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I thought it might be fun to let you guys in on the writing process I use for Bardsworth, my webcomic. I typically talk about writing in the sense of traditional fiction writing, but they way I write for a four-panel comic strip is a bit different than how I write my books. My webcomic is long form, though, which means that it follows a continuous story. So in that respect, it’s like a novel, and because of that, some of the techniques I use can be employed in traditional writing.

I guess the easiest way to do this is to break it down into steps.

1.) Daydreaming. The way my webcomic works is that there is an overall plot, and within that plot are individual storylines that may or may not link with the plot (if they don’t, they typically have some link to character development). Most of my storylines start off with a question or a premise. “What if someone found a doorway to another world in the back of their closet?” “What happened to this character to make him like that?” “Let’s see what happens if I team these two characters up together.” Once I have that initial core idea, I let it float around in my head for a while to build up smaller ideas around it.

2.) Planning. This is sort of an optional step for me. Sometimes I can roll with an idea and just start writing. Other times, like recently, I have to sit and list out all the possible directions that the story can take. Some I’ll use, some I’ll toss – it’s just a general brainstorming session.

3.) Writing. The meat of the process, which I’ll break up into sub-steps. When I first started Bardsworth, I would try to write within the context of the four panels. What I got from doing that was stilted, oftentimes forced, dialogue and jokes. Years later, I started using a combination of free writing and heavy-handed editing, and that’s what I do today.

a.) Free writing.  I’ll write as if I’m writing a movie or TV script, and I won’t worry about panel constrictions. If a conversation takes a long time, so be it. If jokes take longer set-up time, so be it. I don’t worry about it at that point, I just write.  Whatever I think of goes on the page.

b.) Editing.  When I’ve got a good chunk of the story written (or better yet, the whole thing), I go back and start breaking it up into smaller pieces that work within four panels. This often means I have to hack dialogue, remove actions, and add bits and pieces to make things work. If things still aren’t perfect, I don’t sweat it just yet. There’s still time to tweak things before the strip goes live.

4.) Sketching. I work digitally, but before I do anything on my computer, I do a rough draft with pencil and paper. This gives me an opportunity to see the story visually played out. It helps show whether or not the dialogue meshes with drawing, and if not, I can tweak one or the other.

5.) Drawing. This is the last chance I have to change dialogue. I’d say maybe ninety percent of the time I don’t have to change anything (except maybe a word or two). The other ten percent of the time is usually because the writing wasn’t polished enough following step 3. Very rarely have I ever had to publish a strip with dialogue that I wasn’t happy with. Most of the time I can rescue it at the last minute. But the bottom line is that the writing process doesn’t end when I pick up the pen (or stylus).

I think that it’s important that I shared this because many people think that doing a comic is drawing pretty pictures or scribbling funny gags. And sometimes it is. But for a comic like mine, and for many people I know, it’s mired deep in the writing process. The art, though important enough in its own right, is secondary.

bardsworth

David_Eddings_portrait

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Today is the birthday of one of one of my favorite authors, the late David Eddings. Born in 1931, he passed away in 2009 after a successful (in my opinion) life as writer of fantasy. He penned the famous series The Belgariad and its sequel series The Mallorean, as well as several other series and stand-alone books.

When I say I’m a fan of his, you have to understand that I don’t mean that I’ve read every single one of his books. As a reader, I’ve always wanted to read a diverse number of things, even when there are authors that I love. This means I tend to jump around from author to author and from series to series.  I think this has helped me in my own writing because I’ve been exposed to a number of styles and ideas. But I digress.

While I haven’t read everything Eddings put out, I have read The Belgariad numerous times. In fact, I would make it a point to read the entire series once a year in order to inspire me and put me in the right frame of mind for writing (haven’t in a while, though, because my copies have been packed up due to multiple moves from place to place). That series has been one of the single largest inspirations to me, most especially in terms of dialogue. Eddings’ dialogue was brilliant; it was fun, it was to the point, and it was simple. It made the characters seem real and made you care about them more. When I write dialogue for my own characters, I do my best to channel what I learned from Eddings.

In addition, I admired his world-building skills. He took real cultures and ways of life, and adapted them into fictional ones, giving his fantasy world a feeling of believability. I would have loved to have seen his notes on said fictional cultures, because I’ll guarantee that there were things that he never actually put into the stories.

I regret never contacting him to thank him for being an inspiration to me. In fact, I didn’t know he had passed away until a year or so after the fact. I was pretty devastated by that and ashamed that I hadn’t known. But he still lives on for me in his books and my own writing. I feel, a little sheepishly maybe, that Blood of the Mother was almost my “thank you” letter to him. The first draft of a letter, anyway. I have many more to write.


 

Other books worth checking out by David Eddings:

Polgara the Sorceress and Belgarath the Sorcerer – Two tie-in books that take a more in-depth look at two crucial characters to the world started in The Belgariad.

The Redemption of Althalus – a stand-alone novel centered around a jovial thief name Althalus who become entangled in affairs of the gods. (Note: The book echoes many aspects of The Belgariad, and has received mixed reviews to that end, but I’m a big fan of it).

Stupid Characters

Don’t you hate it when people do stupid things?

How about when characters in a book you’re reading do something stupid? Or a character on a television show or in a movie? Doesn’t that annoy you? It’s certainly one of my biggest pet peaves.

“Wait, why would he go in there without his gun??”

“Didn’t she learn the dangers of that magical sword in chapter six??”

“WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT??”

I think many times when this phenomenon happens, it’s a case of the writer directing the course of events. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’ve said in the past that this is unacceptable when writing characters. If a character has proven himself or herself capable of making dumb mistakes, then that’s one thing. But if the character has never shown that sort of inclination and in the course of the story makes a stupid mistake or misses a key point of information that he or she should have understood, then it’s the writer taking you for a ride, and I don’t personally like the steering wheel being jerked out of the hands of the characters.

And I get it. When you’re planning out a story, you have a pretty good idea of what you want to happen. In your head, it’s perfect. And then you start writing it, bulldozing ahead with your perfect idea, but unaware of the damage you’re causing around you. Characters do and say things for the benefit of you, and suddenly become inconsistent and confusing. Sometimes it seems like they just do something for no apparent reason, leaving the readers to scratch their heads. But worst of all, when you plow forward with your perfect idea, you lose the opportunities for other ideas.

Every one of my stories – every one of them – started off going in a particular direction in my head. Then, when push came to shove, I’d get to a turning point with a certain character and the plan would come to a fork in the road. In one direction was my original idea, already laid out for me to send my character down. But it would mean forcing the character to make a decision that they normally wouldn’t. In the other direction was… well, I never quite knew. But that was always the direction that made the most sense for the character to go. And from there, a new story idea arose, sometimes birthing new characters, new places, new sub-plots.

The general rule of thumb for me is that the character knows more than I do. I’m just the monkey typing away at the keyboard. Ook ook.

Keyboard-Monkey

Until I get completely back in the saddle with posts for you to ponder, I thought I’d at least give you an update as to what I’m up to. Sadly, the answer is – not much. I’m still trudging through my Bardsworth novel at a snail’s pace. I haven’t had much of a chance to sit and do any solid writing. I’m really hoping to change that soon.

In the meantime, since I’ve now “officially” launched Fantasy Noir, I’m going to focus on putting that out there for reviews and such. Perhaps do a giveaway on Goodreads. Speaking of which, if anyone who has read Fantasy Noir (or read all three of the Mystery, Murder, and Magic novellas) wants to write up a review for me, that would be super-appreciated. And please spread the word!

Once I get a little farther with two aforementioned things, I’ll start thinking about more projects seriously. I have things simmering on the back burner, but there’s no point in talking about them at the moment.

Thanks for sticking with me!

If anyone still reads this blog, or even remembers it, I’ll be very surprised. So for those of you who do remember it and have been patiently waiting for news or a blog post or whatever, let me apologize for the long delay. After my last post I ended up taking on a temporary day job, which screwed up my routine and left me with little time to do some of the things that I had been doing, like blogging regularly.

In that span of time, I soft-launched my latest book (more on that in a moment) and promoted it at the Buffalo Small Press Expo back in April. It met with a some mild, but strong, interest from people. I’m hoping now that I’m getting back on track with things that I can promote it even more online.

So, I guess this is the hard-launch of Fantasy Noir! In case you’ve forgotten, or if you’re new, Fantasy Noir is the collection of all three of my Mystery, Murder, and Magic novellas. But not only does it collect all three stories, it was an excuse for me to polish and fix them up. So I guess you could say it’s the new and improved Mystery, Murder, and Magic. Check out the cover and description below, and please stay tuned for more blog updates (I promise I’ll be better)!

Step into the hardboiled world of Rick Walker, a private investigator with a penchant for scotch, dames, and magic. With reluctant help from a foul-mouthed demon, a nervous young diviner, and a fiery ex-girlfriend, Rick navigates his way through several cases, only to discover that they are all connected in some way.

In “Dark City, Dark Magic”, brother of millionaire Frederick Billingsly is found dead, but was it suicide or magic-assisted murder? Frederick hires private eye Rick Walker to answer the question. With the help of the foul-mouthed demon, Beluosis, Rick takes the case. The question is – will he be able to solve the case and pay his rent on time?

In “Dames and Diviners”, Walter Prescott is told that it was heart attack that killed his roommate, Jack Carradine, but he thinks otherwise. So Walter seeks outside help – and ends up with the magic-using, scotch-loving private investigator Rick Walker. The two embark on a journey for answers that leads them to a discovery that could mean the end of both of them.

Finally, in “Angel in the Shadows”, life has gotten complicated for Rick Walker. Hiding from it all behind bottles of scotch, he finally emerges to take on a case for an old acquaintance. But the case may turn out to be his deadliest yet. With the help of an odd assortment of companions, Rick confronts his demons, both figurative and literal. With surprises around every corner and danger lurking in the shadows, Rick might need more than his charm to get out of this one alive.

Fantasy Noir collects the “Mystery, Murder, and Magic” series together. So grab a glass of scotch (neat, with just a splash of water) and follow Rick through all three cases.

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What’s My Age Again?

Have you ever been in public and heard a young person talking in the manner of someone much older than them? Or the reverse situation in which an older person is speaking in a manner that you’d expect from someone younger? It takes you by surprise for a moment, because it’s not the norm. And that happens to me when I’m reading about characters who do the same thing.

I’ve only started noticing this more and more in recent years. Having grown up on fantasy, everyone talks pretty formally, young and old alike. But I’ve been opening up to less fantastical writing, with characters in more familiar settings. These characters, mired in either in our world or worlds similar to ours, should speak in a manner consistent with the way people around us speak. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

A good example was one I gave in a book review a while back of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas. The character of Odd was supposed to be a twenty-something young man, but he (and his girlfriend, who was the same age) spoke in a way that didn’t mesh well with the description of him that was given. More recently, I’ve been reading a trade paperback from Marvel collecting stories from the “Runaways” series, written by Joss Whedon. Now, I like Whedon’s writing, but I’ve never been one to laud him with praise. He’s good, very good, but many people put him on a pedestal that is much too high in my opinion. And in this TPB it’s reaffirmed for me. One of the big things that’s been killing me is Whedon’s typical attempts at writing witty dialogue, but using it in an inappropriate manner for the age of the characters. These are kids; there is a way that kids talk that is believable, but this is something that Whedon, in his attempt at writing his infamous Whedonesque dialogue, seems to forget. It takes me right out of the story, which is a shame, because it’s an interesting one.

I think the problem writers have in this regard is that they are writing in a way that they think children talk. Oftentimes when a writer has to write something that they don’t have a whole lot of experience in, they fudge it, and sometimes it works. But with writing dialogue for younger characters, you need to know. You need to spend some time listening in on conversations, just like you’d do with observing adults. You don’t have to learn and know all the slang terms, but you need to know the general manner in which younger people talk and what they talk about.

And if you’re going to have them speak in a more adult way and/or make references to things that most people their age wouldn’t know the first thing about, explain it. Use that as a springboard for giving more depth to the character. But at the same time, don’t just do it for the sake of letting yourself talk through the character, because then you’re making the dangerous journey into Mary Sue territory.

In short, this is a case where you don’t write what you know – write what they know.

New Year, New Energy

I’ve been a bad writer.

By “bad” I mean that I haven’t done much writing at all in months. In addition to life events, I’ve gone from one update a week to two for my webcomic, I had a Kickstarter campaign that I was running (which ultimately failed), and a general lack of creative spark that hits all of us creative types from time to time.

I’m hoping New Years will kick me into gear. Some writer friends (including my wife) and I typically do a writers retreat once a season. Unfortunately, we’ve all been dealing with many things in our lives, so it’s been a while since we did one. Last year we rang in the new year in with a get-together and retreat, so we decided to do it again this year, and for a few days more.

If you’ve never done a writers retreat, it’s amazing. I don’t know how others do theirs, but what we do is we get together at my aunt’s cottage on Lake Ontario and we write. That’s it. Well, okay, we talk a lot, too, but it’s generally focused on our writing, the business of self-publishing, and things related to those topics. This year there’ll be a lot of talk about Doctor Who, but I’m sure the main focus will still be on writing. Maybe.

In any case, it’s a great experience to put yourself into a comfortable environment with an inspiring atmosphere, and to share it with people who are like-minded and as passionate about the craft as you are. It’s all fuel for the fire, the fire being your writing. All of us get so much done, and we walk away from the time fully charged up and ready to continue on our own.

I’m hoping to use the time to finish compiling and editing the Mystery, Murder, and Magic omnibus. I had stalled out on it, trying to complete a short story to add into the collection, but the story ended up not going as well as planned. And rather than let it gum up the works, I’m just forgetting about it for now. But, yes, I hope to finish that up, and to get a good chunk of work done on my Bardsworth novel. And I may, God willing, start in on my notes for the next Godblood Chronicles book. Don’t hold me to that, though.

Hopefully your New Years will be as inspiring and as creativity-filled as mine will be. If not, at least raise a glass with me at midnight.

Happy Holidays, all.

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