Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Comic Book Writing 101

I mentioned a few months back that I’m working on a new comic book series based on the TV show Charmed and a few of my Ro Com Compatriots asked what it was like to write for comics. Now that Issue 1 is out and I have a bit more experience under my belt under the tutelage of my co-writer, Raven Gregory, I thought it might be fun to share some of the things I’ve learned so far. As with any writing, the learning process is forever ongoing. These are just some general lessons and there are exceptions to every rule.

1. A comic book script is the most concise form of writing I have ever attempted. The average comic book is about 20-some pages of content. Sometimes the story will continue over an arc of several comics, but each individual issue (as any story) should have some kind of beginning, middle, and end to it. For me, outlining is absolutely necessary in this process.

The first thing I do when approaching a new issue is I create a table in Word that is two columns wide and twelve rows long. Then I break it out as if it were the layout of the comic book. The top row is the inside cover and page one. Second row is pages two and three, and so on and so on. Then I fill each box in the grid with the basic action that will take place on that page. This allows me to move things around, control the pacing of the story, and generally get a visual on where the big reveals will be. All reveals happen on even numbered pages so that when you turn the page--BOOM--something interesting should be happening on the left page, as here in the U.S. we read from left to right. (Mind you, you can’t just make every even page “exciting” because a story has a natural flow.)

2. The obvious rule: Every panel can only hold one action. You can’t just have someone go to the refrigerator, open it, take out some string cheese, shut the door, open the packaging, peel off a tasty string of cheese and eat it in one drawing. That’s seven panels. (It’s also a very boring comic book.) You have to find a way to link the panels by highlighting the important action. Panel 1: The person reaches into the refrigerator for the string cheese. Panel 2: Eating of the string cheese ensues.

3. A comic book page is only so large. You can only fit so many panels on one page. You can only fit so much information into one panel. You have to envision the page as you want the artist to draw it, balancing out the number of panels with the amount of information each panel reveals. Then you have to link the panels into a story.

This is where you get to have fun. Some pages can be packed with panels. Some might only have two or three panels. In rare cases, you can have one panel equal a whole page. And in really special cases, you might have one panel stretch out over a two-page spread for a really big reveal. This is where the pacing comes in. Sometimes you set the pacing and other times the pacing sets you depending on how much information you need to share. A big two-page spread might be fun to have the artist create, but if you need to reveal a bunch of information over those two pages, it might be best to use multiple panels to do it.

4. The artist is not a mind reader. You have to be very careful how you describe the art that is going to be drawn. That’s a risk with novels as well. When I’m describing something to a reader in a novel, I can’t get into that reader’s mind and tell her what to think. There’s always a chance the reader will imagine something differently than I intended. With comic books, if the artist draws something that does not match your intention the reader will only see what appears on the page.

5. You have to be able to let go. Comic books are a collaboration. No matter how in sync you are with the artist, some things will not be translated the way you pictured them. If you’re lucky enough to see the art before it goes to print (which is not always the case) you can’t nitpick every little thing. You have to focus on the big stuff. The things that affect the story. Because if you do start getting all nitpicky you should be warned that the artist may want to kill you. But sometimes the changes may be worth placing your life in jeopardy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Big "R"

Today I had the honor of visiting a gifted writing class for junior high and high school students at the University of Utah. They made this cool chair for me to sit in! Sorry, I just thought that was really cool. But back to topic, we're talking about rejection here at the Pulse Ro-Com blog, and how I dealt with rejection was one of the many wonderful questions I was asked today. Because I'm sure at least some of this group of enthusiastic students will become authors someday, I was sure to answer honestly and not sugar-coat the reality that I dont' know a single writer who has breezed into publication without his or her fair share--and sometimes more than their fair share--of rejections.

One of my favorite authors (and she's a really cool and beautiful person to boot) is Shannon Hale, and though I haven't actually seen this presentation of hers, she apparently has a whole collection of rejection letters that she has attached end-to-end and rolls out for everybody to see. As rumor has it, it goes on forever and ever. One of the students I hung out with today mentioned that an author she knows wallpapered her office with rejection letters, and I know of a couple of authors who've held on to each rejection and stored them in a special--and very fat--folder.

While I don't have a visual showcasing every rejection I've accumulated throughout my 6-year writing-to-become published career, I can say I've had to grow a thick skin. And with each rejection, I have to remind myself that this is an extremely subjective industry. How many times have you read something (or watched a show on TV or a movie) and thought it was amazing, yet your best friend thought it was a waste of time? Right. Same goes with all the editors (the people at publishing houses that read your book and decide whether or not it's "right" for them) and literary agents out there. Some books speak to them, move them, make them jump for joy, while others ... don't. That doesn't mean your book is bad (per se); it just means it's too similar to something they have, needs more work, or any number of legitimate reasons.

So, what I'm trying to say (I'm still trying to catch up on sleep after my overnight flight two days ago so I can only hope I'm making some sense) is that if you sit or want to sit in the "Author's Chair," you shouldn't take it personally when you get a rejection.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How Do I Deal with Rejection?

This is a great question for anyone to ask of herself. In fact, Caitlin (the protagonist of Getting to Third Date) is trying to fast track the relationship rejection process by finding a reason to reject all her potential boyfriends by the second date. Ultimately, she learns this doesn't actually help ease the sting of rejection.

By the time you turn 18, you've probably had friends (boyfriends, girlfriends, friendish folks) who suddenly don't return calls because they've moved on to the next new and shiny set of friends (lets call them drifters). You probably also have a few keepers -- the friends who stick with you when you move, cut your hair, get a boyfriend, lose a boyfriend, etc. It still stings when a friend you thought was a keeper turns into a drifter.

Take that feeling, and picture spending months and years on a book you love, then sending it off to agents and editors -- some of whom don't reply at all, some who say a polite and vague "not for me" and some who are quite rude ("your baby is ugly...and so are you"). Why would anyone subject herself and her work to that?

Well...for writers that's an easy question to answer -- because that process of rejection is the only path to published novelist (unless you self-publish, which is an entirely different post). When I was a new writer, I did my research and I understood that rejection was a fact of the business. So I was not horrified by my first rejection letter (for a short story that was all tell, with a character thinking about her job as a prison security guard presiding over frozen criminals she called corpsicles). As it happened, it was a lovely rejection as such things go -- instead of a generic "no thanks" I got feedback telling me that my story was all tell and no story.

Since that first rejection letter I've had success and more rejection--from the "I wish I could buy it" to the "I wish I could burn it and wash out my mind." Rejection doesn't bother me...wait.... Wrong. Rejection annoys me for three reasons: I sent the manuscript to someone who doesn't get it; I failed in my goal with said manuscript; and (worst of all) I have to go back and figure out whether to revise or simply resubmit until I find someone who gets it.

So, generally, to boost my spirits during the process, I just remember those friends who drifted away -- and the keepers who remain strong forever and enrich my life. If I had let the drifters convince me to stop trying to make friends, I wouldn't have the keepers who encourage and support me.

(apologies for being AWOL lately -- starting a new company is very time-consuming!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

How Do I Deal With Rejection?

Usually by falling face down on my bed and wondering why, why, WHY I chose to be in this insanely competitive, rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-it-into-the-ground industry. Then I read the rejection letter or rejection email a thousand times, wincing as each negative comment is permanently branded onto my ego. Or, if it was a rejection phone call, I'll recount every word of said phone call to my husband until he's ready to plaster my mouth with duct tape.

Only then will I sit down at my computer and bring up the rejected sample chapters, or manuscript, or outline, and calculate how many hundreds of hours of work I put into it. And mull over the fact that it will most likely never see the light of day. Instead, it will sit on the hard drive of my computer. . .and there it will remain. . .and remain. . .and remain.

After that, I head straight to my bookshelves and my kitchen, in that order, and proceed to drown myself in Jane Eyre and pepperjack cheese. Or, if it was a particularly painful rejection, House of Mirth and Fudgicles. Have you ever tried Fudgicles? They really work.

Happy writing!

(Note to all the aspiring writers out there: This post is not meant to dissuade you from the rewarding field of fiction writing. But if you can't handle rejection, you should seek an easier career. Like lumberjack. Or maybe ironworker.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How Do I Deal With Rejection?

If you're a writer, rejection is part of the job--it happens to all writers, no matter how talented. When--not if, but when--it happens, there are several ways to react. Some writers I know get down for a day or two, then forget about it. Others brush off a rejection as nothing. Still others will mull it over for weeks at a time, picking apart each word from the editor or agent who rejected the project, trying to figure out what went wrong. Some writers head straight for the pint of Ben & Jerry's.

I don't fall into any of these camps.

I admit, I've gone for ice cream after a rejection letter appeared in my in-box, but I will use any excuse for ice cream (selling a book, seeing the cover for the first time, getting good news or bad from an editor, the Red Sox winning a big game, you name it.) When I get a rejection letter, rather than bemoan it, I view it as one person's opinion that a particular project isn't right for the market at this time. When viewed that way, it doesn't bother me. It's nothing more than a simple business decision. I haven't been fired; I've essentially been told to try to come up with something more marketable. So in the end, my internal response to rejection is, "Okay. Thanks for the analysis."

When I first started writing, it was tough to do that. No writer wants to think that the time and energy consumed by that rejected project was wasted. But over the years, I've learned that markets change, editors change, and readers' tastes change. As long as I keep working hard to become a better writer, improving my craft with each project, by the time the market is ready for that particular idea, I can resubmit, possibly in an improved version. Even if it doesn't sell, I can always pull a character, a story thread, or some other component of that project and use it in the future. In the meantime, I don't stand still. I keep writing. By the time I receive a rejection, chances are that I have another project--maybe even two or three--in the works, and a new focus for my energy.

Friday, July 09, 2010

How Do I Deal With Rejection?

Happy SUMMER everyone!

There's a common knowledge in Seattle that summer doesn't actually start until the day after 4th of July. It's strange really, how every year I'll be watching fireworks in fleece and a few days later wishing to God someone would just install central air in my home already. And that's my state of mind at this very moment...covered with sweat in my upstairs office, blinds pulled down to keep out the oppressive sun as the mercury hits the mid-nineties. As a born and bred East Coaster, one would think I'd be used to sweltering hot Julys, but it appears that after 10 years on the West Coast, I've gone soft. Anyway...I hope everyone is staying cool and having a great summer.

And now, onto the question of how I deal with rejection. The answer? Not very well. Well, that's not exactly true. I actually handle it much better than I used to. I used to take it all so personally, flabbergasted that the pitched-to editors couldn't see the obvious - that my book idea was pure gold...Oprah Book Club material...the stuff that NY Times bestsellers are made of. But now, about ten years into my career as a writer, I have a more zen approach. Yes, I still get disappointed, especially when said rejection comes from a publisher who initially showed interest in my idea. And I let myself be disappointed too, for about 2 days. Then I stop sulking and remember that one of my core beliefs is that everything happens for a reason, and therefore if so and so doesn't like my idea, that just means it hasn't connected with the right editor yet. And when it does, it will all have been worth it. And that usually works.

So what does that really mean? It means that I have a file cabinet full of unsold book proposals and manuscripts. Well, at the very least a few overstuffed hanging folders. But I'll hold onto them, because who knows...?

Before I go, check out the new cover for Language of Love! While I LOVED the original illustrated cover by Amy Saidens, I must say that if we're going to a photographic look, I kinda dig how my book turned out. If you haven't heard, Language of Love is going to be paired with RoCom Cupidity, by Caroline Goode. It's slated to come out this December...I can't wait!