working so hard on outlining everything  - we know the world and what needs to happen so well, there are no plot issues to work out while we figure out how to fill the pages. And the cool thing is although there's little need for guesswork, there's still lots of room for creativity. Scott McCloud categorized the choices we're making into these five categories:

Choice of Moment
Choice of Frame
Choice of Image
Choice of Word
Choice of Flow

So even though we've decided what needs to happen to advance the plot within each 24-page chunk, deciding how the story gets told from panel to panel is still all up in the air, and it's fun to work it out. For so long, we've just been tweaking all of the pieces to make the puzzle fit. It's fun to actually write again. It's like before, we were putting together a jigsaw in greyscale. Now we're deciding how to color it. How to achieve the tone and emotion we imagine each beat bringing. It's fun stuff!

I really like writing with Jordan. I have a very strong sense of our world and story, and how even small changes might effect issues to come. I also have a pretty good grip on more formal storytelling components such as structure and closure, and some of the more format-specific considerations such as pacing, compression, and using words and pictures interdependently. But I think Jordan has a stronger sense of what a reader wants to see, or how to package something to make it interesting. I can say "In this scene, we need this, this, and this, and it needs to feel like this," and he'll give me the line or an image that accomplishes all of those things. I'm theory. He's action. Sometimes his action doesn't work with a major part of the theory, so we work the action until it's theory-compliant. Sometimes his action is too good to leave the theory as it is, and we rework the theory until it all fits. This seems to be working for us so far. I think we'll keep doing it.

Last little note before I get out of here - I wouldn't say I had any learning experiences to write about in this post, but I can say that when we sat down to script, the first thing I did (as advised in this blog post) was break it into three parts - beginning, middle, and end. Each part, each arc, each issue, each scene will need to have a beginning, middle, and end. So armed with the "three act" story flow of the issue, we further broke those three parts into pages and decided what each page needed to accomplish. Next we'll fill those pages with panel descriptions and dialogue, and we'll have ourselves a script.

Though I don't know the exact words that we'll use when we write it, I do know that so far, it feels really solid and well-paced.

It feels like a great start.

- db

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Loglines

Several people have provided full responses to the questionnaire, each one providing useful feedback. None of it was painful, but these were all responses from friends and family. We'll see what happens when strangers get the full questionnaire. Two of the three readers who I found in the Facebook group I mentioned also got back to me, but not by sending their responses to the full six issues. The first guy only got through one page, and the second only read a paragraph. Still, they each had lots of useful feedback. It was tailored more toward the outward appearance of the book and not the story, but it was useful.

The first guy stayed up with me until 3:20 in the morning going over his initial impressions, and the other and I had a long back-and-forth about the logline and the questions I needed to answer through it to bring out the story's most interesting and essential elements.

One thing both of them mentioned - Spooky Corps is a bad name. "Spooky" is a light-hearted word, and "Corps" will be confused with "Corpse."

There is an in-narrative explanation as to why the book is called Spooky Corps, but Jordan and I have been aware for some time that it might not work in the end. When we first started developing this story in 2005, it was going to be a concept band made up of fictional character singing songs about their epic adventures. The characters included ghosts, vampires, and the living dead, and they were called Spooky Corps.

We were young then.

But we associate the titular group of Outlanders and indeed the entire project so strongly with the name, it's difficult to imagine using something else. So here's the plan - if an editor at Image or Oni or wherever picks it up and wants to publish it on the condition that we change the name, you better believe we're chucking the title. But if things work out the most realistic way, we'll end up publishing this ourselves, and the name is probably going to stay. As for the logline.. this was a learning experience worth sharing.

LOGLINES

In the first email response from the editor (as in guy who actually gets paid to edit), I got this: "Your logline is very bad!"

Here's what I started with:

 


Within and beyond the only city on the planet, two groups of rebels struggle to survive and free themselves from oppression as the nature of life and death and the very fabric of reality unravel around them.


 

Jordan came up with that a long time ago, and it's not bad. Tells you where you are, who's in the action, and that something big is going down. From what I understood, this was a satisfactory logline.

The editor pointed out that there's no mention of a protagonist, no clear antagonist, no time frame, and no twist or hint of irony. He also pointed out that while all of these things may not be necessary to creating a solid logline, having as many a possible sure helps.

I immediately read up a little bit on loglines and decided to answer some basic questions. The first question, which should probably be the easiest to answer actually made me stop and think - who IS the main character? This is tricky, because there are several main characters over the course of the narrative, with some coming in and out of focus from arc to arc. Since we’ll be pitching the first arc and not the entire story, I decided to step away from the vague suggestions about the overall story and instead focus on what takes place in the first six issues.

 


Within the walls of a planet’s only city, a young revolutionary must inspire the citizens to overthrow their war-waging government before a growing army of superstitious outsiders demolishes society itself.


 

This is better. Instead of two groups of rebels, we now have a young revolutionary to imagine experiencing the story through. Our two groups of rebels are better identified – citizens in revolt, and an army of superstitious outsiders. One may have a better idea of the conflict triangle occurring in the story. I sent this on to the editor, and he came back with even more tips. What makes the revolutionary different from the next, other than the fact that he is young? Can I personify the antagonist? Why does it matter that the outsiders are superstitious? And where, oh where, is the irony?

These are all good questions. I let it tumble around in my head for about a day, and finally came back with this:

 


In a society where law and logic have been sanctified, a printer’s apprentice risks an indictment of blasphemy to report on a growing cult of savage outsiders whose leader’s vision of a supernatural relic providing the government its power drives them toward the destruction of the city.


 

Whew!

- Specific protagonist? Check.. Our young revolutionary is a printer’s apprentice.

- Personified antagonist? Check. The cult’s leader is a more immediate threat than the amorphous “war-waging government”.

- Time frame? Check. Their army is growing and has the protagonist’s city in their sights.

- Stakes? Double check. The printer’s apprentice must choose between speaking out and becoming a criminal in his society, and keeping quiet and being indiscriminately butchered by the outsiders for the sins of his government.

- Irony? Check. The cult’s suggestion that the logic-centric government’s power is actually derived from some supernatural relic is not only ironic, but brings some of the story’s seemingly disparate elements together, hopefully generating more curiosity in whoever reads the logline.

So it hits all of the elements that a logline might need. But boy, is it a mouthful! Next, we started cutting away some incidentals. Some words can just be cut without removing any information. Some phrases can be replaced with a better word choice. The editor came back with his own version which stripped away the personified antagonist and irony – two things I’d included specifically to satisfy his questions. My knee-jerk reaction was to point that out, but I realized that even if some of this stuff ends up being taken back out, asking all of those questions still led me to writing an incredibly dense explanation of the story which included the more interesting and unique elements of my story versus any other rebels / empire story. I’ll probably continue working on the logline up to the point that we actually submit a pitch, but for now I think I’m going to stick with a slightly lighter version of what I’ve already written:

 


In a society where logic has been sanctified, a printer’s apprentice risks blasphemy to report on a growing cult of savages whose leader’s vision of a supernatural relic empowering the government drives them toward the destruction of the city.


 

It still feels a little mouthy, but again, I like how efficiently it communicates so many thing about the story.

And I suppose that's all I have for now. The concept artist we've hired has completed two character designs and is about to start on a third. I'll be revealing his work very soon, so stay tuned!

- db

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Finding readers and Non Disclosure Agreements

When I started the production blog, I imagined intentionally sitting down to write two separate types of posts - briefs about how far I'd come since the last entry and what I was working on at the time, and tutorials explaining how I was going about each step of the long journey to a finished comic book. Conceptually, I knew that I would come away from each step knowing something I didn't before. It somehow didn't occur to me that because each step would be a learning experience, each step would double as a teaching opportunity as well. I imagine many of the upcoming updates will contain an educational element by accident at least. As the previous post stated, we have been on the search for charitable readers and character designers for hire.... And as I wrote that sentence just now, I realized that the call to action made no mention of the fact that we were not looking for artists to indefinitely dedicate themselves to our passion project! I never said that we are simply looking for character designers who can make a quick buck for spending a few hours doing what they love. I had been so excited to be able to offer people money (which somehow seems to legitimize the project), it slipped my mind to actually explain what we expected them to do to earn it.

There, I've updated the Facebook page to clarify. See? We're learning things already. Clarity is key. And a serendipitous segue, to boot.

While no artists have approached us in response to the post, there is no thumb-twiddling here. I received interest from a number of readers. Three people I work with have had the outline forced upon them (he said, mostly joking...), one is a co-worker of Jordan's, and five people are related to me. Only two have answered the questionnaire as of this writing, but one gave birth to me, and the other probably just feels obligated because I once gave her a last name.

The other three readers offered their help in response to a post I made on a comics creators' Facebook group I frequent. The post wasn't actually asking for readers, but explained that my friends and family were going to look over the outline before I hired an editor, and one of my biggest concerns was whether the story read clearly. I was seeking advice about the types of questions I should ask about the reading experience that would herd them toward useful feedback rather than supportive pats on the back. In my experience, friends who read stories tend to say they liked it and fail to say that there was anything they didn't understand unless asked about specific sections and what they thought about it. As such, I'm glad to have several uninterested parties throwing their hats into the ring.

The first reader is a writing hobbyist who edits his friends' works and fancies himself as being of reasonable talent in spotting story issues, weak or uninteresting characters, poor dialogue, and general sentence wonkiness. The second reader is an old-school, long time comics fan. His reasoning was that plots in comics were less complicated when he got into them than they are now, so if a young, amateur writer like myself could communicate an interesting story which he could follow, it would be a vote of confidence for the clarity of the narrative. The third reader is a magazine editor, gaming creative consultant, and writer. He offered a free round of critique to give me an idea of what I would get out of hiring him for later editing work.

I began my conversation with each of these generous readers by explaining that I already realized the standard advice when a first-time comics creator pursues a project of this size is to set it aside and work on something smaller instead - something more likely to be completed in a reasonable amount of time. If the ultimate response to my endeavor would be to not pursue it at all, I'd rather save us both some time and just not send them the story. All three said they were still interested, so I moved to the next step.

Non Disclosure Agreements

It is very difficult to protect a story idea. Ideas have very little value on their own and with stories, it is the execution of that idea which has any copyrightable merit, not the concept. See every genre out there for examples of this truth.

Even still, there are horror stories out there and contradicting advice as to whether one should worry about protecting their work in writing even at an early stage. Because my outline is so detailed, it do think it could qualify as being specific enough to warrant protection, so before I sent it to anyone I didn't know and trust, I found a boilerplate NDA and copied it over to an email.

The first reader applied his digital signature immediately, and we were on our way. The second advised that the document I used was very general, made no mention of me specifically, the story title, or its medium. It was basically a sweepingly general list of clauses saying "I've got ideas and you can't steal them," which was indeed the point, but wouldn't protect me nearly as much as the example he provided. Nice guy. I updated it, and he signed it. I sent the updated version to the professional editor, who pointed out that the clause denoting the purpose of my providing the outline to him was for his review to determine his interest in its commercial exploitation. He responded saying that while an NDA is pretty useless at this stage (as I've described above and already knew), he didn't mind signing it except for that clause.

So what's the lesson here? Well, we're back to clarity. In my haste to get feedback from as many willing, capable readers as possible, I didn't study the wording closely enough and misinterpreted what it meant in its use of the word "marketability." I rewrote the clause to read: "Recipient agrees that this disclosure is only for the purpose of the Recipient’s evaluation of story quality and provision of criticisms and concerns relating to its clarity, appeal, and suitability to the comics medium."

He was fine with that, and he's reading the story as I type.

So - this probably goes without saying, but just as you should be very careful about reading and understanding every word of a contract before you sign it, the same is true before you give it to someone else. Especially a professional.

How embarrassing.

He did offer two criticisms of my introductory email before getting started. One has to do with an informational blurb I provided along with the outline which summarized the story in the same way the back of a DVD might. It isn't worth getting into here - basically, I gave the blurb a label which means something other than I thought it does. I'll get back to you once I read up on those labels and figure out the right way to do it.

The other criticism was about the name. As another reader pointed out, "Spooky" is a light-hearted word and may give the wrong impression. Jordan and I have been aware since the story took a much more mature turn away from its origins that the name might not make it to print. The original idea was far more light-hearted and a little bit silly, and we had to do a little work to figure out how we could carry it forward into the current narrative. We now have our in-narrative explanation as to why this group is so-named, and it isn't because it's what they call themselves. Still, I know it might not work, though others have told me it is very catchy.

As for "Corps," he and another reader have also pointed out that many people might think the word is "Corpse," and wherever clarity might be muddled, a change is advised. And if they're right, that is a shame. Many people have responded well to the title "Spooky Corps." I believe and have been told it is catchy, unique, and perhaps most importantly, unused. It might be the case that it will catch the eye of a publisher and they will tell me it needs to change to go to print, and I certainly won't argue with that.

But if things go the way I imagine they will, I'll be producing this myself, at least for a while, and I can take a gamble on whether or not people will pronounce it wrong.

More has already happened since I wrote the majority of this post, but I think I've written enough for the moment.

Thanks for reading! I'll check back in soon.

- db

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Readers and Artists - WE'RE LOOKING FOR YOU

Two weeks ago, I said that we'd finished writing the story and were working on a second pass which resulted in an alternate version of the first arc. I also said that while I liked the ending more, I wasn't sure if I liked it more as a whole. Well folks, I'm over it.

I really like this new approach. It's a little less noir and a little more adventure, which is what I wanted for the story in the first place. Where the first version relied on a flashbang beginning and serialized cliffhangers to keep you invested, this version hooks you more throughout the individual issues, keeping you occupied with the action in front of you and depositing curiosities in the back of your head along the way to keep you coming back for the explanations. Of the two approaches, this seems to be the right way to go. After all, every page turned is a new opportunity to lose the reader, right? Right.

This is all very exciting, and things are about to start moving quickly. Really quickly.

However, we can't move into the scripting phase right away. You see, we know everything there is to know about the story. We know what secrets are in our characters' heads and what the future holds for them. Add that to the amount of time we've spent in this world pushing things around, tweaking minutia, and rearranging story beats, and it results in the fact that our understanding of the big picture could be blinding us to fundamental problems in structure and clarity. Sure, WE get what's going on, but would it make sense to someone who doesn't know thing one about this world or its inhabitants?

We have no way of knowing. We're going to need an editor.

But before we go throwing money at someone in the industry who has an understanding of and experience in the medium, we're going to let some of you normies who are completely unfamiliar with the story read this opening act and give us your brutally honest opinions. Now, we won't be giving it out to anyone - we want to be sure that the people who read it will be willing to give us PLENTY of specific information about what they think works and what doesn't. We're looking for people with a passion for stories who feel they have a good grasp of narrative structure, especially (but not necessarily) those who read and love comic books. We've come up with a 22 point questionnaire for those who want to devote a little bit of time and a lot of serious thought to it. So drop us a line on the Facebook page if you're interested!

And while we wait for our alpha test readers (some of whom have already received the outline) to get back to us with feedback, there isn't a lot of progress for us to make in terms of the story. While we wait, we're going to hire some concept artists to breathe a little bit of life into the material, both for pre-production and promotional purposes. So here's a second way to get involved, you lone reader, you!

Are you an artist? Do you know any artists who might be interested? If so, again, hit the Facebook page and let us know! Direct your friends there as well. We have been (and will continue to be) scouring groups of comics creators, websites, and forums for artists whose styles we see fitting well with the story we're telling. We'll be contacting them for rates within a few days. If you're interested, get on in there! You might get in on the ground floor of something that has a lot of commitment, passion, and many, many hours of serious work behind it.

And hey, money is nice to have, isn't it?

That's just about it for now. Those are my two calls to action. I know updates have slowed to a trickle over the last few months, but I promise you, this isn't because we haven't been hard at work. As I've said before (or at least I thought I had, but I can't find it now), there's only so many times you can say "Still writing, stay tuned" before it loses all meaning. But now that we're here, you can expect to see more frequent and varied rundowns of what's happening with the project.

Also, for anyone who may remember, I'd intended to use this blog to not only track production, but to explain step-by-step how exactly we were going about it. For a long time, we've been in the story development phase which I wrote about here. Now that we'll be finding and hiring talent, networking, and doing more than converting the things tumbling out of our brains into text, I'll finally have something new to say in terms of how-to articles, even if those articles consist mostly of the many trials and errors it will take to get this thing off the ground without any prior experience in doing so.

If you're still reading this, you've probably been here for about seven months, and I am so grateful to have you along for the ride.

I can't thank you enough for your support.

Real content is coming, and that right soon.

Stay tuned.

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Sketchdump

If you're following along, you know we've finished the story and we're doing a second pass from the beginning. Last week, we dug into the first arc together and came up with an alternate path to cover all of the same material. I wrote the two versions down so we can compare them tomorrow and see what works best. I have some issues with the new version, but I like the ending better. I think the problem is I've had the other version in my head for a year, and it's hard to brush away all of the details. Moving the big blocks is easy, but the little things... It's hard to lose them so I can start with a fresh perspective. I've been spending more time drawing that writing lately. Still don't expect to be able to draw the book by the time we're ready for pencils, but feeling that time approach and seeing myself improve little by little is motivating me to continue. I'm all over the place, stylistically. Struggling to get an ingrained sense of the structure and angles. Every seventh or eighth drawing looks pretty good. Everything in between is just another junk drawing I have to get out of the way to get to a good one.

I'm not using references to draw. Just trying to learn from observation and lots of practice. I'm relying on my imagination to tell me whether something is right or not... which may not be the best way to go about it. Some instruction may speed up the progress, but it feels great when I learn something on my own, and that's a big motivation too.

I do have trouble with eyes, though. And hair... haven't spent a second looking at how to draw hair. I should maybe do that. Rudimentary proportions and gesture seem to come to me fairly naturally. Not sure how my anatomy will do when I start adding muscles.

But why tell you when I can show you? Here's most of the stuff I've put in my sketchbook since the last sketch dump:

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sketchdump-150502f

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Up to the date

Yesterday for the first time ever, I saved a copy of a document that lays out the entire narrative from beginning to end. Well, a little bit of a rushed end, with the outline of the final four issues doing very little to explain themselves to someone unfamiliar with the story. But it is all there. I know this sounds a lot like my February 25th update - but that was just the rough outline. The full story is now broken down into issues. The final few lack detail because much of what happens in those last moments will be emotional resolutions, and those will be more writeable after we've given life to the details of the character's journeys leading to that point.

There is also much to put into the earlier issues that we came up with in the writing the later parts of the story, and doing so add some colors to the narrative that the specifics of the current ending don't acknowledge.

Once we can draw cleaner through-lines from the beginning to the end, It'll be written into a digestible version of the story for some volunteer readers who are into giving feedback. Once we work out any kinks in the overall story, it'll be time to start producing.

So for now, we're going back through from the start, finding what we're missing, taking out what we don't need. Simplifying. I'm done a rough pass of the first of the three parts of the story, and it was pretty easy. It feels like the hard part is all done, and now it's just smoothing out the edges.

Seems like we're on track for release in 2016. The wonderfully unspecific "2016".

What's not terribly on track is my drawing. I really wish I could become good enough to draw the book a year from now, but it's not looking likely. And I didn't expect it in the first place. But artists are costly. Shucks.

I am improving, though. Sort of. I'm still better than when I started, and I'm probably learning more than I feel like I am. My heads are still all over the place, but my gesture sketching seems to come pretty naturally. I'm doing everything without reference (which may not be the best plan, but it feels like it will make me better). There have only been a couple of poses I've imagined that I wasn't able to put down... one of which is an archer. Observe!

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I thought I would have time to post a sketchdump tonight, but it's not looking good. I'll work on that on Tuesday.

- db

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Sketchdump

Well, it is as I said it would be. Jordan and I spent about four and a half hours running through the whole backstory which is brought to light by the end of the narrative and talking out the final remaining issues, curiosities, and uncertainties. All that was muddy is now clear.

Now sure, once I start writing it out and trying to put the ideas on paper, I'm probably going to run into minor issues. But I think these issues will mostly be about finding the correct pacing and delivery, not finding solutions to problems in the story.

I really think we're completely done developing the story. Now I just have to /write/ the story. And I'm already more than 2/3 of the way there.

These are exciting times, my friends.

The last time I posted, I said I might post some progress reports on my sketching. The thing is, I really hope I'm not going to be the one to draw this comic, and if my sketching isn't going to end up having anything to do with the art in the comic, it seems a little odd to post it on SpookyCorps.com, as it's not Spooky Corps related. I mean really, that would be as perfect as it gets - writing and drawing the story myself, with nothing lost in translation between me and an artist - but I seriously doubt I'm going to be up to the skill level I want to see in the book's art by the time we need to start making pages. IF it comes down to it, I'm going to do it, because I need to get this story told, but I'm still expecting to find a collaborator with mad skills who either wants to be on the team just because it would be cool to make a comic book, or whose price I can afford to pay. So... to post my sketches, or not?

My wife thinks I should. She appears to be holding out hope that I'm going to become amazing in the next nine months and end up drawing the book. Seems to be a foregone conclusion to her. I'm holding out hope that I can make this book even better than what it would be with me manning all stations.

I talked it over with Jordan, and he suggested that if I'm going to keep practicing, I might as well practice designing our characters. That way I'll keep honing my skills and generating relevant content for the site at the same time. I think that's a good idea.

I still need some practice before I can design any characters though. I'm still not sure I can replicate one face over and over. Also, I've mostly learned how to draw guy's faces, and that's just about the only thing I've become somewhat comfortable with. My girls were still all over the place the last time I checked, and while I had some winners in the sketches I've done so far, there's zero consistency in style. I can draw something pretty good and something pretty terrible one right after the other without realizing what I did differently or where I went wrong. I did figure out how I like to draw ears just today, so... that's something. But I've got only the tiniest grasp on facial expressions, and everything from the chin down has gone completely ignored thusfar. I still haven't even begun looking into how to draw hair, and I'm still seeing very inconsistent results with eyes and mouths.

Maybe I'm practicing wrong. I don't know. There's a lot to work on in the faces, and I'll be starting from scratch on anatomy whenever I get to it. But I am getting better.

I've decided to go ahead and do an initial dump of most of my sketches so far. It probably won't be a regular thing until I'm able to get some character designs going, as I mentioned. And after I get there, ideally I'll be able to point this hypothetical future artist to my stuff and say, "It's kinda like that, but better. Like YOU do it." But if all else fails, maybe it'll end up being a record of how the guy who drew Spooky Corps learned to draw.

For now, here's this - roughly three weeks' worth of face sketches. You can click to enlarge, or not. The worst ones are the hardest to see, and maybe that's okay.

Enjoy.

- db

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The Last Leg

Still writing. ss150218

Still not posting.

Jordan and I have chatted several times and I guess we finished working out Part II yesterday, and I completed the outline today. We started outlining Part III tonight, and in a couple of months, we'll have the first finished draft of the entire story. And it will be completely terrible, but for the first time it will be complete. And with the whole picture in place... /then/ we will be able to revise.

So, how's this for an awkward segue?

I am terrible at describing the images I have in my head. I'm rambly, and verbose, and because I'm too scared to commit to any obvious tropes or genre elements, I vaguely describe the spectrum of an idea and insist on being noncommittal. "Tribal but civilized, you know? Not too wild, but not too tame." I feel sorry for Trish. "Just be riiiiight there with the perfect mix. Can you do that? Can you draw whatever's in my head and make sure it's something that's never been seen before? Great, thanks."

She somehow still delivers great stuff every time I send her a profile. I don't understand it. But to save her the trouble of interpreting my future rants about what kind of shoes an Outlander might wear and why, I've been spending a lot of time on Pinterest. Today I downloaded a ton of images to create a photographic tour of the fashions in the world. Figured I'd save us both a thousand words and send a picture instead.

Found a lot of cool stuff. It was fun. My friend Mundo said it's clear I have some momentum going, and I do. I really do. I'm sleepy now.

Good night.

- db

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Lookin sketchy

Those were the three most productive hours I've had in weeks. Gmailed up a storm with Jordan fixing what was holding me up. So much goodness.

And look, a rough scene from Trish. This place looks pretty sketchy.

- db

BoomTown_AlleyMaybe

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Quiet progress

The outline's been sitting since the rewrite. I think I'll give it some more time. Let myself forget some of the changes before I continue on with it.  Second act of the second part is the tricky bit. The middle of the middle of the story. There's a lot going on there. Jordan and I have been talking the past couple of days about a big change to one of the leads, and Trish has done some thumbnails of the other lead. Artwork is exciting, and I want to show everyone right away, but I'm not sure how much more we should get before I release further previews.

I should write another process article as well. There just seems to be so little time by the time I'm finished working.

Just hang tight. Tangible updates are forthcoming.

- db

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Cutting room

So much of the outline has been there the whole time, unchanged. All of the basic ideas are correct in terms of who goes where and what is revealed, but the rough scenes I initially wrote are remaining there, static, and I'm running out of breathing room. It's probably time once again to stop writing into the story and start streamlining everything. See where I can combine elements of separate scenes into a single idea that says it all. See where I can reduce a paragraph to a few lines of dialogue. I've thought about going after some of these issues as complete rewrites, ignoring the text I have already and just starting again from scratch, just to see how it comes out. I know what needs to be in there, but sometimes a blank page gives me so many new things to say, so many new ways to communicate an idea. It can be a little more difficult to add thoughts into the same paragraphs I've been seeing week after week. However, I have written in all the notes from the talk with Jordan the other day. It felt good to get those new details in there, and it was pretty easy. They all had their place. It really helped to round out the issues they went into.

Yeah, some of these issues are really good. The focus is there, and it all fits and flows nicely.

But some of them are just a mess.

Yet on we go.

We passed on the few notes we had about the last piece of concept art to Trish, and I sent her the profile for the next character.

I feel like everything we visualize should tell us something about the world or the characters. So there's a lot to consider when creating a human being out of thin air. Nothing should be arbitrary. It is possible I wrote too much. I usually do. The first four or five paragraphs of the email were just about the city this character lives in - the architecture, the fashion, the technology. Then I finally got to him, and where he fits into it.

I think I actually spent significantly less time on him than the area of the city he comes from.

Still, can't wait to see what she comes up with. She has yet to disappoint.

Look, here's the first thing she drew for us last March. This is what got me super excited, and got me to buckle down and actually start making this thing real.

HankHangman

Pretty sweet, huh?

Yeah.

Now, just a little housecleaning - I did some writing yesterday and didn't get around to updating you guys. Sorry about that. I'm not losing momentum, taking a week off just gave me a lot to do and I wasn't able to get to it all. As for tonight - I don't usually write on Fridays, but I'm not going to put in both days this weekend. Whether tomorrow or Sunday, I'm not sure right now. But broken car is broken, and I need to figure that out.

I'll let you know when I'm at it again. Stay spooky.

- db

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Back from the dead

Do you know how much gets done when you take a week off? A lot, actually.

Our probably artist Trish Kelley has nailed a character that I've been unable to envision for ten years. Jordan and I both love it and I can't wait to show you.

I haven't written in eleven days. I've done some things on my lunch breaks - the page breakdowns you saw and quick emailed notes I've sent myself and others here and there - but I haven't been in the outline in a week and a half.

Still, my wheels have been spinning. I couldn't help it. The Corps doesn't let me take time off.

Before Jordan came over on Saturday, I had a sudden burst of ideas that I wanted to make sure we dug into. Seems there is some wisdom to that idea of the poor man's editor after all. I sent myself a quick email with the handful of topics we were unfortunately unable to cover as I mentioned in the last post.

Because I was off for the week, I didn't give it much more thought... or I didn't think I had.

I told Jordan I was writing tonight and during my lunch break ended up sending him a lengthy email about new approaches to elements in most of the main character arcs and a few side characters too. Those ideas had been fermenting in the corners of my mind, and they'd grown into a thing that somehow brought the story together. Made it a little more tactile. Less a collection of scenes and more of a glimpse into a living world.

We regrouped via text and decided a few things were good, and a few needed more discussion. And now I'm going to write those decisions into the outline.

I'm trying something different tonight and going in with Last Long Rattle by the Insect Fable instead of the opening track on the There Will Be Blood soundtrack.

There were days that I listened to this song over and over for twenty minutes at a time. It definitely gives me the Spooky Corps heebies.

Okay. I'm going to write now.

- db

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Vacation's last leg

Weekend plans were a tad disobedient. Jordan and I didn't dig into it like we'd hoped, but we kicked a few of ideas around. Gave me something to work on over the next month until our next session. Also talked to an artist who may be committing to drawing the book and claiming a slice of ownership. She's done some concept work for us, and I really like what I'm seeing.

I kinda took more than a week off, because my last real update was over a week ago, but I kinda didn't because I still did some stuff between then and now. I'll be back to proper writing on Tuesday.

Until then,

- db

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Break Time

About a month ago I said that I thought I might finish what I'm working on a week ahead of my deadline, and that's exactly what happened last Thursday. I've been so productive since I launched the Facebook page and set a writing schedule that I found time to stop.

I decided to take the week off since Jordan is coming down this weekend, and we'll probably accomplish more with a few hours of conversation than I will with another week in a vacuum.

I'm excited, as always, to get back to it, but it is nice to be able to take a little time off without feeling guilty about it.

You may get another update from me sometime over the next week, but I don't think I'll be back at the keyboard until next Tuesday. So if nothing else, I'll see you then.

- db

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Restructuring

I had a revelation about the story a little over week ago. I’m thinking about restructuring the first draft of the outline for Part One, which was finished last September. Andy Schmidt from Comics Experience said something on the Make Comics podcast that must have gotten to me. He said not only could every issue be a chance to lose a reader, every page, and even every panel could be. I think he’s right in a broad sense, in that someone somewhere may get tired of a comic mid-read when they happen to be on a particular panel, but I certainly think every page is a chance to lose a reader on any comic book. They always have to want to flip to the next page.

I’m thinking about a publisher (heck, let’s say Image), and what they’ll expect to see when they pick up a book. The name is catchy – you gotta give it that. I think it’s an attention grabber. It sounds dark and it sounds fun, and I think people will want to look inside. Now I have to keep them for every page. For the right amount of money, it will look professional and match my vision. But what of the pace? I’d written the story as though I were under the assumption that everything will just work out. That I could simply make sixty issues. That I could create whatever long-lasting comic book series I wanted. I did not think then about how much it would take to make a single issue, let alone sixty of them.

But let’s be honest... I can’t pitch a sixty-book story to Image from out of nowhere and expect it to be picked up. I’m either going to have to do a one shot, or a short arc side story or historical piece, OR I could restructure the story so that the pitch for the first arc is awesome, and fairly self-contained, but with continued story potential. An arc that is actually about Spooky Corps, and not the slow-burn leading to their real introduction, which is how it’s written now. And I have to make sure that by the end of that story, it is impossible to not want it to continue so if it WERE to get picked up, it would keep selling. I think the restructuring idea I mentioned a week ago would do that for the story, but I’m not sure how much rearranging it’s going to take. It seems like it’s going to be hard...

But before I get to restructuring, I think about the other option... Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding was the presumed path if publishing didn’t pan out, but I’m starting to realize it may be unlikely that I’m going to be able to gather enough interest to run a successful campaign. Of course, I have begun to establish my online presence pretty early in the production process. I have at least a year before I start trying to move toward printing, if that’s the way it’s going to go. It’s hard to imagine in that time I will have neither learned anything nor progressed at all, and I should hope that the interest and support will continue to grow. I must keep that in mind, especially this early on. But I’ve been thinking about the story in terms of pages lately, and I’m beginning to see my production timeline (assuming my pitch doesn’t connect and I’ll be doing it on my own) more realistically.

I’m not sure to what degree I find this avenue appealing, but I do find it interesting and a little exciting to have my first real obstacle or challenge in the process. What I’ve come to is this: I may have to release the pages online as they’re completed in order for the story gather the interest it needs to have a successful campaign. And even if I try a crowdfunding campaign and it fails, maybe an online release is the most realistic way for me to get this story out there.

So now my conundrum: if that ends up being the case and I’m not going to get the story picked up - if I’m releasing it myself, either with the crowdfunded financial backing or out of my own pocket, and I can do whatever I want with the story because I’m making it, and I’m paying for it - do I really want it to be restructured? Is the way I have it now actually the best way to tell the story, and the best way to tell the story is what will keep it from being picked up? Or is there only one best way, and finding the way that gives it the greatest chance to get it published will be a benefit the story no matter how it ends up being released?  Without knowing, is it worth my time to fiddle with it, possibly modifying the story past the point of no return?

Well....

I do know the story isn’t done. It won’t be done until I write Part Three, and do another full pass-over knowing all we’ll know when the entire outline is completed. Si I might as well keep tumbling it. Get it nice and polished. See what else might work; see what might work better.

Hm… I’m going to go ahead and say very few great works were created after an artist said, “Might as well.”

Let’s do this.

There we go.

- db

 

edit: Well... that was easy. I sat down for twenty minutes and I think I finished. Now that I have a better feel for pages, I was able to turn what had been the first ten issues into the first five issues. It turns out, that accomplished everything I wanted to do, and I only had to rearrange two paragraphs. When I did this to part two, I got rid of four issue numbers. So we're certainly not at sixty anymore for the whole story, but relevant to this post, that first arc is now more solid, more streamlined, and feels more complete. Feels good, man.

My “how is this thing going to get made” conundrum has vanished. I don’t feel like anything’s out the window. THIS is the way to tell the story. And maybe it won’t get picked up. And maybe I will do a side arc, or a one-shot. And maybe those won’t be picked up either, and maybe I will release it online for free, slowly cultivating a following until I’m able to campaign to collect the issues in print.. I don’t know, and that’s a ways off, and I’m not worried about it now.

Right now, I’m digging the story. It excites me.

It is my favorite thing.

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The way the story is told

For the record - I did work on Sunday. I wrote out a simple outline of Part One based on the eighteen-page version, mostly turning each paragraph into a sentence so I can easily restructure while keeping an idea of how it all flows together. I didn't post my usual update because my son woke up an hour and a half into writing and I was never able to get back to it. Since then, I've been trying to get this website to work. It only kind of works right now, but I guess I can say we're up and running. You type the thing into the thing, and you get here so... yes. Working.

That said, I said that I wanted to make this website more of a production blog than the social media platform (by which I mean Facebook because how do you twitter) allows, and since I'm deep into laying the foundation of and structuring the narrative, I thought I'd use my first SpookyCorps.com post to talk a little bit about how I've approached writing this story.

One rainy morning when I was eighteen years old, I woke up, got out of bed, walked to the computer and started writing a story that was in my head. I hadn't dreamed it, I just knew it. A guy was going to come face to face with woman who had broken into his apartment. She would turn out to be a vampire. It would be gritty and moody, and not flashy at all. I got to the end, did one quick review, and called it written. The last time I read it I thought it was pretty okay for something that just came to me.

But I don't know the last time I read it. It's probably terrible. An eighteen year-old's vampire story? No. You gotta be kiddin' me.That anecdote has nothing to do with the way I approach constructing a narrative.

C'mon.

And yes, I know what you're thinking. "But Daniel, you're the one who told us that anecdote right after you said you were going to talk about how you write your stupid stories!"

Well I've got one question for you. How long are you going to keep throwing that in my face? Huh?

I guess that was two questions.

Okay folks, calm down. Let's get serious. I'm a very important man. I write things. But HOW?

Structure

This post is actually going to explain how I've written not only Spooky Corps, but  just about every story I've written, excluding the angsty vampire short story from my teen years.

It's all about structure. Story structure is like a machine, or a math problem, or a piece of music. It's a system of rules that, if followed, creates a product of the method, and that product is a narrative. It might not be interesting. It might not be moving or exciting or thought-provoking, but it will be a story that does what it's supposed to do.

First thing about structure: this is obvious, and we've all heard it before, but you have to have a beginning, middle, and end. Right? Boom boom boom. So first you have to have an idea to begin with: Let's say our brilliant idea for a story is that a guy named Guy wants a Thing. This is compelling stuff. Next, we'll need a middle - this is where our protagonist strives to achieve his goals and runs into conflict. Let's say there's a guy named Other Guy, and he has the Thing that Guy wants. Then you need to resolve that conflict one way or another - win or lose - in your ending. Let's make this ending a happy one and say that Guy gets the Thing from the Other Guy. Yippee.

Kinda boring, but it's a story. As it is here, this is a story we could tell in a three panel comic strip. So assuming we want to write a comic book (or a movie, or a novel, or an episode of television, or a ballad) what's it take to flesh this idea out and make a more involved story?

I'll tell you what it's going to take - a beginning that has a beginning, middle, and end, a middle with a beginning, middle, and end, and an ending with a beginning, middle, and end.

Wow, that sentence is the worst eyesore on the Internet, I'm sure of it. But... Please don't offer challenges to that claim.

As you can see, story structure is like a fractal. You can keep looking smaller and smaller, but the shape is always the same. So, let's revamp the rough sketch and make an outline. We need nine little chunks of three part stories that build together to make a whole which is true to our original idea. Let's see...

- Beginning! The Guy loses his house; The Thing can provide a new house; Now the Guy wants the Thing. - Middle! The Other Guy is a jerk; Other Guy was also responsible for Guy losing his house!; Other Guy stole the Thing. - END!!  Guy finds out Other Guy is reaaal jerk. Guy launches plan to ensnare Other Guy. Plan works, Guy gets the Thing.

Yes, that sounds like a story. I decided the Other Guy is a bad guy, because stories with good guys against bad guys are selling well these days. So he not only has the Thing that Guy wants, he stole the thing. But even with this incredible depth, why does it feel just like the generic template that every other one-star story follows? Why does it have no pizazz?

Characters

Well, it turns out it helps if you're characters are more detailed than "Guy, who is a good guy" and "Other Guy, who is a bad guy." Here's another obvious piece of advice: People like to relate to stories. They like to see humans doing and reacting to things, and they like to think "I am like that," or "I aspire to be like that," or "I'm glad that's not me," because that's what we do with real people and real stories.

So who is this guy? What makes him who he is? What does he spend his time doing? It doesn't have to be a job, but let's just use that for the sake of simplicity. Does he haul trash? Sit on the senate? Yeah, sure, let's go with that. His "house" is his seat in politics. Alright. That's this guy.

Now, do you know what characters need besides job duties? Personal desires.

Not just one desire - we already know from the fact that this is a story that the character will desire something. He's not going to walk around all apathetic just getting pushed around by the wind (unless you're writing your first mumblecore movie, in which case you're probably on the right track). But it can add depth to the character if we realize over the course of the story that he has a subconscious desire as well.

So if his conscious desire in this story is the Thing, which we'll say is the votes he needs to keep his seat- his subconscious desire might be to get out of the game and spend his later years with his family.

The fact that his conscious and subconscious desires oppose each other could be its own source of conflict in the story, allowing us to see the character presented with choices and allow his decisions to reveal things about himself - perhaps even to himself - as well as move the plot forward.

Now we have a character. Let's name him Gary. You can think about these things with Other Guy

Subplot

So we've got a structured plot, a character with a self identity and desires. Now what? Ah heck, let's go all out and add another layer. Since I want this to be a longer story, I'm going to add a subplot - another story thread that we spend less time with, but which gives a greater meaning to the events or the main characters. I'm of the personally belief that practically everything which does not directly serve the main idea is at least a minor subplot, in that whatever is presented in the story -  whether it's the whole piece, a theme, an act or sequence of scenes, a minor character who appears several times, or even a bit of dialogue - can and usually should have its own beginning, middle, and end. Fractals, I say!

But let's just focus on one major subplot for now. Hopefully we can use this to explore an idea or interest that's been knocking around our heads for a while. Let's start searching. Who does Gary know?  We established with his subconscious desire that he has a family which is... well, at least subconsciously important to him. How can we make it interesting? Does he have an estranged family member? Or how about a son who's slowly dying in the hospital? Sure, heck, let's mix the two. A dying, estranged son with an ugly prognosis. That sounds like a... you know... promising dramatic element.

Now we've got  a plot, a breathing character to live it, and additional forces at work to keep things interesting. With all this in mind, let's try that outline again. But do be aware that all of these elements are going to change the pacing of the three act structure I wrote up there, and that's okay! This is when the story starts to become a puzzle. Everything has a place, we know that, we just need to adjust each bit until it's in the right shape. The needs of the story are now going to drive our decisions more than our decisions are going to drive the story.

Rough Outline

So let's get to puzzlin'. In our beginning, Gary is being challenged in an election for the first time. Let's say it's not that he's lost his seat already, it's that he has always run uncontested and has the potential to lose it now. He won his seat previously running on a platform of bringing transparency to politics and has not let the people down, but he hasn't delivered terribly strongly on that either. It's a thick web, politics, and it's tough to get very far if you won't scratch a back or two. Now, a hint of conflict - the Other Guy who we'll start calling... Oscar... has appeared and poses a strong threat. It's not looking good for Gary at the outset. Also, remember that his estranged son is meanwhile wasting away in a hospital somewhere. In order to keep his seat, Gary continues to neglect his son and gets busy campaigning.

There is a hint of darkness and conflict at the top of this act, but Gary now has a mission and is off on his adventure. In a way, act one ends on an up note because here is potential for great reward. Now let's ruin all of that potential over the course of the next act so we end up on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.

In our middle, we need to see the goals and conflicts, the challenges Gary faces and the failure or success that results. We know that Oscar's a bad guy, right? And we decided he steals the votes. So we see that the Oscar has been working with a financier who has paid some people off to get the election won. If Gary could get the votes that we see will be stolen, he would still have his seat. This rearranges things a bit, but stays true to our original idea that our antagonist is the reason Gary lost his "house." And because we decided that Oscar is a jerk in our nine-beat outline, we'll say he's mean to the financier's assistant in some way. That's a way we can show this character quality without having someone come out and say, "You're a jerk, Oscar." And let's not forget the subplot! It needs a middle too. Gary goes to see his son in the hospital and they say everything they want to say. It does not end well. Maybe even now, the father is unable to forgive the son, or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe Gary is called away to work for an important campaign matter before they can resolve their issues. There's that conscious vs. subconscious desire conflict I was talking about. Either way, it is not a pretty conversation.

I think that effectively puts us on the opposite side of where act one left us. Now let's bring it all home with the happy ending we planned.

In the end, the Oscar's financier's angry assistant to whom he was not kind switches sides and tells Gary what's going on, giving him a crucial piece of information. Meanwhile, Gary's son, apparently unhappy with his father, contacts the Oscar saying he wants to endorse him and lay out the dirt about his dad. He convinces Oscar it will be valuable publicity as the election approaches. Oscar shows up on a live feed for a news network, and Gary's son releases the crucial information on the air which proves the election is being rigged. The bad guy is caught. Gary has seen his son out of the audience's sight and they've hatched this plan together, exposed a corrupt politician, and brought to light the fraudulent activity in politics in a high profile way. Gary is offered his seat back without contest, but declines, deciding to retire. Though the fight goes on, he has fought his part in the war and he has won, and now he can spend time with his son.

If we want to get extra sappy, we could say Oscar was coming in to submit a bill that would increase Gary's son's difficulty in getting adequate medical care, and now Tiny Tim is going to live!

We could. I mean, Dickens did it, right? ... or was that just in the Muppets version?

Either way, look! I just wrote a little story.

Where do we go from here?

Next, I would start asking myself a lot of questions. Does anything seem too convenient? You bet it does! How is Gary's son able to convince Oscar he should show up at a hospital on a live national television feed? The young man would have to have some serious connections, or a particular wit, or a bit of information that would convince Oscar of such a thing. So guess what? I'm going to start thinking about the son's character, who he is, what he does, his desires. And I'll do it with the financier too, and the assistant. As I explore these people, I'll have bad ideas that have no place and a few ideas that fit perfectly! Sometimes, the original idea will slowly morph over time. Gary might end up being a local business owner, Oscar might be a corporate CEO, the Thing might be an upcoming change in the local zoning or licensing laws, and the thievery might be paid-off government zoning officials. As you can imagine, these might end up being very different stories, with different scopes and characters and messages.

But through all this, the structure, or at least its principals, remain the same.

And that's the jist of it. I start with an outline like this and just keep writing details, and changing things that make more sense, or feel better, or say something that I want to say. Eventually, I've got so many details written in that it only makes sense to stop writing in outline form and just start writing what is actually seen and said and revealed, in the format of whatever medium I'm writing for.

Like I said before, this is probably how anybody writes stories. I hope this post hasn't been entirely banal and you found something helpful, interesting, or amusing somewhere along the way.

I intend to continue on with these little articles until I've caught up to my current stage of production and then continue the blog from there as a more in-depth way of updating you on my progress with Spooky Corps, as well as provide some educational behind-the-scenes, or... in-my-head stuff. And maybe in articulating my method, I'll learn something myself. They say you should teach to learn, so there you go.

Thanks for reading. If you want to stay updated, it is entirely possible there is a way to subscribe to this blog. I don't know anything about that, so I'll tell you to subscribe to the Spooky Corps project's Facebook page instead. I'll be back to work on Spooky Corps on Thursday. I'm really excited to dig back into Part One, bringing it up to the scope of the whole story, now that it's fuller. The ideas are already there, and my fingers are itching.

Until then,

- db

 

dictated, typed, not read. It's far too late for proofreading.

[I have since proofread and probably missed several glaring mistakes. -ed.]

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