Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Write Stuff

So, turns out this writing lark is pretty difficult. Structure, setting, character, composition, scene design, act design etc etc. Complicated process. And that's assuming you have a halfway decent idea to begin with. Over the last month I've been reading various recommended texts on the subject, and re-reading some of my favourite guides on visual storytelling for comics and other media. Very informative stuff.
At the risk of echoing common opinion, I've found Robert McKee's 'Story' to be the best representation of the nuts and bolts of story writing, and is an excellent primer as long as you're bringing reasonable storytelling skills to the table to begin with. It doesn't wave a magic wand for you; let you simply drop x y and z into the corresponding slots and viola; there's your story in kit form, good to go. But it does put across some very illuminating theories and ideas, alongside clear examples of how to implement them. Now, you'd want to be pretty deluded to imagine that you could learn how to write a successful story through reading a book a couple of times, but it's definitely been of some help. Other books I'd recommend: screenplays of films you feel match the tone and pace of your story. In my case, I've been studying Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark very closely, and handily have the illustrated edition from 1981 that contains the original storyboards running concurrently with the script. Another winner is Paper Dreams: The Art and Artists of Disney Storyboards. This book is full of phenomenal examples of visual storytelling married with script, and I learn something new each time I read it. A couple of Alex Toth collections, just because they're such a good representation of the basics of solid sequential storytelling, and I often leaf through them looking for things to emulate, or in layman's terms; 'rip off'.
Also in my reading pile is Will Eisner's famous how-to book, 'Comics and Sequential Art'. I had attempted a few times when I was younger to slog through this at times very worthy text, but it's only in the last ten years that I've realised how chocabloc full of great information and technique it really is. What else... oh yeah, the comicraft book on how to letter a comic! The last time I attempted to letter my own art was on a book called Freakshow back when I started out, and the results weren't altogether pretty. This time I'll be sure to do it correctly.
At the end of the day, of course, no instruction book is going to present you with a handy how-to guide on how to concoct and execute the perfect script through some convenient recipe for literary alchemy, but I figure there's no harm in going in relatively prepared. I figure I have a pretty decent beginning, middle and end of a story, and books like 'Story' helped me figure out an appropriate delivery system for those components. That coupled with the various scripts i've worked from over the years have given me enough ammunition at least on how to structure a comicbook script correctly. These are just the books I'm looking through at the moment. Any suggestions for other books I should be reading; please have at it.


Stephen Thompson said...

I'd be curious to try reading 'Comics & Sequential Art' again, it was complete gibberish when I was a kid. 'Understanding Comics' on the other hand is still the best book ever written about the art form and its possibilities.

Declan Shalvey said...

Dunno if it'd help, but Charlie Brooker did a Screenwipe episode made of interviews with various British tv writers (including Peep Show writers, Graham Linehan, etc) discussing the 'nuts-and-bolts' of writing. I found it really interesting. I'll send you a link if you want to check it out.

Stephen Mooney said...

Thomps: Yeah, I had attempted to read 'Comics and Sequential Art' a couple of times myself when we were younger(probably the same copy), and did indeed find it difficult to engage with. I think now that I'm that bit more experienced, and can see what Eisner is trying to demonstrate without being spoon-fed, that I've gleaned alot more useful tidbits from it. And yep, gave 'Understanding Comics' another look also; still a winner.
Dec: I'd definitely like a look at that Brooker episode dealing with screenwriters, sounds very interesting. Ta.