Saturday, December 24, 2005

Plotting I

Okay. You have an idea. Now, write it down. Just the idea part! Don’t worry about plot details, characters, whatever, except those that are important to your idea. Don’t worry about length; that’s not the concern. Just write as long or as short as you want.

[Come back when you’re ready…]

Done? Good. Now, right down a logline for it. A “logline” is used in Hollywood as part of the decision-making step before a script is bought; it’s the simplest concentration of the idea. If you take more than 50 words to write it, then you’re not trying; think in terms of TV Guide entries (short, to the point, not really clever, but still manage to get the point).

Remember “Die Hard”? It became part of a lot of loglines. “Under Siege“? “Die Hard” on a sub. “Under Siege II”? “Die Hard” on a train. “Speed”? “Die Hard” on a bus. “Masterminds”? Die Hard” at a school. If you liken your idea to a popular movie it makes life easier, even if it’s a couple of them.

Example: “Sex Percussions”: “Cast a Deadly Spell” in Canada, with the detective backed by a band of capoeiristas.

Now, summarize it in about 200 words or less, bolding possible cliches. Variation on the above: If you can’t, you’ve either got too many cliches (in which case you had better start over or simplify things), or you’re just not really trying. Use a slash to separate phrases that are close together.

Example: “Sex Percussions”: A Mayan GODDESS has CURSED THE WORLD to be less fertile. A Vancover-based DETECTIVE has FIGURED IT OUT, and ASSEMBLES A TEAM of MARTIAL ARTISTS / MAGES to HELP him THWART HER PLANS and SAVE THE WORLD.

Once you have done that, the next thing is to start plotting it out. Now, if this were a movie, you’d need to do about 40-60 scenes (drama-40, action-60). As this is a comic book, that doesn’t really apply; with each scene at about 4-6 pages of comic book, that converts to roughly 160-360 pages. Figure out how many pages you are writing, and perform the following calculations:

To your main plot, add some sort of sub-plot (may or may not add to plot, or even parallel the plot. (for 1 page of subplot for every three of the main plot). For every 120 pages, figure you should have one subplot (so a good 300 page book will have 2-3 sublots), and for every 30, there should be one page of running joke.

Example: “Sex Percussion” is short: 60 pages. It has one subplot (Detective Tate and his romances), which is allocated 15 pages. It also has 2 pages of running joke (why Xquiq is a bad person). The remaining 43 pages are for the main story.

Don’t get hung up on page numbers, however, as 1 scene doesn’t equal 1 page. When you right the beats, figure one scene will equal (on average) about 3 pages (so Sex Percussion was planned for 20 scenes total ( 2 running joke scenes (always plan for at least two running joke scenes, or else it’s a one-time gag and not a running gag) and 5 subplot scenes).

But...You're not quite ready for plotting yet...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Which pidgeonhole is yours?

Too many beginners don't really know what a genre is and too many wannabe's think that a genre is "limiting." So, to help, here's how genres breakdown. Sort of.

After some quick notes: First, don't make the mistake that a genre is all-encompassing. Too many beginners think that a genre has to touch on every aspect of the comic. It doesn't. Just because your mecha comic has a running joke doesn't make it a comedy; it's only a comedy if the whole comic is supposed to make you laugh, not have points at which you laugh. And drama/comedies don't exist; if the comic has a lot of drama in it, as well as comedy, just leave that part of. ABC Networks tried "dramedies" in the mid-80's; although the shows (such as "The Wonder Years" and "Doogie Howser") were popular and critically acclaimed, and are even thought fondly of today, they quickly ran from the "comedy" aspect of the concept and became half-hour dramas.

Second, don't feel that it's limiting: Genres are wide open spaces and you can always make up new genres. You can even go Chinese menu with. Have fun with it; there have been mecha westerns, medieval magical girl horrors, even futuristic magical soap operas. My personal favorite has to be SF/Action/Adventuer/Detective/Cannibalism/Independent Film/Disco/Post Apocalyptic/Greasers/Hippie/Satire; "Radioactive Dreams" (Tagline: "Just your typical action-adventure-science-fiction-musical-fantasy in the post-nuclear world") is a great movie!

Realize that genres are extremely general classifications, and that they are more for marketing than anything else. All it takes to be considered a "western" is horses, frontier, and a lot of desert. And even those are negotiable. So, without further ado, here are twenty-four genres for you to start with:

Sci-fi: Involves technology and the isues created by technology.

Fantasy: Involves magic and the issues created by magic. Usually b&w morality, but not mandatory.

Historical: Could have happened; happens before the present day. Has no magic or tech that didn't exist at that age.

Modern: The majority of the action happens in today, or around it.

Pulp: Generally, modern but exagerated. It's darker (no one is innocent and life is cheap), more violent, and heroes are more gray than white.

Comedy: The basic idea is to poke fun at conventions or just have fun. Not as easy as it sounds, and too many people try anyway...

Drama: Serious. Shakespeare/Greek Tragedy serious.

Romance: Comic where most of the challenges and drama are based on two people finding each other and looking for a long-term relationship.

Hentai: Comic where most of the challenges and drama are based on two people finding each other in weird positions and looking for a short-term relationship.

Mystery: Drama with an emphasis on solving some sort of crime.

Horror: Comic with an emphasis on unnerving or scaring the reader. Generally allegorical, and can be lovecraftian (psychological horror featuring other-dimensional beings), splatter (fear-factor depends on intense and messy physical violence), or thriller (straight psychological horror).

Action/Adventure: Generally B&W morality with an emphasis on action. There may be some philosophical musing, but the final showdown is on how survives, not who ascends.

Martial Arts: Action Adventure, but the emphasis is on martial arts.

Racing: Action/adventure based on racing.

Super-hero: Action/adventure featuring characters with psuedo-scientific abilities.

Magic Girl: Generally a girl with special abilities who has found herself under a boy's authority (Urusei Yatsura or Oh My Goddess).

Magical Girl: A girl or group of girls with magical abilities that require some sort of transformation in order to become powerful.

Shonen: "Boy-style." B&W morality with an emphasis on overcoming challenges. Ironically, as it believes that there are no useless characters, if females are present they are in a command position or occasionally take center stage, making it less sexist than you would assume.

Shoujo: "Girl-style." B&W morality with an emphasis on, ironically, combat; generally has romantic elements. Generally, has to be done well as it borders on parody.

Mecha: Specific sci-fi sub-genre that features human-controlled robotic vehicles, generally human-shaped.

Post-apocalyptic: Take world. Do a lot of damage to it. Technological comes in hi-tech/scary and low-tech/not as scary flavors. Add mutants to taste.

Western: Generally, looks like the American Southwest, with a B&W morality (or at least, evil actions have nasty consequences), and emphasis on story-telling rather than violence (although it can be highly violent, the emphasis is on story and symbolism). Technology generally limited to transport and ranged weapons.

Game: Comic with an emphasis on video/computer games; in essence, the emphasis is paralleling various game universes and not really caring about the fourth wall.

"Real Life": Comic with an emphasis on realistic reactions and either parodying real life or attempting to simulate it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Top Ten Worst Offenders II

Guess I'd better finish...

5) Team Comics: Teams can be good and bad. The good is that you can split up tasks, have a range of personalities, have intra-team conflict, and have an easy excuse for some exposition.

These are all great things. Splitting up tasks allows characters to define who they by what they do. A range of personalities allows people to pick someone they like to root for. Conflict is always good, and if you make it natural (such as five people living together in cramped quarters) rather than forced so much the better. And it's only natural that you need to explain things to someone in the group that wan't there or isn't following along.

However, too many writers (beginning and advanced) learned too much from the sentai (think: Power Rangers) school of teams. This means that the team has the following types:

Leader: This is the guy in charge. He's only wrong when it's dramatically right, he can do whatever he wants and no one cares; he is the hero, after all. The older brother of the group and the guy who the Lone Wolf usually rebels against. If there is a long-term romantic relationship, he's usually involved somehow.

Lone Wolf: The rebel. The guy who everyone likes because he's straightforward and does what he wants, something that they can't do. He's the perverted older cousin who's probably into whips and chains. Whatever the leader aquires, he wants. Usually.

The Geek: He knows everything except how to deal with social situations. Usually the least liked character because, well, no one likes the group brain. He's the most dependable of the group (except when it comes to shooting the 300'-tall monster directly in front of him). He's the little brother of the group who is sex-obsessed and the group mascot. If the group has a fanboy, The Geek is usually it.

The Brick: He can lift pretty much anything, punch through pretty much anything, and take pretty much anything. Usually the group mechanic. He's sorta the fun friend of the family; the guy who kicks your butt at Mortal Caliber VII, makes you cringe through his puns, and is the guy you go to for advice, or tickets you can't get yourself.

The Girl: She points out the obvious, is the love interest of The Leader, temporary goal for romance of The Lone Wolf, defender of The Geek, and grudging friends with The Brick. If it's a unisex team, change "love interest" to "best friend" and "of romance" to "of assassination." She is yin to the team yang, and is usually the most effeminate. Aggressively effeminate. Usually the best shot in the team. And the richest, especially when there is no monetary system in the universe.

Now, it may look good, but EVERYONE uses the blueprint without thinking about making changes. When they do, it's the leader that gets in the shorts. If they take characters away, The Brick goes first followed by The Geek. It's a working cliche, but be aware of it anyway, and try to change it.

4) Elemental Powers: This is starting to get ridiculous. Change that: It is ridiculous. The default is: Fire, Earth, Water, Air, and either Heart or some psychic ability (usually Precognition). Each character has abilities that stem from their respective element, and personality traits that stem from their element.

When the elemental base of any powers are changed, it's usually to weather (thunder, lightning, wind), sound, some other psychic ability (cyberkinesis, telekinesis or telepathy), teleportation or desolidification. Although these are visually interesting, they are sorely lacking for imagination.

Just be aware of the problem, and plan accordingly.

[Just out of curiosity: Why is it that the oriental elements are wood, metal, fire, water, and earth, but you only see the Greek elements of water, fire, earth and air? And why rarely (if ever) those from the periodic table?]

3) Angsty Hero: O Woe is I! I accidentally killed my best friend, my lover commited suicide because I was a day late coming home, and my dog has worms. Oh, and my house is trying to kill me.

Today on Oprah: Angsty heroes and the fangirls that love them. Note: These people would not survive Dr. Phil.

I understand the attraction: Girls like guys that need them, and this guy needs something alright. I know that the angsty hero is an old literary tradition (yet another thing we can blame on Ancient Sumeria: Gilgamesh, anyone?). And I know his existence validates that of the artistically dark.

But...give the guy a good day once in a while! Gilgamesh let his hair down! Elric did smile every so often. King Richard cracked wise. Even Macbeth had fun!

But this hero has nothing good happen to him without cost. If he a million bucks, he gets sued and ends up owing money. His new car is possessed. Just let the guy have some fun without cost every so often.

2) Avatar/Sprite Comics and Doujinshi: For the three individuals who don't know what any of those are:

Sprite Comics: Take a video game, take the characters and use them in your own comic.

Avatar Comics: Take avatars from Gaia Online and use them in sprite comics.

Doujinshi: There are many translations, but the one in use here is fan comics using the characters that the fan likes. Included here because, well, if sprite and avatar comics are examples of someone being a lazy illustrator, doujinshi are examples of lazy writing.

I'm sort of in a weird spot on this one. On one hand, I appreciate not having the ability to draw/write and having a cool script that you need to see done. But...this isn't the way to do it.

Besides the obvious legal issues, there's just a lack of imagination here. I mean, you're taking someone else's characters, throwing them into situations that their creators never intended, and then claiming that you're creating something original. Worse, I see it justified because it's a great way to get started!

The issue is that to be a good writer you need to be ableto stand on your own two feet. You can't rely on the crutch of using someone else's creations as the base of your own. It's fine to be inspired; it's lazy to copy. Find the difference, and you begin to walk.

[I'm including this under cliches because cliches are just lazy creating. It just fit...]

1) One-Dimensional Institutional Figures: Okay, this is my least favorite cliche of all time. I appreciate that a lot of artists don't like religious figures; there are a lot of reasons to dislike people that put a lot of limitations on what you do. And I understand why military types aren't exactly popular.

However, that shouldn't be an excuse to make them one-dimensional or explore themes that simply don't exist. When you make any excuse to have one-dimensional characters in your strip, you're wasting my time. I don't mind if you've decided to make a villain that's high-up in the military, just give him a realistic reason for doing what he does.

At some level you need to realize that any group has those members that aren't exactly shining examples of their organization; the more in the public eye the group is, the more likely you're going to see the dregs of that group. There are going to be priests that molest choirboys; but, that's because there are men that molest any boy that they get their hands on and this particular one happened to be a priest, and because he was the gaurdian of the morality of his community the sense of betrayal cuts all the deeper. Priests are ultimately just men, with all the weaknesses thereof. Not trying to mitigate the situation, just trying to say that you need to be avoid stereotypes at all costs.