Writing Guide: Comics, Animations, Novels, and Other Scripts

In this guide we will be looking at one of the many ways to go about preparing and writing a script. You will quickly notice, however, that most of my focus is on the steps to take before actually sitting down and writing the actual story. The reason for this is that I find doing it this way makes the writing part easier. Now, this is not the only way or even the “right” way but it is an effective way and the way that has never failed me. The key to a well written story is believability and consistency. This will be explained in further detail throughout this guide. Another important concept in making a great story is not only believability and consistency, but also well developed characters and a good story line. This guide will help in understanding those basic concepts through the use of my own way of writing scripts. As a final note, we will be discussing the following categories: developing characters, research, brainstorming, time lining, writing and editing. This is also the order in which I work when I am writing.

Developing Characters:

Characters are the most important part of the story. Without them, there IS no story. I almost always start off with developing my characters, with very few exceptions. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a story idea or a main theme/idea overall, but I always develop my characters before I start fully developing the story. I find that with good knowledge of my characters it is easy to put them into situations rather than build characters around situations. The key to developing good characters is the following: Originality, Contrast, Understanding your Characters and Believability. You will notice that I spend a LOT of time developing my characters because you can’t have an interesting or good story without interesting and good characters.

Point 1 – Originality
When developing a character you want to be as original as possible. Even more so than that, you want to give your character their own personality and their own characteristics. The more original (and individual from the rest of the characters) your characters are, the more your readers can relate to them and can be interested in them. You always have to keep the interest of your readers in mind since they are the ones who promote you and read your work! Now, if you have a character in mind who starts out as a “Typical” type of person, the originality of this character would come out later as he/she changes and grows through out the story. It is not “wrong” to have a “typical” type character, more so it is less interesting this way. Again, this is unless the character goes through an important change within the story. Keep in mind, however, that there is a HUGE difference between a character randomly acting different for no reason (random change) and a consistent change. This will be further discussed later.

Point 2 – Character Contrast
Character Contrast is important to keep your reader’s interest and is key to creating good characters. For example, you wouldn’t want all of your characters to be the same, otherwise there would be no conflict. If you had a passive woman and a passive man interacting the whole time it would be boring and nothing could come of it. You want your characters to be different from each other so that they are recognizable. For example, if you have a loud and strong character whose best friend is a soft spoken, thoughtful person, it is more interesting to see them interact with eacother. This doesn’t mean they can’t have anything in common, however. The more contrast in characters, the bigger the conflict. Conflict equals interesting material.

Point 3 – Understanding Your Characters
I always start with the main focus characters when fully developing them. They are the most important to your story and need the most detail and attention during this stage. I don’t put as much time, effort and detail into the very minor or background characters, but I DO keep in mind all of the stuff we talk about in this guide.

The first thing I do is write detailed descriptions of my characters. I describe anything and everything I can think of about them including, but not limited too, their age, their favorite colour, why I chose their name, what do they look like, hobbies, likes/dislikes, where they are from, what their goals are, where they end up, food they like/dislike etc. Every little thing gives out information about who your character is. Make sure you understand the goals of each main character. This is important because you think about how they will reach their goal to instigate conflict with in the story. You will notice that I go into so much detail with my character so that I know my own characters inside and out on a complete whim. This is so important because it helps me understand exactly how the character would act in different situations.

Sometimes, I will also write down a series of questions (any and every sort of question) and then answer them as if I were answering as each character would. Not only does this keep your characters consistant, it also makes it easier to write about them and know how they will react to different things. Thusly, making the writing process easier and more coherent. Actors don’t play a role without understanding their character in great depth, so you shouldn’t either. This isn’t necessary all the time, however it is good to practice with a bit.

This last piece of advice is something I do only for very complex characters who have a complex, specially planned out, or intricate history/future. I will create character timelines for all major characters in these cases. It may seem silly but when you have to keep very specific event times or age times for 5-10 characters, this time lining is an absolute life saver. I will discuss specifics on time lining later in this guide.

Point 4 – Believability and Consistency
Again we come back to the most important aspect of this sort of writing: Believability and Consistency. Don’t confuse Believability with “realism” or Consistency with “no change.” Characters can grow or consistently change; but it would not be believable to say, “Jeff is mortified of spiders,” then in a later chapter say, “Jeff let the spider crawl up his arm without concern.” If there is no reason for him to suddenly change, then he should not have changed. Now, if instead you showed him facing his fears and give believable reasons for his growth of being less frightened, then THAT would be correct. This also brings up the point of making believable characters. You want your characters to act as a real person would, showing emotions and attitudes that are associated with people who actually exist. Even if it is a fantasy comic or it is a part of a fantasy race, you have to understand that your audience needs to be able to relate to your characters. If they do not relate to your characters, then they will feel no interest and will be bored by your comic.

Research:

I know you may look at the word RESEARCH and think: “Ew. High school paper.” However, research is not only very helpful, but it is also another way to make a story believable. It is not always necessary to do research on everything (or anything) in your story; however, anything that you are unsure of, you don’t know a lot about, or anything that has the chance of people who read it know about it (and would detect you fallacies and mistakes) needs to be researched thoroughly to avoid embarrassing mistakes. You can not expect to make a believably strong, or good story about something you do not understand. As the saying goes: “Write what you know.” …And if you don’t “know” it, learn it!

For example, I am writing a horror novel and needed to explore the possibilities of Bacteria and how it lives, grows, reacts, etc. I also have a lot of modern weapon use such as guns in my novel. I had very little knowledge of the inner workings of bacteria (only what I recall from high school 7 years ago) and even less knowledge on the subject of guns. I had to research both so that I could use them as I needed in my novel without writing rubbish that is not only unbelievable but very flawed in it’s facts. I wrote about 3 pages solid of notes regarding bacteria and even more than that on guns (which my research is yet to be complete for the latter). It would be highly unlikely that my readers (those who knew anything about either subject) would “buy into” my writings about bacteria or guns if I was unable to explain them properly or unable to write proper names and usages, etc. And without this believability, your readers will lose interest.

Some ways to do research can be by reading in a reference book, looking on the internet, or even asking someone with more experience on the subject in question. Books can be found in you library or local book store, though I fine this way to be a bit of a pain since I always forget to return library books. These sources are probably most reliable, however. The internet is MUCH easier and quicker, BUT you have to make sure that the internet source is RELIABLE. Anyone can make a website about anything, even fake things, so make sure you can tell if the website you are using is well knowledged and legit information wise. Asking someone with more knowledge in the subject than you is always good too because experience is more believable. Knowing what you are writing about is so very important!

Brainstorming:

People tend to run for cover at the idea of brainstorming, let alone actually WRITING DOWN their ideas. Some people find brainstorming boring. Things that many people tend to disregard is the brainstorming and scripting stage. Often times, people will get an idea and jump right into the final product without any planning or scripting. You can definitely see this in any writing by the lack of coherency of the overall story. Constructively jumping around is one thing but jumping around for no meaning or reason is a lack of coherency and poor story development.

There are many different ways to brainstorm and no way is the right way or the better way. I will write down little notes or ideas or anything as they come to me. Some times I write lists, sometimes I make spider webs of ideas that lead to other ideas that lead to other ideas; and sometimes, I find whatever is handy or lying around to write notes randomly on. I write things on several different pages or jumbled between four different notebooks if that notebook happens to be closest to me at the time. It doesn’t matter how or where as long as you can track them all down and organize them in one spot when you so desire. Organization is what it will come down to. Also, please realize that just because you have written something down, that doesn’t mean it HAS to be used, be the final say, or can not be changed. When brainstorming, use any means necessary to get your ideas down and organized.

Time Lining (Characters or Events)

Time lining it something I do for extremely complex stories or characters. It is not always necessary and is sort of a form of brainstorming, but it is incredibly useful for organizing character’s lives or complex series of events with in the story. For example, I had to create character time lines for all of the main characters in my comic, Dragon Light, because important events within their lives effected events that happened in the current story or effected why they were the way the were in the story. Furthermore, by creating time lines, I was able to avoid discrepancies in the story (past, present and future). As an example, if I wrote that the Great War lasted 14 years and ended a year ago; then I show that Alexsi (the main character) is 21 years old and that the war started when he was 2 years old, that would be a major fallacy! This is not the only problem I have run into with my comic as some characters were born just after the creation of their planet (which would be a LONG time ago). Time lining also helps for laying out the story’s events and what should happen next when they are intricately woven together or when your story jumps from many points of view. Time-lining a chapter of your comic is just like outlining the chapter. The two words are really interchangeable.

Start Writing

Now that all of the characters are thought out and you have ideas flowing, it is time to start writing. I must stress that writing out your script before diving into the drawing/finalizing of a page(s) or chapter(s) of your comic is EXTREMELY important. I know how many writers love to just get straight to the final stage but doing this will cause problems in the story line. Again, just because you are writing (or typing) it down, does not mean it is the FINAL say. You can still change your writings! Writing does NOT tie you down! If you have already begun writing before this point (i.e. in the character development stage), that is perfectly fine! Write when ideas come to you! I have reworked on the script (and even characters/theme/plot/etc.) of Dragon Light more times than I can even remember. I want it to be professional and as I meet new people, they help me think about things publishers and editors look for in the story. So I have done a lot of changes in hopes of making it a more professional work.

This brings me to the idea that you can write out of order. As long as your thoughts and events are coherent, it doesn’t matter what order you write in. When movies are made, they are, more often than not, filmed out of order. I tend to skip ahead if I have a really great scene in mind that I can not wait to write, or if I am at a stuck point in the current script. As long as you connect the pieces (or scenes) correctly and make sure it flows properly, there should be no problem. This does get harder one you go to publishing, but it is a good way to keep hold of ideas for later in the story and also for when you need inspiration.

Some things you should consider when you begin (or through out) your writing are character growth, believability, consistency and conflict. A few of these we have all ready discussed, but I am going to remind you since they are important.

Believability and Consistency need to be heavily considered when you begin your doing actual writing. This does not mean “realistic” remember. If you are writing about Dragons and Zombies (or other things that don’t exist) then you need to write in such a way that your reader could believe that it is possible for them to exist within your story’s world. For example, would J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings been as good of a story or believable if the same story took place in down town L.A. as opposed to Middle Earth? No.

Along with this, you should consider character growth. Not all characters will grow (or, for lack of a better term, change) but usually it is the case for the main character(s). This shows that the events affected the character as it would a real person. Also consider conflict! Readers LOVE conflict! Without it, your story may lack interest and readers , for that matter. You will not find a fiction script of any form without conflict. A story with no conflict is not a story at all. This idea of conflict will make or break you!

Also think about what the point of your story is. What the goal of the story is. Is the goal to show that even good guys’ luck runs out? Is the goal to show that cheaters never prosper? Think about what the goal, or point, is and make sure by the end, the readers know and understand the point you were trying to get across without them really realizing it. In other words, don’t blatantly come out and say it. That would be silly. And also try to think of a goal or point that is meaningful in some way or another. I mean if the point is, “don’t wear green socks and orange shoes unless you want people to laugh at you”, that is sort of mundane. Try and think of something with a little more depth.

Finally, I thought I would share some tips on how to overcome writer’s block, or stuck points. This happens to everyone and is not uncommon. Here are some of the things I do to get my inspiration back and help fight writer’s block.
-Read a well written Comic Book.
-Read a well written Book.
-Watch a movie with a good story line and Filmed well.
-Take a break from writing and do something completely different.
-Take time to reread and edit what you have written so far.
-Have someone you trust read it and hopefully boost your ego a little.
-Put it away and don’t look at it for a few days (or longer).
-Have discussions with other writers, artists, etc. (this one is my favorite)

Editing:

Editing is very important for catching any grammatical errors, inconsistencies, and checking that your writing makes sense. So, to check for these, use you spell check. Don’t rely on this completely as we all should know. Because there are flaws in the spell check, you should reread your script to catch things you may not have seen before. Be sure to put thought into any major changes you make. Don’t just change random things for no reason.

(This next part may or may not be skipped, depending on whether you are being published through a company and have your own editor from that company.)

After you have edited over again, find a person who you trust and who you know won’t sugar coat things. It is important that you do not use a family member or a friend who can not be objective for fear of hurting your feelings. It is always nice to find a very trustworthy grammar nazi friend who will tell you when your writing sucks and when you are doing awesome. The reason I emphasize finding someone you trust as opposed to Joe Shmoe off the internet is because you don’t want to fall victim to theft. Have your editor check and double check your work.

Things you should be looking for:
-Correct Grammar
-Correct Spelling
-Correct/Appropriate tenses and points of view
-Sentences, wording, and paragraphs that don’t make sense
-“Fat” (Unnecessary additions to the story. Things that have no relevance or reasons for being there or things that slow the desired pacing.)

Conclusion:

So, I’d like to end with the reminder of how important good characters are, believability, coherence, research, brain storming and editing are. Hopefully this guide has helped you in one way or another. Keep in mind, you can write however you want. I am merely showing you what has never failed me. Take your time when writing! Great stories don’t write themselves over night! And most of all, Have Fun!

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