Tuesday, September 09, 2014

BackTo Some Basics

There are some writing that everyone forgets about. Let's discuss these.

1) Kill your darlings. With a machete.
Every so often you write that really cool scene that you really love but doesn't really fit. So, of course you rewrite a few things so that the scene fits and you end up royally screwing things up. If you really want see this in action, watch the deleted scenes on the DVD and instead of doing the typical fanboy "Man! They should have used that!" figure out why the scene was dropped. Yeah, sometimes scenes had to be dropped due to time issues, but sometimes the scene was dropped for other reasons, usually precisely the reasons that you should drop your own really cool scenes.

2) Write the first chapter and then delete it.
Too many writers fall in love with their own writing and forget that sometimes writing is all about the slicing and dicing. Some people take a chapter or two before they really get into the spirit of things. Thus, if you really want to see the work as a whole improve really debate killing those first couple of chapters. That applies to any written form, including comics; take a closer look at the beginning part of your projects with an eye on what you can delete and you'll be surprised at how much you'll prune. That pruning usually only helps the book or script.

3) The plot is not the only thing that needs to go forward, part one.
Part of a well-balanced comic are the scenes that have nothing to do with plot. Look at Kitty Pryde of the X-Men. She's a cool character because we've grown up with her; we've seen her crush on Collossus and Nightcrawler, we've seen her yell down Wolverine, and we've seen her go shopping with the X-Women. Few of these scenes have advanced the plot; they were all character development. Sometimes they did feed back into the plot, but usually all they did was develop her character. Just look at the of X-Men football games; you just had a group of friends hanging out having fun. Remember to have some of those scenes and you'll find that people will care about your characters and they'll keep coming back to your comic just to see what's going on with their friends and/or family.

4) The plot is not the only thing that needs to go forward, part two.
I need to emphasize that you do not need to move the plot forward in every scene. It's fine to drop a clue in a scene that is otherwise about two people falling in love or ending a scene with klaxons sounding. All I'm saying is that sometimes you just need to throw in a cool scene just because you need a break. Or because you need to explore the world a bit. If those scenes feel right, go for it. But...don't throw those scenes in just because you feel there is a rule saying you need to. You'll note this contradicts the "kill your darlings" point. If you want to see this done badly, watch "Y Mama Tambien" with its scenes that are nothing but endless exposition that goes nowhere. On the other hand look at the newsstand scenes in "Watchmen"; you can omit them with no problem, but why would you want to?

5) The hero needs to lose every so often.
As much as people throw the Kobyashi Maru in Kirk's face, the reality is that he loses quite a bit. Sure, he gets the job done in the end, but sometimes he has to go through some really nasty territory to get there. And that's how it needs to be; the hero needs a challenge and you as a writer need to show us that he can fail. Not only is it great for character development, but it helps build suspense; sure, it may be the last fight of the comic but we've him lose twice to that guy, what right does he think he has to win? Failures should not be seen as the enemy, but as opportunity.

So basically have some fun when you write. Do that and you would be surprised how much better your writing will get. 

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Is Kickstarter for You?

A Kickstarter campaign is a great way to raise funds. It helps generate sales quickly, as well as establishing whether or not there is interest in the book. It also creates pre-sales, allowing you to cover the price of publishing the book. However, it may not be right for you.

If you are planning on selling the book in a brick and mortar store or at a convention, then a Kickstarter campaign may be right for you. Kickstarter is the most economical way of raising funds; you do need to set up tier rewards, but that can actually be sort of fun. If you do decide to go this route I'd suggest getting a calculator as you need to make sure that you can buy all of the books you want to. The base pricing should be at least twice the cost of publishing the book; this ensures that you can buy one book for the donor and one you can sell later on. For each tier you need to make sure that price covers all applicable rewards, plus at least one book per tier.

In other words, let's say that you decide on a total of six tiers: bookmark, book, poster, credit, honorary certificate, and press kit. Let's say that the prices to create respectively are $1, $5, $12, free (but ego appealing), $3, and $10, and bear in mind that each tier is cumulative. This means you should price each tier at $6, $11, $28, $33, $41, and $56 respectively and minimally.

Now let's say that you wanted to come up with 1000 books, or about $5000. If you sell nothing but Tier 2 (book+bookmark), well, you'll find that you miscalculated; you'll sell roughly 455 book+bookmark pairs, and have 455 books to play with. Conversely, if you sell nothing but Tier 6 (everything), that's roughly 90 sets, but you have 540 books to play with. Of course, that doesn't cover shipping costs so you may want to re-visit the tier prices with that added in. You can pay for the shipping yourself, of course, but that sort of defeats the point.

But...the bottom line is that you have X number of books, and they're paid for. You can do whatever you want to do with those books, but most people do sell them. Or at least try. However, because they are paid for this means that you can do whatever you want with them such as offer them for prizes. Also, it means you will feel the last hour con crunch less than others; when everyone else is debating how far they can discount their books versus the cost of shipping them home, you can give them away for free. Having paid-for books gives you options.

However, if you are merely trying to make your books available for readers, you don't need a Kickstarter campaign; you can set up a POD shop and sell your books that way. If all you are trying to do is sell books, then just giving them a link to where they can buy them works as well, and you only need to upload your books to the POD publisher of your choice to make that happen. No muss, no fuss, and it's a lot easier to sell a link.

So, summing up: If you are trying to sell to a brick and mortar, at a con, or just need a huge number of physical books for whatever reason, use Kickstarter. If you just want to sell books, go POD. The choice is yours. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Comics and the Lack of Zero Sum Credits

The problem with the idea of the illustrator having the "artist" title on a book always has a weird feeling for writers. The big problem is that we are just as big an artist as the illustrator, and we have just as much education, and we pour just as much into the project as the illustrator. It gets weird, however, when you try to define just where the line is between who did what.

In the Old Days, Marvel Comics had their style. The writer and illustrator would discuss the story, the illustrator would draw it, and then the writer would add dialog to it. The letterer would throw in the dialog, and it would be rushed off to the printers. This would be repeated every month until the late 1970s. All of a sudden comic companies found that that could tell bigger stories if they stepped back a bit and really worried about the scripting. Thanks to powerhouses like Chris Claremont, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller, writers started having a lot more fun and seeing what they could do.

Understand the shift here. Prior to this the idea was just to put out a book that concentrated mostly on the whiz-bang aspects of the books; they were the literary equivalent of wrestling matches. From time to time you would see something really cool, but no one really took the medium seriously. All of a sudden illustrators had to step up their game as well, especially as European printing and coloring techniques began to filter into American comics. Yes, you can blame Moebius if you so desire. But....this is also the era when cross-overs became more frequent, so you would have editorial conferences to decide where books were going; this is the time when Marvel and DC started dividing their books into families; it made continuity easier to track.

This made things more exciting for the writer. Characters prior to this merely had to fit a certain visual look, and so teams were pretty cookie-cutter. Now, each character had to fit a role as well, and they needed to have backgrounds. The writer and illustrator had to get together to decide what everything looked like; yeah the writer was allowed into the concept meetings. At the same time, the illustrator could define the tone of the book by how he drew things and what color palettes were chosen. Thus, although the writer came up with the idea for a book, and did a lot of the footwork, the illustrator put the finishing touches on it.

This means that even as the writer stepped up, the illustrator had to do a lot more, in essence showing that comics are not a zero-sum game; as things get more advanced there is more work that needs to be split. Also, rather than clearing things up on who does what, it muddies the waters a bit more: While the illustrator takes on more of the fleshing things out role, the writer is helping with the graphic design and costume design. In independent comics, the writer also tends to do more of the marketing.

Of course, this confuses the heck out of booksellers and cover designers. This means the writer is not necessarily the author of a book, while the illustrator is not solely responsible for the drawings. The obvious solution is to call both authors, and a number of comic book companies have been doing so for a while. But it also means that it gives the illustrator a little more tie to the "artist" title, and that means that the writer has to back off a little more. So it sucks a little bit more being the writer who wants to be known as the artist...Rassenfrassen illustrators, always hogging the glory....

Monday, September 01, 2014

Reigning In Your Wizards

Wizards suck from a story-telling point of view. The same point applies to any character that can reach into his pocket and grab what he needs, use a ring to create whatever they need, or go into a lab and come out with the perfect gizmo for the job. They just have so many options that a challenge either needs to be tailor made to deal with them, and the challenge would easily overwhelm the rest of the group. There are three tried-and-true ways of dealing with the character.

The Weakness: This is the lamest option, so really debate using it. In essence, the character has some sort of item/common situation/color against which he is weak. He has to overcome the challenge by dealing with the weakness first, and the only real challenge he has is when the limitation is in effect. Unless it is a reasonably common weakness, the character will breeze through most challenges. However, there will also be the question of why the weakness hasn't been dealt with before, or why it continues to plague characters. Of course, therein lies the potential for a great story, so you may want to think about it.

But...you need to always apply it. The time you introduce someone who is not affected by it like everyone else is you will lose a lot of credibility, no matter how good the reason is. So if you are going to use The Weakness, remember that you will be dealing with it for a while.

[On the other hand, if overcoming that weakness is a rite of passage, such as overcoming fear allows green lanterns to ignore the color yellow, that can make for an interesting story as well. You'll just need to come up with some other limiter...]

Yin and Yang: The character and his group are not the only ones to enjoy immense power. The obvious examples are the Jedi and the Sith or the emotional spectrum of power rings; in essence, the good guys are not the only ones with power. The bad news is that this means that any fight will cause a lot of collateral damage and needs to be allowed for; the good news is that it means you will be telling stories where even the minor events have far-reaching consequences.

As long as you can keep the civilian population reasonably safe during the battles you should be fine, but as soon as the battles start causing casualties, a new force will enter the fight: Those that can deal with the super-powered types while still being human. It's worth noting that a sniper bullet can take out most supers, so the balance between the two forces needs to be maintained with minimum casualties. Or else.

[On the other hand, wouldn't it be sort of fun to have a post-apocalyptic world based on the idea that not nukes but a few major fights between supers or wizards ruined the world?]

The Regular Foe: A good hero should not only have a rogues gallery that can challenge him, but also a few singular foes that give him a problem. In a way this is why Lex Luthor is such a scary guy: He has no power, but Superman can't deal with him directly. Rather, he needs to build a case against him and then pursue it. He also can't be proactive against Lex as Lex would sic an army of lawyers on him in a heartbeat but Lex has so many projects going on that Superman can't prediect what will hit next. This is a great villain if done right, so figure it out.

[Here's a weird thought for you: Ever consider that the Fantastic Four are Doom's rogue gallery?]

So there you are. They can be dealt with, but you need to lay down some serious infrastructure to keep them busy. But, do it right and there are so many rewards....