The Craft of Writing

edited August 2012 in The Toolbox
There's no general thread about theory and craft of scriptwriting. So I thought I'd kick things off with an interview of Peter Weller at a film festival recently. He begins by talking a bit about Robocop, then veers off around the 10 minute mark into a spirited rant about directing and how actors need to be doing things when the drama happens. When someone walks into the room with the gun, what is the other person doing? 

He makes a good point that the vigor of loading a dishwasher is directly proportional to how angry you are with the person in the room.

How can this be applied to comics? Have your characters doing things before, during and after the conversation. One of the worst writing sins you can commit is to have talking heads doing nothing but standing and talking, arms at sides. One, readers hate that and two, artists hate that. The Sorkin walk and talk is one way. Having character fidget is one way. Or have them doing something else important to them while carrying on the conversation. Simple things like that will hold reader's attention in amazing ways.

Anyhow, here's the interview. Worth watching all 17 minutes. It's even safe for work.



  • My talking head scenes often involve a lot of camera movement.
    So, even if the characters are not moving the POV of the conversation is moving.
  • edited August 2012

    void CraftOfWriting( Writer& writer )
        writer.LearnToWrite( );
             writer.WriteThings( );
        while( writer.Status( ) != Status::dead;

  • edited August 2012
    There's a bug in your code.

    void CraftOfWriting( Writer& writer )
             writer.LearnToWrite( );
             writer.WriteThings( );
        while( writer.Status( ) != Status::dead;

  • I thought of that. I thought of adding variables around publishing as well. I spent a whole lot of my god damn afternoon trying to put the writing process into code...

    The craft of writing is full of bugs, no matter who the programmer.
  • Object-oriented programming will do that.  Next time just go with

    20 GOTO 10
  • Wally Wood's 20 Panels that Always Work is basically about panels with nothing happening, conversation panels.
  • Right ... it's about varying things up as much as you can to keep the artist excited and keep the reader invested.
  • New subjects. Flashbacks and dream sequences. Are they fine when they serve the story and are they just one more tool, or are they generally to be avoided? 

    Stephen King had a pretty strict "no flashbacks" rule. If anything happened to a character in the past, it was drawn out by his actions in the present. The novel Bag of Bones is a good example of this, as it opens with a widower who has crippling writer's block ever since his wife died years ago. Yet we never go back to that time, not once.

    I use them pretty sparingly. The Amala's Blade short story had one flash-forward, page 1, and that was it. Issue 2 of the miniseries has a one-page dream flashback. But I plan to be pretty spare.

    As far as dream sequences, the "it was only a dream" fakeout is one of my least favorite things in all the world and I hope to never use it. As a reader, I'm aggravated by things that are happening in the story I'm reading that aren't real. I'm impatient for the actual story to resume and move forward.

    What about you?
  • I have a flashback in Not Wrapped Tight, and a flash forward that provides the opening and closing sequences, so I guess I've no objection to using those.

    Rather than it was all a dream, I prefer to simply have god step in at the end and resolve things.
  • edited August 2012
    Flashbacks can be done well, and they can be done badly.  Like the cliche of joining the hero on page 1 in the middle of a fight, who then says "I bet you're wondering how this started", then going back and showing us Act 1.  Not that it's always bad when it's done... but it's bad when it's done always.
  • I have a lot of flashback scenes in Five Weapons, since the lead character is in a Sherlock Holmes position of explaining how he beat or resolved a problem, or how his history / backstory is revealed.

    Likewise, I start out the story with the cliche line, "I bet you're wondering how this started" routine.

    I'm using flashback in montage panels or *colored* art sequences.  I don't mind taking the shortcut route because I need the reader to keep up without explaining a new approach to the *flashback*.
  • I have brief, one panel flashbacks in OLD WOUNDS. They're flashes of memory, reflecting what the protagonist is thinking but not saying. As I wrote more of them, it started reminding me of Highlander, which used flashbacks very well.

    Oh... If any of you write an "it was all just a dream" story, I will hunt you down and break your fingers.
  • I don't think the "bet you're wondering how this started" (minus actually USING that kind of dialog) is a bad approach, nor do I think it's considered cutting to a flashback. It's more starting in media res, and then going back to bring you up to that moment (as opposed to a linear narrative that keeps flashing back). The lead story Marv drew in the most recent OMEGA COMICS takes that approach, and I think does it well. So does every episode of the TV series SouthLAnd.

    Now, I'm not sure who here actually read the first volume of my webcomic/graphic novel THE UTOPIAN, but it includes both "dream" sequences AND what MAY appear to be an "it was (somewhat) just a dream" aspect, so @RussellLissau and @SteveHorton might hate me, BUT ... they were carefully designed to leave the reader unsure of what was ever "real" or not purposely, to because ALL OF IT "actually" happened - just at the end, you're left unsure of how reliable the narrative is.
  • edited August 2012
    @pjperez - Oh, don't worry about it... just let them hate you.  I created Bomb Queen, I get hate poured on me all the time, haha!  The squeaky wheel gets all the grease.

    By the way... I *almost* use that same line in Five Weapons....
    "I bet you're wondering how this started...." Maybe I should rewrite it.

  • I have no problem with flashbacks if they're used sensibly, with a mind to story structure and pacing... rather than as clumsy exposition dumps or plot-fixers. 

    Really, a flashback is just the simplest form of non-linear storytelling and it's been a long time since that was an outrageous device. PULP FICTION is what, 20 years old now?  Tarantino was most certainly not the first player to try this out. 

    MEMENTO is basically a sequence of nested flashbacks. 

    As for Stephen King rules... well, the novel IT is 50% flashbacks. 
  • Funny... I was just thinking of the movie, MOMENTO.
    However, that movie structure was built around flashbacks, so it proves to be the exception rather than the rule.

  • I love flashbacks. I don't necessarily use them a whole lot (although one thing I'm working on starts with a one page flashback each issue) but I think they can be a terrific storytelling tool.

    By way of a for instance: On Longmire, a surprisingly excellent modern western show, there have been a series of flashbacks, basically one in each episode. By the time they get to season's end and you put them all into context, what they reveal changes your perspective on virtually everything one of the characters has done and why they do what they do. It's brilliantly executed.

    I'm not as big of a fan if they're just there for naked exposition, but that can work, too. Like narration and everything else, it's all how you use them.

    Since we're talking about the craft of writing I'd like to know if anyone has a link for comma usage?
    I SUCK at writing.  One of my many problems is *comma abuse*. I tend to write based on the ear (casual spoken language), but that often doesn't translate with my editors.  It's like trying to find a happy middle ground of street talk and good punctuation and grammar.

    Any recommendations of a comprehensive / example heavy / chart filled / blog / rules of proper comma etiquette out there?

  • Hah: I overuse commas. I mostly edit them out, but I used commas in the place where I would pause in the conversation or when I'm going on a tangent, which, while not really wrong, combines with my speech patterns to give you sentences like this one.

    I think the rule is supposed to be that commas basically bracket a phrase that could be taken out and have what remains of the sentence still parse. I think.

    (And yeah, if you've read me writing on here, that's pretty much exactly what I sound like in real life, except I avoid words that I can spell but have no idea how to pronounce.)
  • Jimmie, get an Associated Press stylebook. Rules are simple to follow.
  • edited August 2012
    @JustinJordan - Exactly!  I use commas much like that.
    Or at least half-way like that.
    Sadly, my fear of comma abuse has led me to write in a different cadence.
    I've learned is to write shorter sentences.
    Just as I'm doing now.
    It keeps the editor off my back.
    However, I'd like to write with a bit more freedom.
  • As yet no editor had said anything about my dialogue. So far, so good.
  • Justin, that's because you're good at writing a script.  It's your job.

    It's only a part-time gig for me. I split a lot of my time with the art / lettering / some coloring.
    Often I change the script in the lettering phase.  I rewrite a lot of dialogue on the fly.
    Sometimes I rewrite dialogue to fit the open space or to fit a particular shaped word balloon.
    All these things lead me to trouble as I copy/paste/change the script.


    Still no favorite links to comma usage? (beyond the normal Google search)
  • I overuse commas, myself. An editor recently (last week) told me that these days it's very common to leave them out, unless they resolve an ambiguity in a sentence. This is for prose, mind you. I'm working it out on a case-by-case basis with him. If I particularly want a comma in a certain place he usually lets me have it. 

    There are different style guides for comma use and I think that, for fiction, one is as good as another--so long as you're consistent in how you apply it. The AP Stylebook that Russell mentioned is generally used by journalists. There's also the Chicago Manual of Style, Fowler's, Strunk and White... 

    Most authors get to choose, to one extent or another. 

    Here's another: I know you chaps all use American English spelling, but I use the British spelling. (well, Australian English, generally, but it's closer to the latter than the former.) I ill usually persist in doing this unless an editor or a market specifically says they want a particular language. If you do need to change the 'language'--I frequently do--MS Word allows you to set all of the different variants and the grammar checker will point out the changes you need t make.

  • I spent several years writing for a British company, and had to use, of course, British grammar and spelling. This has actually caused to occasionally slip into for a word here and there, which looks like a typo when it happens. Most commonly, I use realise rather than realize.
  • edited August 2012
    @JasonFranks - Thanks.  I like the PDF.

    However, one of the rules always kills me:

    In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a

    comma after each term except the last

    Thus write

    Red, white, and blue.

    Honest, energetic, but headstrong.

    He opened the letter, read it and made a note of its contents.

    The last one is what gives me the most trouble.

    I would write it as:

    He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents.

    This follows the rules shown in the first two examples.  It's also three independent actions.  Open.  Read.  Note. Yet, I write this and my editor hammers me.  Nonetheless, I like the Strunk style and I'll study it.  I already follow most of it, but there are a few style rules that continue to throw me.

  • Oh... If any of you write an "it was all just a dream" story, I will hunt you down and break your fingers.
    What if we add a final-panel "...or was it?" twist? :)
  • edited August 2012
    @Jimmie_Robinson What you're talking about there (putting a comma before the word "and") is called the "Oxford comma".  I am a True Believer in it, because it resolves ambiguity.

    Bottom line: using the extra comma Is Not Wrong. And it's arguably better.
  • edited August 2012
    I like the serial comma (aka the Oxford, the Hardvard, blah blah) myself. First link I posted there was about it.

    Most editors of fiction, I think, will let you have these if you ask them--especially if it avoids ambiguity, as in Jason Quest's example. 

    One very common mistake that I see is the comma splice:

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