Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are You A Pen-And-Paper Person?

Or do you go straight to the computer and start tp-tp-tptptp-ing away?

Me? I love a good notebook.

What is it about the chaos of keeping my ideas in barely legible writing across a million different notebooks that helps my creative process? As chaotic as the inside of my notebooks are, though, I do a pretty good job of remembering what I wrote in which notebook and wheresabout within those pages I made the jot. Sometimes I remember that I wrote something about something but I can’t find it, so I’ll look through the likely notebooks and a few unlikely ones five times with no success. Then I looks on my computer and find it in parenthesis in the middle of some bullet-point outline I typed up.

I appreciate my computer. I really do. But sometime it just throws me off.

I have a system.

My system works. (Mostly).

Usually, my projects only need one notebook each because my little spiraled friends are just for ideas, bits of dialogue, strokes of genius, etc. I’m not writing out entire, fully-rendered scenes in them. I save that business for Word, and the dialogue or quick description I’ve jotted down makes me feel like I’ve got a head start on whatever I’m sitting down to the computer write.

A big exception to the one project-one notebook trend is the novel I’m currently querying. That sucker stretched across many a notebook, and many a year.

The idea is one that had been incubating for a long time before I seriously sat down with a mind to make it to the end of a complete manuscript. (Previous incarnations of it include a pilot script for an animated series and a handful of comic book scripts.)

That’s another great thing about notebooks. I more often stumble across and decide to crack open an old notebook sitting on my shelf than I do an old Word document tucked away in my computer. It’s interesting to take a glance at some old dialogue or old character name or old character relationships from 5 or 10 years ago and remember the former lives of something that has come a long way since it’s inception.

And, my, has it come a long way.

Okay, enough about my super awesome notebooking habits. Here’s some stuff that’s almost as cool. Come. Geek out with me:

I’ve wondered about it. You’ve wondered about it. Here’s the answer to that age old question, what would Star Wars look like if Dr. Seuss had created it?

“You will sits and drinks my tea or I will eats you here and now!” – Uncle Werewolf from children’s graphic novel Ghostopolis (Doug TenNapel). You tell 'em, Uncle Werewolf!

What do you mean you haven’t gotten the new Strokes album yet? Have a listen. (Scroll down to the March 18 post.) Here’s one of my favorite tracks from Angles.

Aaaaand my other favorite…

2012, man? That’s how long I have to wait for the follow-up series from the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender? WHY DO THEY HATE ME? WHY!?!?!

Well, at least the guys sat down for an interview earlier this month to let me know how things are going. (They do care *sniff*)

Also, Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, and Nathan Fillion in homemade, neon-bright superhero costumes? Heck yeah!

I repeat: Heck. Yeah!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oh, Expectations, I Can Always Count On You (Except When I Can’t)

Last month I finally read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (I’d only been meaning to read it for like three years now). And even though it didn’t feature any aliens or monsters (like most things I read), I really liked it anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed Junior’s sense of humor. The book was a great example of how humor can be inserted into a narrative that explores some messed up stuff. Rather than undercutting hardships, his humor stands in juxtaposition to them and makes the sad parts more cutting and memorable because of the contrast. Also, humor endears the protagonist to the reader (me!) even more.

Something Alexie wrote came back to me weeks after reading the book:

"It sucks to be poor and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it."

This got me thinking about expectations. We all have them and as writers, we build them into our characters, whether consciously or not.

But I’m talking about deeper expectations. Expectations of ourselves and our world that are ingrained into us so deeply it’s like they’re passed down in the genes. Inherited expectations that seem to be a part of the institutions we interact with on a daily basis. Not just individual expectations, but expectations we learn from the cultures we grow up in (or adapt to).

It’s something I’ve thought about before. A broader term may be “mentalities.” Our mentalities come from a lot of different places, but starts – in my non-professional opinion – with our families, our communities, and our cultures– and of course, culture isn’t something only identified by race or ethnic identity. While I believe that people are individuals and (ideally) thinking people, and therefore responsible for their own actions, there is a cultural weight that sits on our shoulders. It’s that group mentality that pressures us all to maintain the status quo, even if we aren’t consciously conscious of it.

Unconsciously internalizing cultural expectations, can block a person from seeing their potential beyond the less-than-stellar-ness around them. I’m not saying that there aren't obstacles or even a whole bunch of people who won’t want that person succeed, but who stands a chance when the mentality you grow up around is to not even try.

Conversely, unconsciously internalizing cultural expectations can give a person a sense of entitlement, as in: even if so-and-so doesn’t deserve the fill-in-the-blank, they feel they should get the fill-in-the-blank anyway just because they’re so-and-so.

Think about how empowering it would be to know that you can and will get everything you want? How different is that life is from that of the person who expects to never get anything they want. Or even from the life of the person who believes they will get what they work hard for, no more and no less.

I’ve only mentioned two opposite ends of the spectrum, but there are all kinds of expectations of the world floating around in the minds of humans. We’ve all experienced the effects of cultural expectations or certain culturally ingrained mentalities. Some people benefit from them, others…not so much. While this is worth thinking about in the real world, we’re fiction writers. What do we care about reality?

So how to apply this to you characters? (I bet you already know the answer.)

Go beyond the surface expectations or the obvious stuff. Some of our characters inherit our own mentalities by default, but when it's called for you to jump into the mentality of someone completely “other” from you, here's some stuff to consider.

What do small expectations say about big expectations? Does their mentality line up with their upbringing and the people around them? Or are they fighting against culturally ingrained expectations? Are they all external expectations or have some of them been internalized? Is your character even aware of it? How do the systems in place around your character ensure that these expectations, negative or positive, are met? How can your bad buys/antagonists' motivations be deepened by this line of questioning? How can this help you avoid writing in stereotypes? How does this help you world build?

The questions can go on and on and on and on because even if your character was raised in a vacuum, that vacuum probably had an affect on him.

Bits and pieces of this idea pops up in my writing. Specifically, I see this issue starting to form in one manuscript in particular. I had put it there on purpose, but hadn't thought about it in exactly this way. I hadn't put the idea I was leaning towards into words. I'll definitely explore it more in this manuscript because I see its relevance to those characters. But even if culturally ingrained mentalities aren't what my stories are "about," I can use it as a tool to think about my characters in a way that adds layers, which in turn can deepen a story.

What about you, is this something you've thought much about when writing your characters?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why Writers Partner with Illustrators…

My thumbnail:

Jose’s medium study (which means "not the finished thing," which I think is crazy because it looks ready to go to me!):

He talks more about the process of choosing how to use the medium here. Interesting stuff.

And on to the stylish blogger award which I received from Marjorie a ba-jillion years ago, but am just now getting to post my response for.

Seven things about me…

I’m really excited about the new Stroke’s album Angles which comes out this Tuesday! (pleasedon’tsuckpleasedon’tsuckpleasedon’tsuck)

A few of weeks ago, I ran my cell phone’s battery down to 0% (while it was plugged into the wall and charging) because I was playing Angry Birds FOR HOURS.

That self-satisfied smirk those pigs give when you loose a level really stokes my fury! (Smug pigs! Won’t be so smirky when I crush you!)

Cinnamon deserts and drinks are my favorite. (Churros and horchata all the way, baby!) Followed by lemony stuff.

Parenthood is currently my favorite show and it’s exciting for me because after the personal devastation of Pushing Daisies being cancelled I thought I’d never love again.

At the dentist last week, I had this song stuck in my head:

(I’m sure I’m the only person that has ever happened to.)

I used to watch Little Shop of Horrors A LOT as a kid.

Now, ten bloggers who are stylin’ and profilin’ (while in the sun—name that quote!!):

Elena Solodow

Jenna Quentin

Jenna Wallace

DU Okonkwo

Girl Friday

Cathy Webster

HowLynn Martin

Madeline Bartos

Malachi Ward

Faith Erin Hicks (I know I just posted something about her a little while ago, but she’s kinda my unofficial comics creator of the month and I think everyone should read EVERYTHING by her!)

And, on a completely unrelated note, because it’s awesome:


And, okay, one more (only because you asked):

Such funny!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Christopher Nolan Stole the Idea From Me (I Swear)

(Click to enlarge)

I know because I drew this years ago.

Anyway, no personal writing revelations or endless meanderings of random thoughts this post. I have a deadline to meet today (…or tomorrow? No! Today! TODAY!) Even though it’s self-imposed I must take it seriously because, when working with a partner, if you slack on your end you're holding up someone else’s progress...and I’m already behind where I’d prefer to be at this point. I’m almost done with this batch of writing/over-elaborate thumbnailing/character designing, but I’ve still got quite a bit left to do. Thus, short post.

But I would like to take a moment to thank Marjorie for giving me the Stylish Blogger Award.

Thanks, Marjorie!

(I’ll do the ten and ten before the week is up.)

Also, I was trying to tell my mom and my sister about how the other day when I was waiting in line at the crafts store, I saw a woman at the registers who was showing a good three to four inches of her butt crack. Not because she was bending over or because her pants were inadvertently slipping down, but because she was a grown woman wearing a pair of pants meant for a ten year old. Words wouldn’t do the spectacle justice:

I offer this illustration without exaggeration.

Please, don't be this person.

(Personally, I'd be afraid of something falling in.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It’s Not Fan Art, It’s Practice! Practice I Tell You!

Although I am a fan of Ted Naifeh’s and I would recommend Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (as well as the three graphic novels that come after) to readers of any age who enjoy creepy stories about fairies. Oops! I mean faeries. And seriously, man! I need him to come out with Polly and the Pirates Vol. 2. Like now.

I got comics on the brain. Even when I don’t, I stumble upon this article. So some folks out there are really pissed off that there’s a (fictional) Muslim Batman out there in the (fictional) world and because Idris Elba plays an Asgardian in the coming Thor movie (also fictional). Like really pissed off. Like you haven’t seen a bunch of racists and white supremacists this mad since Nov. 4, 2008 (…ahem, when Obama won the presidential election). How can something be funny and scary at the same time? Read some of the remarks of outrage quoted in the article.

Sometimes I manage to forget that there are people out there like that. But at least it provides the Daily Show with material.

But in less depressing comic news, I recently learned of an awesome web comic created by Canadian cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks: The Adventures of Superhero Girl!

I’m going to the comic book store today. Her graphic novels Zombies Calling and The War at Ellsmere are so on my list. I’m also going to check out her other web comics. It may be too soon to call it, but suspect I may be a fan.

Also, I stumbled across this really cool podcast 3 Chicks Review Comics. The episodes get kinda long, but I usually do something that needs getting done while I’m listening. Yea, for multitasking!

I gots me two new books (just arrived in the mail this weekend.) Who likes reading about making comics? I likes reading about making comics.

And now I want a third.

Oh, how I covet thee.

But maybe I should finish reading that one book I was super excited to get but have yet to finish because it doesn’t matter if it’s explained using comic book format, books about drawing perspective are confusing!

I should mention South, since I'm here. Technically, this is a picture book and not a comic book or graphic novel, but it was created by cartoonist Patrick McDonnell (Mutts) and I absolutely loved it.

A month or so ago, I picked it up for $3 at my neighborhood discount store with a mind to give it to my niece and nephews. But then I read it. Now I don’t want them anywhere near it with their grubby, sticky little fingers.

And I just realized I can’t find a certain graphic novel which I know for sure I own.

Or this one.

And now that I think about it, I haven’t seen them in a while…

This is very upsetting. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is the graphic novel that got me all hot for comics in the first place.

Look at that foxy page. That sexy panel layout.

And Marvels is just excellent, showing writer Kurt Busiek doing what he does best and Alex Ross isn’t really my favorite comics artist (though I have great respect and reverence for what he is able to do) but he really rocks the pages in this one!



Yes, I’m very concerned.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The End Has No End, or When It Doesn’t Come Easy

So this was where I was last week:

Le sigh.

I hate not knowing the ending to a story I’m actively working on! It’s like jumping from a plane without a parachute. Alas and alack, I’m freefalling right this very minute!

I’m in the midst of writing for a web comic my friend and I will be launching. There will be three series on the coming website: a set of more experimental or artistic comic stories; an action-oriented, supernatural venture; and a fun, fun good times end of the world romp.

The action-oriented series is my problem child. I’ve sketched out half the chapters, but the ending is still being either stubborn or shy and won’t come out of hiding. All I’m working with are vague shadows of what I’m maybe kinda of possibly halfway sure the ending should probably look something like. Arg! I can’t work under these conditions. If I could wring this story by its scrawny neck, I would have choked the hell out of it by now!

I’ve heard rumors and murmurings that there are writers out there who never know their ending until they get there. Purportedly, they “write to find out” how their story is going to end. That, my friends, sounds like a vital ingredient of insanity soup. It has to be! Because I am going crazy here!

And my brain hurts a little.

What is especially frustrating is that things have been going much more smoothly for the fun, fun good times end of the world romp. Ridiculously smooth…

Inspiration* (In Three Easy Steps!):

· Day One: Think of interesting phrase, realize interesting phrase would make as even more interesting title, come up with main character within minutes.

· Week One: Come up with supporting characters. Start settling on names. Steal time while at work to jot down the dialogue that keeps popping into your head. REALIZE THE ENDING TO EVERYTHING!! OMG!! IT’S PERFECT! IT’S BEAUTIFUL! I LOVE IT! OMG! I FEEL SO SAD FOR ALL THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW YET HOW AWESOME THE ENDING IS GOING TO BE AND HAVE TO WAIT MONTHS TO FIND OUT!!!!

· Onward: Everything flows naturally and easily from there. The characters never stop talking to each other in your head and every time you sit down to your computer liquid gold springs forth from your fingertips.

See! That’s how it’s supposed to go! Like Jay-Z laying down a track! (I hear he does it all in one go.)

Usually if a story isn’t agreeing with me, I’d switch over from Project A to Project B. Until I hit a wall on Project B. At which point I return to Project A with a fresh pair of eyes. But when I have a deadline (even if it is self-imposed) and am accountable to a creative partner, jumping ship just won’t do.

Where I’ve landed this week:

I’ve been forced to remember that even when the ideas aren’t flowing trippingly from the brain, stories still manage to get themselves written. They still want to be born into the world.

Ew. I just sounded all touchy-feely new age-y in that last paragraph. So let me say it this way instead: Just because the ideas aren’t leaping from the cliffs of your imagination and onto your paper like a herd of lemmings, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. What it means is you might have to reach up there and coax them down (or knock them loose with a broomstick. Whatevs). It’s important not to get trapped into one way of doing things. We can use what works while it’s working, but when the modus operandi stops operandi-ing, then what? We wait patiently for the muses to be so kind as to reappear?

Sure, if you have the luxury. But if not, it might be worth your time to know how to break on through to the other side of that stone wall you’ve hit. For me that means talking it out. This works best when I force– I mean, ask someone to be my sounding board. A family member, a friend, an innocent, bystanding co-worker who was unfortunate– I mean, privileged to take their lunch break at the same time as me.

This person doesn’t have to be another writer. Despite my threats, I’m not really demanding that they come up with the solution to my story troubles, though their questions are welcomed and helpful. The act of trying to explain what I want to happen in a story helps me untangle jumbled elements, calls attention to holes that need filling so’s I stop falling into them, or just forces me to actively think about what I’m doing for a concentrated chunk of time.

I’m excited to report that after cornering a co-worker in the break room and trapping my sister on the phone, I’ve realized my ending and the middle parts are now falling into place.

I guess I can’t be too mad at my ending for being all coy and elusive. It’s good and necessary to be reminded that sometimes the “being inspired” part of writing is hard work. It can’t all come from that magical land of “it just came to me.”

(sniff. sniff.) The video I wanted to share with you isn't working because it's mean and it hates me, but if you want to see an educational and relevant piece about where jokes come from click the pic or here. Or even here if you want to be different.

*Material derived from process subject to rewrites and revisions.