Webcomic Week Day 4: Planning vs. Evolution

Yep, it's not really Day 4, since Webcomic Week started last week ... oh well, continuity blows! ... Aaaand also happens to be the topic of this post. I've been writing terrible stories since I was little. Luckily I didn't let that deter me. I had a screenwriting teacher in college who told us flat out:

Everything you write will be shit.

And she was spot on. But luckily she added:

If you keep writing, it will become less shitty.

That's the motto I've clung to over my years of writing several short comic stories and one looooooong comic story. If I keep writing, in theory the writing gets better. Or, rather, it gets less shitty. I used to think when you wrote out a story, you had to plan everything in advance before you started drawing. This thought managed to paralyze me and prevent me from ever writing fully fleshed out stories. When I started Gods & Undergrads, my detailed plot points looked like this:

  • There is a girl.
  • She is the off-spring of some gods and stuff.
  • She's going to be at college doing college-y things.
  • Now and again a god will come in and mess everything up.
  • The end.

The inbetweens I wasn't able to quite figure out until I started writing the story. Occasionally I'd randomly decide upon bigger events I wanted to happen (she breaks her arm, Furies are called, etc.) and then would be able to steer the story in those specific directions. Sometimes I worried that all I was doing was spinning my wheels and putting in filler between big, random events. I kept thinking my job as a writer was to keep the reader occupied and unassuming until BAM! The next plot point came around.

Unfortunately, this resulted in a lot of my earlier (okay, truthfully, and current) work occasionally slogging through some slow parts. In these slogs, nothing much happens plot-wise, but at least the characters do take the opportunity to become more developed and separate their personalities from one another. Intially created out of laziness, over time I realized this truly was a storytelling preference of mine. I gravitate towards stories with a sloooowwww burn, all build up and pretense and atmosphere. And most of the time I don't even care if there's a BAM ending (or hell, even an ending at all), I just like to sit and immerse myself in that world for a little while. To me, it adds to the experience of getting into a story. Mm, maybe half that and half laziness.

Over the years my haphazard storytelling method has had to evolve, and I've developed a system I'm pretty comfortable with.

  1. The story idea arrives (usually in the car, or during a meeting, or some other time when I'm generally supposed to be otherwise engaged)
  2. I jot down notes, sketches, snippets of dialogue - whatever keeps me thinking of the idea
  3. I start to storyboard (I go into this process in further detail here), and depending on whether or not I have a deadline, I'll do this right away or take my time
  4. I back WAY the hell off
  5. I return to storyboarding
  6. Repeat steps four and five

Step 4 is what saves me from getting stuck in a story rut or getting bored or throwing shit in the story just to fill it out. I find that if I just physically leave my work, my mind kicks into gear and comes up with way better stuff than if I'd still been sitting there, staring at the paper. The same theory works for me when I draw my pages - if I'm getting bogged down, feeling uninspired, have no clue how to draw this next thing - LEAVE THE DESK. I go get some coffee or candy or let my cat attack me. As the Ghost Hunters say (that's right, I referenced them): When in doubt, get the hell out.

So whether your method is of the JK Rowling variety (I can't even fathom the amount of detail she has in her notebooks) or if you're like me and have trouble staring at Big Scary Story's Monster Face all at once, there is a method for you. I find the best way to keep yourself motivated is to lean toward your strengths. Do whatever you need to to keep yourself going and being excited about the idea. If you're no longer excited, switch gears and try something else. Or go let a cat attack you.

Webcomic Week Day 3

Webcomic Week Day 2

Webcomic Week Day 1