Monday, July 18, 2016

I learned how to write novels by drawing comics.

Jeffe already said it, really, but at the end of the day we learn by doing.

My number one answer as to how to write a novel is simple: plant your butt in the seat and start writing. Repeat.

Thats not far from true. But the fact of the matter is that any sort of craft requires time and discipline.

It also requires focus. That's not quite the same as discipline, but they are very close cousins.

WhenI was growing up my family moved a lot. How much? Seventeen schools in twelve years of schooling and most of my moving was done by the time I was fourteen. My constant companion while growing up, the ONLY constant other than my family, was comic books. Marvel, DC, Charleston, Gold Key. Whatever comic I could find, I read. I was raised as much by Superman and the Avengers as I was by anyone else. My moral compass was definitely affected by the actions of Clark Kent and his alter ego (No powers, but a definite sense of what i thought was right and wrong) and I knew at an early age that I wanted to draw comics.

I sat down every day and I read them and I studied them and I broke them down in my mind as to how I would lay out the individual panels and what I would say.  I spent a lot of time drawing, and I did my best to understand the basics of storytelling and anatomy and How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way.

That last one? I read that book a thousand times and studied each example they gave

What I never managed in all of that time was how to draw comics well. It wasn't for lack of trying and I could get certain aspects easily enough, but in the words of a Marvel Comics editor ai was showing my work (I'd actually done a full 22 page issue of the DC Comics character The Creeper, but damned if I wasn't going to show it to someone and DC was not there that year; The best laid plans....) "You can't draw a straight line and I can see you've been using a ruler. Your anatomy is horrible and out of proportion, but I you're telling a great story. Have you considered writing?" I should point out that at first there was a lot of hemming and hawing, but eventually I told him he wouldn't hurt my feelings if he was brutally honest.

He was brutally honest. It hurt a bit. I was wrong on that aspect. He also bought my first professional sale a few months later. Turned out pencil wasn't my medium. I could tell the story just fine with words and that's what I practiced after speaking to him.

I learned the proper format by looking at a few other comic scripts and emulating the layout. I told the story n a way that the artist could understand.

Later, when virtually every contact I had at Marvel Comics got fired on the same day and I'd spent a month writing at least one one page proposal a day, I got sick of telling the equivalent of a story a day in the same basic format as the back cover text of a novel I sat down one day with an image in my head that would not leave me alone.

A solitary kid, overweight and winded, runs through the woods with half a dozen kids after him. They chase him down and bear him mercilessly, while, in the woods around and above them, hundreds of tiny creatures watch and cheer them on.

That image would n leave me alone until, finally, exasperated, I sat down and I wrote the scene out. Then I thought about it a bit and wrote the next scene that explained the first. And then I write the consequences of those actions.

I wrote about how that beaten down boy got better and got his revenge and I wrote about the motivations behind his actions. As I wrote I drew a bigger picture with words. It just kept growing.

I believe the final text was somewhere around 170,000 words. I was told matter of factly that it would never sell.

I sold it anyway. It's been in print multiple times and got some pretty damned decent blurbs back in the day. the story was called UNDER THE OVERTREE.

I liked the feeling so much that I did it again and again. Along the way I honed my writing skills with practice, with patience, with the help of good friends who gave me their time, and by trial and error. Oh, and with the help pf very patient editors.

As I have explained to people before, I went to seventeen schools in twelve years. My best year I had a 2.5 GPA. Most years in high school it was a 1.5.

When I was drawing comics, badly, granted, I was telling a story. That story had a beginning, a middle and an end. I drew out easily ten or fifteen comics, full stories, either on note book paper when I could afford nothing better, or on full sized 11 x 17 bristol board after I got a job and saved up for my meager supplies.

I don't physically draw much these days. No spare time, and, honestly, I was never very good But I visualize the same way I always did, and my palette of words is pretty comfortable.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Jeffe called that one pretty close. I always enjoy hearing about your writing path, Jim. You are tenacious and I respect that.