Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Shape of Comics to Come

I was thinking about the way the shape of comic affects the narrative.

I never, never start a story without knowing where I want it to end. Come to that, I almost always know the ending before I know where the start is. The end is final, but I can start a story anywhere, although I try to come into it as close as I can to the inciting incident.

Endings are easy. Beginnings are easy. It's the middle bits that are complicated, and it's also the area where the fact that I am writing (so far) in 22 page chunks comes into play, because that shape affects the way I tell the story.

I'm pretty meticulous about the individual issues having a beginning, middle and end, and they need to have some kind of story beat in them.

In Luther Strode, for instance:

Issue One - Ends with Luther realizing what he's capable of

All of the issues build through their story towards that final beat, following a rough three act structure, and the series as a whole follows this same progress. This gets kind of fractal, actually, because I have an eye towards structure within the individual scenes as well, and even down to the level of the page.

(It goes the other way, too - if I have my druthers, Luther will return in two sequel series, and these again follow a rough three act build towards the final series.)

Anyhow, this affects the actual substance of the story, because when I write, the stories are not simply chunks of story divided into 22 page sections, they're built around that structure, so if I were writing them for a different form, the actual way the story would be told would be different, too.

Finding the right amount of material that fits comfortably into 22 page chunks is by far the biggest challenge for me when I'm working on outlines. The first issue and the last are usually pretty easy - it's the four in the middle that take the bulk of the mental heavy lifting for me.

I do have other structural things that I strive for, as well - I like to make sure that each issue is "bigger" than the one before it - in Luther, this was both in terms of the relationships and the amount and intensity of violence that was depicted. This makes, for my tastes, a properly satisfying story.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Women, Comics, and The Other

I was thinking about this earlier this week, because I was actually writing about the role of women in stories.

On one hand, I make an actual point to try and make all of my speaking characters well, characters. One of the things I like about Elmore Leonard (and the show Justified, which is also good at this, even though it's onlu based on his stuff) is the sense that all the characters have lives that occur beyond where we're seeing them in the story.

So the female characters all have a life in my head, at least, beyond where we're seeing the on the page. I think I do a pretty good job of writing strong female characters because I don't really like writing weak characters (that is, in itself, probably a flaw in my writing).

Having said that I am aware that I use the women in refrigerators trope, where the women's function in the plot is to spur the hero into action. This is true in Luther Strode, although Petra has a lot of agency, and if you've read the first issue I posted of The Terror, you'll find it there, too.

But (obviously, since I'm writing this) I'm aware that I'm doing. I'm just not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, I agree with the general notion of using women characters as a props is a bad thing. On the other hand, this is the sort of thing that makes these particular characters tick. Not to mention that at some level, all the characters serve the story.

(On the gripping hand, in Jenny Strange, a male character gets killed in the first six pages for pretty much the same reason, so I'm not at all adverse to stuffing a man in the fridge either.)

So I dunno. It's hard to judge how well or how poorly you do something like this, and if I'm lucky enough for people to care about my work, I guess they'll decide.

I haven't written a lot of gay characters, though. I'm trying to think, and I believe I've only ever written one. I've got two in stuff I have planned (Duel and The Professionals) although in the case of Duel I'm not entirely sure whether anyone but me would know - we'll have to see how that shakes out. It does come up in The Professionals as a plot point, because one of the characters is a bit homophobic and it causes some interpersonal stress.