Last Friday, I still felt okay going out to my local coffeeshop for coffee in the morning. I thought this week would be much like any other week, that we’d have to take extra care to make sure people that felt sick stayed home, and not congregate in large groups, but that’s it.
But then they closed the schools where my wife works.
And people started posting pictures of empty grocery store shelves.
Now everything is closing down: pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, the zoo, bookstores, publishers, everything is either shutting down or going remote-only.
It’s a frightening time, and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that it’s made it hard for me to focus.
So I’m not sure how many words I’ve written this week.
I’ve worked on something, every day. I’ve gathered statistics that I’m going to use in a blog post for next week. I’ve been working through Gail Simone’s ComicsSchool, which has been fantastic, and should result in my first complete comics script by the end.
But I haven’t come back to the short story I was editing. Or made any progress on the novel.
I will do both, though, and soon. But for now, I’ve just…gotta work on something a little more low-key, to leave room in my head for processing everything that’s happening.
I hope you find the head space to keep working, whatever your project is, and that give yourself the time to feel the cocktail of emotions this thing is putting us all through.
One of the best examples of narrative history I’ve ever read. Holland is simply a great writer, so that despite some repetition and over-reliance on certain turns of phrase, I sped through its 350+ pages.
And it illuminated aspects of ancient Persia and Greece that I didn’t appreciate before. Like how Sparta trumpeted equality for everyone except for those living in the cities they conquered (who were turned into slaves, one and all). Or how democratic Athens regularly held an ostracism, so they could kick out a citizen who was getting too powerful (or causing too much resentment among other citizens). Or that the King of Persia considered all his subjects his slaves, and yet left them to worship their own gods, and mostly govern themselves, so long as they paid tribute.
I wish it’d gone more into a subject it teases in the Preface: How would Greece have fared if Xerxes had conquered it? Given that the Persian Kings were considering letting the Ionians (subjects of the empire) govern themselves democratically, how much of Western history would have been different?
Holland does go into detail about the Persian empire (origins, revolutions, etc), which is a great corrective to the usual Greek-sided way of telling this story. But he leaves one of his most tantalizing questions unexplored, which is a tragedy.
Paper Girls, Vol 1, by Brian K Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared K Fletcher
Picked this one up partially because of Vaughn’s work on Saga, and partially because of the clean, comprehensible art style.
And now I have yet another Image Comic (like Monstress, and Saga, and Wicked + Divine, and…) that I’ll pick up every chance I get.
Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that it’s set in 1988, it follows four pre-teens on their paper route one early morning, and that things rapidly get…weird. Like, time-travel and possible aliens and dinosaurs weird.
It’s fantastically well-done. Its creative team is firing on all cylinders: the story is strong, the drawing clear and easy-to-follow, the colors manage to invoke both the 80s (to me, anyway) and the various locations (early morning outside, dark basement, etc) and the lettering conveys everything from a radio’s static to a drunken warble.
So it turns out what I thought would just be a small writing break while we were on vacation in early July turned into me taking the whole of July off. I wrote a few hundred words here and there, but didn’t make any real progress on the novel.
Which felt great, on the one hand. I got back into learning French, I had a lot more time to read, and my mornings had less time pressure (because I wasn’t trying to squeeze in my writing time on top of everything else). Very relaxing.
But as two weeks became three, then four, I started to worry. Was I ever going to go back to the book? Was I really going to leave it unfinished?
Or worse: was I done writing prose at all? Was four weeks going to become four months, or four years?
I’ve taken a years-long break from writing before. I worried it was happening again.
Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case: I wrote 1,833 words this week. All in one night.
I went to a Write In event for the first time this week, joining a group that meets at a coffee shop nearby every Tuesday and Thursday. Over two hours, they use the Pomodoro method: write sprint for 25 minutes, then break for 5, then write for 25, rinse, repeat.
I was skeptical going in, but it really worked for me. Being there with other writers, knowing the clock was ticking, forced me to push through the resistance I always feel when starting to write. And even though by the fourth sprint I was tired, and wanted to quit, I didn’t. I pushed through, and as a result I finished two scenes and added 1,800+ words to the book.
I’ve also started working on a comic book pitch, using an online class to get some guidance on what a comic pitch needs to include. I’m using the idea I had for my next novel; I think it’ll make a better comic than a book, since it’s set in the ancient Mediterranean. Showing the world via comic will be a lot more powerful than just me describing it, I think.
Working on both at once makes me feel like I’m making progress again. Like I’m not going to be stuck editing the novel forever. It’s allowed me to relax a bit, and that coupled with the (good) pressure of the Write In makes me feel like I can still do this, even after a break.
Have any of you ever tried a Write In? Did it work for you?
There were still plenty of good panels, though, with a great interview with Tom King in-between. And it was absolutely thrilling to see a friend of mine, local indie author J Dianne Dotson, share a panel with Cory Doctorow!
All my notes are below. Looking forward to next year!
let’s talk about making space for everyone by, maybe, making space-suits for everyone?
maura: there’s a whole bunch of tech that people can modify into the suit, to accommodate themselves; for fashion, she tends to make everything black; it’s kind of camouflage in a way
dianne: how fabulous can you make it and it’s still fashionable? always wants style and function; wants to think space should be for denizens, not dilettantes; everyone should be able to go, in 2019, we should have suits that fit everyone on the international space station
s.b.: comes at it in an economic angle; money talks, it’s often used as an excuse for not accommodating everyone; the way she approaches it in her fiction is protagonists from economically disadvantaged backgrounds having to use the tech designed for the advantaged
cory: works on a non-profit who wants to abolish the phrase “so easy your mom could use it”, because it takes more ingenuity to use something when it wasn’t designed with you in the room; “so easy your boss could use it” is a better phrase, since they’re the ones bullying employees to bypass firewalls
let’s talk about some of the emotional aspects of interacting with tech (for example, apologizing to siri when asking q’s)
maura: has book where “monitors” control the room, interact via holographic projection; you can’t just order them around, though, you have to negotiate with them, or trick them
dianne: on the space station in her book, there’s a variety of bots and drones to interact with; there’s a character that has a problematic relationship with an AI that he’s altered to resemble someone he used to be involved with
s.b.: fascinated by how tech impacts lives and relationships of people; any tech derived from our needs as human beings: to remember appointments or navigate a room or communicate with our family a long way away; teleporter’s are cool, but become more impactful when think of what it can do for your life
cory: thinks most salient thing is not what it does but who it does it for and who it’s designed for; likes exploring those power dynamics; in his book walkaway, explores the “how did that get there?” effect with the interaction of human beings and drones helping them build homes out of garbage
another emotion we like to experience is security; problem with consuming or creating science fiction is the burden of knowledge; we have cool medical apps now, but also hackers that can go in and change medical records; how does that knowledge impact you personally?
s.b.: in her fiction, she turns it around; enjoys thinking about what we gain as we give up privacy; we expose ourselves to risk, but we gain so much: connections with family and friends, etc; likes the pendulum to swing both ways, showing the dark side of our tech and the bright mirror of what good things we could achieve if we wield these technologies appropriately?
dianne: comes from a place of wanting patient data being secure; informs how people in her books come into a medical situation, and the ethics of their privacy and possible manipulation
maura: something she worries about; with all the data she has to give to a company everytime she downloads an app; but there’s always something about yourself that they can’t get to; in her book, everyone knows a character’s crimes, but no one knows what makes her tick, you have to make a personal connection in order to figure that out
cory: his motto: “this will all be so great if we don’t screw it up”; skeptical of accounts that say we’re indifferent to losing our privacy, just because we give our info to facebook; being with your friends is an unalloyed good, and we hope that we can control these companies with democratic solutions; best we can hope for is to use cryptographic tools and networks as tools to help us advocate for building a better state; there’s no parallel world, no getting away from a state that is often captured by the powerful
Spotlight on Tom King
nothing but audience q&a 🙂
recommends word balloon podcast, interviews with comics creators, awesome for people that want to break in, he listened and picked an origin story he wanted to follow — brad meltzer’s — who wrote a novel, sent it to comics publishers, and got in
The Art of Garbage: Writing the First Draft
dr billy san juan, jonathan maberry, christine boylan, dr travis langley, dr janina scarlet, jonathan butler, danielle jaheaku
how do you take that first seed and turn it into a first draft?
janina: lots of panic attacks and coffee; lots of late-night writing, lots of “this is the worst piece of garbage i’ve ever written”
maberry: process changes a lot; first novel, had no expectation of selling it, just wanted to see if he liked doing it and wrote something he’d like to read; hated it at various times, but wrote an outline and basically wrote to the outline; now writes the ending first, and aims for the ending; writes an outline but doesn’t stick to it; “first draft is you telling the story to you, cut yourself a break” (ray bradbury)
christine: there’s a huge different between an assignment and something you’re writing on your own; some plays have taken her 10 years, and some episodes of tv she wrote in a weekend; sometime you’re first draft is what’s on the board in the writer’s room, second draft is the outline, third draft is the first full crack at it (and might be the last)
travis: for him, writing nonfiction, the first draft is the book proposal
how do you overcome the “this is terrible” voice?
butler: it needs to be really rough and ugly, the first draft, so those feelings of “it’s terrible” come with the territory; you should feel that it needs work early on, those are good instincts, but you’ve got to ignore them to get the draft done
danielle: for her students, the hardest part is often getting started; she tells them to just write it down; don’t worry about what it looks like, if you get wrapped up in self-doubt, you’ll never get it down
maberry: a lot of us get hit with imposter syndrome; each freaking books, even the pros reach a point about 2/3 through where they email their friends saying “this is going to be the book that sinks me”; we never lose our insecurity
christine: yes, that text or that email that says “i’m done, i’m going to walk into the sea”; get a group of people you can send those texts to, so they can give you a reality check (and you can do the same for them)
butler: don’t leave this room without those people; we’re all here to do the same thing
christine: definitely work on yourself; do self-care; do not try to get rid of that voice; but pushing against it will give you the energy to do your work
travis: writer’s group is so important, yes, even if they’re outside of your genre or your area of writing; also having deadlines with that group can give you motivation to finish things
maberry: started the writers’ coffeehouses because when he was writing his first novel he thought all the problems he was having were things that were unique to him; the coffeehouses give you a chance to see other writers going through the same problems and trade solutions
janina: likes the writing groups because she noticed we tend to be more compassionate to others’ writing than we are to our own; these anxieties show up because we care, because we love this product so much, and we want to put it out there and see other people enjoy it; for her, keeping that person who’s going to read it in mind has helped her through the dips in the process
Day Two of WonderCon was packed with panels and interviews. I admit it was almost too much; towards the end of the day I stopped taking notes, and just sat back and listened.
But I still took down lots of good advice, from building a career in comics to getting hired on staff for a TV show.
Many thanks to the creators who took time away from their work and their families to share their insights and advice with us!
Breaking in and Staying in Comics
jim zub, max dunbar, chip mosher, ivan salazar, kiersten wing
jim zub: currently writing the avengers and iron man; did the rick & morty vs dungeons & dragons comic
max dunbar: artist, worked on dungeons & dragons, various comics at dc and marvel
jim zub: unlike a lot of other industries, you can go to conventions and show off your stuff, meet people; easiest way to get started in comics is to start making comics; got his own start in animation, because it seemed easier (to him) to break into (so many people needed for every project); started doing his own comic in the evenings after work (c. 2001); what’s amazing about the internet is a lot of the barriers to getting your work out there are gone
max dunbar: x-men cartoon blew his mind when he was young; drew all the time, thought “there’s a job where you get to draw non-stop”; much later, started taking his work to conventions; first breakthrough was convention in 2012, getting into a portfolio review, talking to editor directly, showing them his work
kiwi: there’s a lot of different jobs in comics: marketing, editorial, etc. lots of other ways to get in
chip: got into comics in ’82, parents let him have a subscription to rolling stone, which was a mistake, but it had an article about the dark knight, and he thought “this comic’s going to be hot”, so he went into the shop and bought two number 1s; soon followed with swamp thing, watchmen, etc; one his favorite comic companies at the time was kamiko: robotech, johnny quest, grendel, mage, etc; worked in a comic shop when he was a kid; somehow talked his parents into letting him take a bus from houston to san diego to let him go to comic-con when he was 16; he volunteered because he couldn’t afford a badge; ended up meeting bob and diane with kamiko, who took them to a party where he got to hang out with mark hamill, ended up working for them, and then moving to boom studios and helping them staff up and become a major player, then to the movie side for oni press, then…
max dunbar: make as many contacts as you can early on, never know when those contacts are going to provide an in
jim zub: joined a creative community early on, they would go to the cons and then to dinner afterward, and all look out for each other as each of them got their foot in the door
kiwi: and not only those contacts help you get in the door, but they become your support system later on
jim zub: though if you take a hunt-and-kill approach to making contacts, just looking for the next person to help your career, people are going to notice and you won’t be the kind of relationships you need to not only get in but become a better artist, a better collaborator; seek out the people on the sidelines, who aren’t being mobbed, they’re all important, and they can become part of your support system (and also: it’s just good people to recognize the humanity in others)
ivan: got his job in marketing not on the basis of his professional stuff, but on the strength of his fan-mix covers; because (according to chip) they were more him
jim zub: agreed; so many people pitch stories that they don’t really care about; but the biggest successes in indie comics over the last 25 years have been passion projects; nothing else is going to keep you going when you’re juggling a day job and grinding this out on the side
for jim: how do you get in the mindset for villains? jim -> when writing, he’s done so much d&d, he’s literally roleplaying all of it; villains are people that think they’re good and can always justify how they’re working towards their goals; they’re driven people; if you don’t know who your characters are, if you’re just putting them in there because “we need a bad guy” they’re not going to feel real to the reader; finds villainy for villainy’s sake to be boring, always wants to find their motivation
if you come in later in life, with a day job, how do you balance that?
jim -> can be really difficult, he’s still teaching, and writing at night, it’s nuts and it’s hard to get in the right amount of writing; like any hobby, like exercise or dieting or anything habit-forming, you need to be able to carve out that time; and hopefully the people in your life understand that and will give you your space; it’s so important to stop pretending like “i’m going to take 6 months off and do my creative project”, that’s a lie; make incremental progress constantly, daily, and then you’ll look in the rearview mirror one day and marvel at your progress
max -> start small, on anthologies, short comics; it’s important to work on projects and finish them, put them in your portfolio; put in the daily effort you’ll need to work on your craft
jim -> definitely don’t do things like cashing out your retirement account early so you can take a year off work to produce a comic; the problem with getting advice from successful people is that none of the bodies strewn on the fields around them speak up and talk about how things didn’t work out for them
max -> you can keep your job and work in comics, it’ll just take more discipline to juggle the two
american market is saturated with superheroes, can you talk about pitching stuff that isn’t that?
jim -> would not recommend trying to break in with a superhero comic; better to do a different genre, and build your rep there
max -> plenty of other stuff out there; his first superhero book was just last year
ivan -> for pitching, look at editors, see what they’re working on, look for similar stuff, and pitch your stories to those editors
jim -> check the names in the back, be targeted in your pitches, look for the people/names in common with the work you like; when you reach out to them, be genuine, don’t blow smoke, make a real connection based on your research and your fandom
jim: don’t send generic emails out to companies; meet people, and send your stuff to them
Spotlight on Scott Snyder
with whitney moore, host of the DC Daily (podcast?)
“what does it mean to have 80 years of batman?”
batman was one of his favorite comics when he was little; he’s from New York, grew up when times square, etc wasn’t considered safe; batman resonated with the problems he saw growing up, every day
and you want him to win, because he’s the most human of the heroes; no super speed or strength or anything else
didn’t handle his first year of writing batman well; got the book when he was in a low place, was really unsure of himself; was writing short stories at the time, one of them caught the attention of editors at DC, was only supposed to do background for the book, and then suddenly got handed the whole book; thought he’d only have that one shot at batman; wasn’t handling pressure well, was drinking too much at cons and parties, getting into fights with editors, etc; ran into grant morrison, who told him the only way he could deal is if made his character have a birth and death, and that’s when he started working on zero year; wanted batman to deal with the problems his kids are dealing with (shooter drills, terrorism, things that scott didn’t have to deal with when he was little)
batman laughs is his chance to vent, be crazy; write the anti-batman; let loose with all his little problems like “i got stuck in traffic today”
what is it about the horror genre that draws you?
was a very weird, anxious kid; lots of worries and anxieties; horror helped him deal with them
found a loophole in the video store: they wouldn’t rent R-rated videos to kids, but they would deliver them to your home; remembers getting night of the living dead, made a huge impact on him, so bleak, so socially conscious, lived in his imagination for months
horror is the perfect distillation of conflict; even if you’re writing a drama, you’re pitting the hero against their own worst fears; if you’re writing horror, you can go at it directly
takes your worst fear and makes you face it; takes the worst version of what you’re afraid of, and makes you face it, and then you come back ok
but even your horror has levity, how do you approach that? is a formula of timing, or..?
tries to throw in jokes because you need some release through the book
always puts himself in the work; it comes from what he’s struggling with personally; if you’re an aspiring writer, be prepared to be vulnerable, because the only way you’ll make these characters original is to bring to them your fears and problems
advice for aspiring writers and artists?
you gotta write your own favorite story that day; doesn’t have to be the smartest or the funniest, but the story that would change you that day
pragmatically; it’s going to suck; there’s going to be lots of years when everyone else has careers, and you’re like “i’m a writer!” with no credits
you can’t wait for the muse, you have to think of it as your real job, your secret identity, and work it like a real job
when he started out, he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the class when it came to writing, but he wanted to do it, and so he kept at it
writer’s block is just the fear of writing something shitty; even on the days where you suck, you have to write anyway
what if you don’t want to confront yourself on the page?
there’s no way to avoid it; whatever you write will be you; even if you don’t want to face your fears, write what about something you love, and make the villain the thing you hate, and you’ll still be confronting yourself on the page
Inside the Writer’s Room
chris parnell, gabrielle stanton, ashley miller, steven melching, ryan condal, deric hughes, bo yeon kim, kay reindl, jesse alexander, sarah watson, brian ford sullivan, marc bernardin, mark a altman
haven’t done a breaking in panel in a while, let’s do that, shall we?
focus on the staff writer today; how do they fit into the room?
gabby: levels: staff writer -> story editor -> executive story editor -> co-producer -> producer -> supervising producer -> co-executive producer -> executive producer, and that’s wobble for a while
who hires writers?
mark: writers hire writers; he wrote comic books for a while, didn’t work out, agent got ahold of one of his comics and said what do you want to do when you grow up; need to be able to write a pilot, need to come to LA for meetings, need to wow a show-runner, need to be able to plug holes as a staff writer; your job is to help the show-runner execute their vision
ryan: even show-runner has to get approval up the chain
in order to get hired, have to get your name on a list. how do you get on a show-runners list?
sarah: once you’ve written your one great script, write your second great script; you don’t know what show-runners are gonna be looking for; having a breadth of material helps; write as much as you can, because you get better with every script
recording this for inside the writer’s room podcast, which will launch later this year
jesse, how many scripts had you written when you got staffed?
wrote mostly features first, got into tv because a friend did and said it was fun
found his voice very early on, but now he’s so old that he’s lost his voice
write what you love and what you want to see, just crank out tons of it
wrote 40-some scripts just to learn how to do it
understand: the show-runner’s been moving up the chain for years, and this is their one shot to get their vision out, so they want to build a room that can get their voice out there
as a show-runner, what are you looking for?
jesse: had series with nbc, young writer submitted 2 spec scripts for other shows, and they were amazing and they were two very different shows, and so he hired her
kaye: is always looking for the writing; tip: read lots of scripts, read good ones and bad ones; most scripts aren’t bad, they’re just average; when you read something with a craft to it and a point of view to it, it stands out; she’s looking for someone that has their craft working for them
mark: wrote an original pilot that got him on castle; but he’d written features for years
when trying to get in a room, should they focus on specs or original material?
mark: recommend writing original material; really depends on the show runner; he prefers reading original
gabby: have a spec in your back pocket, because a lot of the writing programs now are asking for a spec and an original
sarah: have a spec because it teaches you how to write in someone else’s voice
kaye: also helpful to learn how to breakdown a show
when staffing colony, ryan only show sci-fi scripts, but he really wanted drama writers, because the show was meant to be character-driven in a sci-fi backdrop; also looking for diverse voices, even someone that doesn’t like science fiction to find out what kind of show they would watch
gotta market yourself to get on staff, right?
deric: yes, you want to pick a lane, get known for something to get on a list, and then once you’re established, you can move out of the lane; writing a smallville episode got him representation, but writing a rescue me episode is what got him his first job; gotta prove that you can write, no matter your lane
ashley: i’m supposed to have a lane, but i’ve been drinking, and so i don’t know the lane until i get home; been doing a lot of sword&sorcery lately; finding a lane is good advice, because it’s about knowing who you are as a writer; having a ground truth you can start from is very powerful; should constantly be creating material and developing skills
nelson, any different in animation?
in the early days, in the 80s, was studio staff driven; building full of writers would be assigned to whatever shows they were doing
then it became a freelance model, with single show-runner
now it’s more like tv model, with staffs of writers working on show
want to emphasize that it’s important to find your voice and where you fit, because it’ll be soul-crushing to be stuck somewhere you’re not happy working in (imagine being stuck in a show type you don’t like for 4-5 years)
what sets a good script apart from a bad script?
ryan: voice; it’s the hardest thing to quantify, but when you read a cormac mccarthy novel, you know it: that’s a voice; that’s the thing that leaps off the page, especially for people reading tons of scripts every day
jesse: looks for craft in the scene; needs someone who can tell a story and knows the format of tv; know how to tell a story in a scene
kaye: no more excuses for not having the right format for your script; when reading for a competition, knew she had a good script just from the way the writer started off the episode (just five pages in)
sarah: it’s character; wants to feel like she knows those characters; nothing more boring than a cop show that’s just about cop stuff; hook her with the characters, and then she’ll be into everything else
what’s a good pilot character?
jesse: put specifics in it; don’t say “i love a car” say exactly what car; this is nuts and bolts stuff that’ll make your work stand out
marc: it’s a character that’s never satisfied; the show is them trying to cross that gulf between where they are and what they want (ex: buffy and her need to be normal); mulder is much more interesting before he finds his sister
brian: got in through the warner-bros workshop; made it through a scene of house he wrote
what are options out there for getting in the room?
warner brothers writers’ workshop
writers on the verge (nbc)
cbs writers’ mentoring program
writers’ assistant is another way in; they’re the keeper of the wikipedia of the show, they keep all the notes and all the discussion from the room; they have to take everything and collate it into coherent thought at the end of the day, and send it out to the writers
marc: don’t be a dick; conduct yourself with grace; a lot of this business is people you know, and if you’re a dick, people will find out and they won’t want to hire you
also: don’t go on twitter and tear other shows down, it’s not a good way to get known; people look at your social media when considering whether to hire you
sarah: twitter is an optional platform with real-life consequences
can you be too old to break in?
marc: got first staff job at 43 years old
what about show bibles?
deric: no do not write the show bible, the show runner has that and they don’t want to read yours
kaye: don’t save anything from the pilot, don’t assume you’ll get a second episode; just blow shit up in the first episode, and deal with it once it gets accepted
nelson soler, lia martin, kristine huntley, kayreth williams, suzanne park, teresa huang, ken choy
feeling fear makes you a writer; wants to create a safe space; teach you how to utilize it
if you don’t have a writing support system, get one, to help you through your periods of doubt
take those traumas you’ve been through and turn them into fodder for comedy; it can be very cathartic
one method to add the comedy: have a character that can do things they wouldn’t normally be able to do (example: if they have cancer, there’s a lot of taboos they can break)
the rules: be funny, be honest, and be ugly; if you’re going to go (expose trauma) go all the way; dig deep, write all the ugly into the script
“all procrastination is fear”
epiphany: the fear never goes away; you have to learn how you’re going to live with it; stop fighting it or feeling bad about having it
technique: use creative kindling; give yourself 5-15 min to write something else: from a writing prompt, or a diary complaining about how things are going; then set timer and write during the whole time
every story is about fear; fear gives you the stakes, and the tension
take your fears and build them into stories, that’ll make them resonate with other people
for a tv show, need to take that fear and make it big enough to form an umbrella for 100 episodes of a show; example: fear of failure in college, make the college a super-prestigious place where failure means derailing your entire life (and maybe ruining your family): now all the normal events and stresses become much more dramatic
I feel like a real test of a good Con is one you can attend by yourself and still have a good time.
WonderCon passed that test this year, with flying colors!
My wife couldn’t make it this year, so I was on my own. But the panels were fantastic, the dealers in the exhibit hall were warm and friendly, and everyone in general seemed to be having a blast.
I also learned a lot about world-building, dealing with fear while writing, and what to expect when trying to break into comics or TV writing.
My notes from Day One are below. I’ll post Days 2 and 3 later this week!
Fantasy Set Decoration
sam sykes, mary e. pearson, tricia levenseller, kali wallace, livia blackburne, with nadine armstrong
kali wallace: has a PhD in geophysics
dr livia blackburne: wrote first novel while researching neuroscience of reading
to sam and livia: what was the first thing you did when creating new world to make it stand out and be different?
sam: i don’t know, i just started writing; details of a different world comes after; my worldbuilding technique is all about designing things that will inflict pain and suffering on the main character, and everyone’s pain is unique; started with the protag with a cool gun, made the gun sentient, then it just spiraled out from there
livia: akin to sam, starts with something really cool, had an image of snakes while hiking in san diego, thought about how people inject themselves with venom to get immunity, what about a rite of passage where you have to build up your immunity and then they inject you with three types of poisons and if you survive, congrats you’re a healer; flowed from there to what kind of society would that be, etc
to mary: how do you keep a long-running world feeling fresh?
map on the inside, 12 kingdoms, trilogy only explored three kingdoms, all kind of different, gives glimpse of how world works, built on ashes of bygone civilization, in the spin-off duology, set in a very different geography; geography informs a lot of how people live and how they dress, etc; every little culture on our planet builds their own mythology, and the point of her series is to explore different mythologies built by these different kingdoms
tricia: wrote two novels with lots of swordfights, didn’t want to write more swordfights in her next book, but needed an action hook, so thought of gimli and his battle-axe, so decided it’d be cool to do battle-axe fights, so from there thought “why would you use a battle axe? it’s not very practical…what if the monsters have tough exoskeletons and the only way to get through them is with a massive battle-axe?” and went from there
kali: changes her worldbuilding based on the perspective of the main character, thinks a kid would notice different things from the world than an old person would or a 12-yr-old, etc
sam: cool stuff alone is not enough to tell the story, it only matters as much as it impacts the character
livia: tends to not like reading journey novels, but then she wrote one, and needed to figure out how to deal with it; had things happening in two far apart locations across a big empire, had to figure out how they communicate, etc; in the end, pushing her characters out let her show off the empire, and created challenges for the characters that made things more interesting
tricia: had to give her character a reason to come back home, even when she didn’t want to; likes tackling problems that are really hard; thought “i’ll just have my characters kill a god,” but didn’t know how that would happen; important to keep in mind what a character’s goals are, and what problems they have to deal with
sam: people will remember gimmicks, magic systems, all that cool stuff, but it’s not what makes you go “oh!” and tell your friend about the story that hit you; it’s all set decoration unless the plot and characters pull you through it; the world-building feels more thorough when we see the impact of things on a character (or characters) that we like
mary: the world has to help carve and mold the character; if we can plop them in another world and their problems are the same, then either the character’s forgettable, or the world is
sam: magic system in most recent book has a price; it’s a deal with an eldritch creature that takes part of what makes you, you; was him being lazy, instead of having to worry about the impact of magic and the price, just made it directly affect their personality
livia: went into a series of questions to look into how people tick; like what if you lose your memory? and while it’s gone you fall in love with someone you despise? and then what if your memory comes back?
tricia: main character was betrayed by close ally; wanted to explore how do you work to get trust back once your trust has been broken?
mary: her character came to large fork in the road; even while writing it she was wondering what her character was going to do; part of the fun of writing is looking at choices and how we make them, and how we learn to forgive ourselves
tricia: had a lot of fun making monsters in her last book; took her fears and made monsters that encapsulate them
how to build a good magic system?
start with what your character needs it to do, and then make it cause more problems than it solves
pay attention to whether magic is innate or trained, because that’ll affect how your character experiences it
how much worldbuilding changes over drafts?
mary: has a lot of it in her head before she writes, it feels a little flat in her first draft, and gets richer from there, but nothing changes radically; most important thing is to go back and ensure it’s all consistent from beginning to end
sam: you can always flesh something out later, but if it doesn’t impact the characters, the reader won’t care
grew up in dallas, tx
shows some of the earliest comics he made, from when he was a kid
went to film school, made a movie called “robot stories”, then got a gig writing comics for marvel
best-known for planet hulk, also co-created amadeus cho, who even became the hulk for a while (“the totally awesome hulk”), got to put together a superhero group called the protectors (largest group of asian-american superheroes)
also wrote “the princess who saved herself” and “the princess who saved her friends” (went to college with joco, based these on his song)
with boom! studios, done “ronin island” and “mech cadet yu” (creator-owned comics)
what he does: combine genre hijinks with real emotional storytelling
things he thinks about while working on these stories:
heroism: how does that work? heroes don’t do the right thing all the time; characters are trying to do their best in a complicated world; he really enjoyed writing superman, there’s something compelling about characters that are really concerned with other people
written several sequences where monsters turn out to not be monsters, and it’s the hero that recognizes their non-montrousness
diversity: he’s biracial, half-korean, half-white (his terms), very conscious of the need for justice in the world; “why isn’t there an asian kid in peanuts?”; now that he create comics, he’s consciously bringing in more representation; it’s great to get one diverse character in there, but when you get a whole bunch of them together, you get to show the diversity within the diversity, and no one character has to stand in anymore for everyone in their group (immigrants vs second-generation vs third-generation, etc); and this isn’t new, matt murdock is a great character because he’s very specifically irish catholic
he’s also noticed in a lot of stories with biracial histories, they become tragic backstories for someone else, or they’re always being torn by their two cultures, instead of the real experience of people that just live as 1/4 chinese, 1/4 white, 1/2 black, etc.
kingsway west: chinese gunslinger searching for his wife in an old west with magic
Science of Game of Thrones
dr travis langley, tamara robertson, allen pan, steve huff, jenna busch, jonathan maberry
q about joffrey: he was poisoned, and that poison seems to be similar to some real ones?
travis: there’s so many ways to poison joffrey; he dies fairly quickly; he’s checked with his chemist friends; can mix up different poisons with belladonna, and several others, but it seems to have been strychnine (rat poison)
let’s jump to wildfire
tamara: definitely similar to greek fire, but even more so like napalm, in the way it sticks to its victims and can be launched long distances; greek fire was famous for being able to float on sea water and explode on impact
travis: napalm was actually around in world war ii
jonathan: martin inspired by napalm, he thought it was one of the most horrific things ever invented
allen: have to address the fact that wildfire burns a very bright green; boron, for example, will burn green (borax mixed with rubbing alcohol); copper also burns green; “don’t do that, but that’s how you would do that”
let’s talk about the ice wall: could you build one? and if you did, how would it work, and could a dragon take it down?
jonathan: no, you couldn’t do it; it’s too big, the temp’s not cold enough for it; you’d have to sculpt a glacier
allen: 700 ft tall, 300 miles long; 300 feet wide; 6 trillion gallons of water; the entire flow of the mississippi river for 15 days (!)
tamara: u of alaska looked at this, for it to be 300 ft thick, would need to be 20 miles (?) thick at the base
travis: what if it wasn’t all ice? their great wall froze over
allen: no way, we’re still talking an order of magnitude bigger than the great wall of china
jonathan: also, the whole idea of a dragon flame taking it down; i know it’s dead but they had it breathe flame for 2 minutes, that’s too long; also cruise missiles couldn’t have taken that thing down, let alone a 2 min flame; but where does all that gas come from?
allen: dragons, breathing fire, closest actual animal is a bombadier beetle; the beetle has two glands in its abdomen, has hydrogen peroxide and ??? mixes the two together so the two react and boil, expansion of steam is enough to shoot those chemicals out of its butt at those temps (to defend itself); is lethal to smaller predators (spiders, etc); hypergallic chemicals: rocket propellants that combust when mixed; his two candidates? hydrogen peroxide and kerosene; that would work, but doesn’t cover the volume
tamara: can look at cows if you want it to come out of the mouth; cow produces 66-132 gallons of methane in a day; just before the dragon died we see a huge sac under the throat burst, it could be holding the gas there
travis: there’s a discworld book where that is how it works for their dragons: they fart fire, and it’s how they fly
travis: dragons have 2 legs, and then the wings! no four legged things with the wings
allen: devil’s advocate here: pegasi have six limbs, maybe dragons and pegasi have a common ancestor?
jonathan: also the mass to weight ratios are completely wrong, there’s no way it could fly because it’s too heavy; for the show, they studied how birds and bats fly, so they do some cool stuff when they take off, but they get airborne way too fast
tamara: but it could be thermal currents, giving them extra lift?
let’s talk about valyrian steel and dragonglass steel
steve: idea behind valyrian steel is that it’s a sword of loss; similar to damascene steel in our world, because it was a lost art; both damascus and folded steel you’re looking at layers; different from japanese swords, which tend to be harder, with a soft core, which makes the edge brittle (so they would never go edge-to-edge when fighting); so we have methods of forging steel that’s similar to valyrian steel; and dragonglass is basically obsidian, which can be quite sharp and strong, but can snap
travis: what about under high heat?
steve: that’s where you get into the fantasy bit; a real sword should have a bit of flex, you should be able to bend it and it come back to true; but under high heat, it’ll damage the blade and it’ll become brittle or start to warp
allen: if valyrian steel is lost, wouldn’t melting it down and then making two more a terrible way to make a sword?
steve: yes; in the real world, if a sword breaks, they would just resharpen it an use it as a smaller weapon; also forged blades are stronger than anything that’s cast
jonathan: q about the obsidian: that’s chipped, not forged; they’re bringing in a swordsmith for those, wouldn’t you rather get a sculptor?
steve: definitely would want someone that has experience with knapping, not forging
what about jaime learning to use his other hand?
steve: he and his students train with both hands; just because we never saw jaime train with his other hand, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it
jonathan: surprised they didn’t go into that; he trained with both hands as well, with jiu-jitsu; losing one hand might make him a lesser swordsman, but he’d still have a great deal of skill
steve: most of combat is mastery of concepts; he’s not going to suddenly lose those skills because he lost a hand
psychology question: let’s talk about hodor; anything that would cause someone to continually repeat one word
travis: yes! expressive aphasia: the person has trouble with communication that they previously didn’t have, because of a brain injury; dr broca, the researcher that the language area of the brain is named for, had a patient that said “tan”; when travis was an intern, he had a patient who could only say two words: “party” and “shittin”
let’s talk about white walkers: could they exist? wouldn’t any liquid left in the body freeze?
allen: ok, we’re gonna talk weird animals again; like, how are the white walkers even moving around if they’re some kind of frozen? there’s a wood frog in NA, can be frozen solid for up to 7 months at a time, and when spring comes around, it’s fine; creates glucose and urea in its cells, that act as cryoprotectants; lowers the glass transition temp of tissue; main issue with walking around, is that it should not be able to move; he proposes, as part of their conversion process, they develop these cryogens in their tissues
jonathan: there’s a couple other squirrels and creatures that freeze like that, but they don’t move; each zombie book he writes, he has to mug a bunch of scientists to come up with different theories to make zombies make sense; closest he ever got were parasites that hijack the nervous system to operate it after the loss of intelligence; but the cold factor you can’t get around, there’s nothing that allows frozen tissue to be flexible enough to walk; they don’t act according to any laws of physics in those fight scenes
allen: i would like to counter, with the idea that, the temps around the wall can’t be that cold because there’s a forest there; there’s a lower limit to the temps there
jonathan: so as winter arrives, they should freeze?
allen: not if they invade westeros! i think that if you took a dead body, and reanimated it, and injected it with glucose and urea, and put it in a tundran environment, where there are still dire wolves, i think that body is still mobile
what about the psychology of evil?
travis: narcissism isn’t enough; you need the dark triad: sadism, narcissism, and psychopathy; people with just one of the three can be high functioning and members of society; there’s a measurable difference in brain activity with psychopaths, particularly in the p3 wave, so they think there’s a biological component, but they don’t know; current theory is that they might have some kind of very early brain injury; and the novels mention joffrey having had a brain injury early in life
tamara: there’s also the genetic anomaly of being born from twins; they see increased incidents of schizophrenia with incest
is there some way for daenarys to have gone into a pyre and coming out ok?
why the irregular seasons? tamara: a volcanic eruption, around valyria, would both explain the long winters and the sheer amount of dragonglass they have (as well as explaining what happened to valyria); reference: explosion of krakatoa in the 19th century, which erupted in southern pacific but affected winters as far away as europe
Spent most of my second day at WonderCon in the Writers Coffeehouse. Caught a few writing panels after.
hosted by the writer Peter Clines
rule one: there’s always exceptions
five myths about publishing
all traditional publishers are doomed: nope, 2013 was the best year ever for penguin publishing, gave everyone a $5,000 christmas bonus; trad pubs have been around for centuries and aren’t going away
trad pubs will not work with new authors: nope, people go straight to big five publishers all the time; there are big pubs that don’t require an agent (for example, tor)
trad publishers are going to make you change your book: out of 200 writers he knows (to varying degrees), has only heard of one author forced to change, and that’s because they picked up his book as part of five book set and they didn’t really want it; you’ll always get notes from the editor sure but that’s part of their job and a lot of it is right, and you don’t have to take them
trad publishers will take all your money and never give anything: uh, nope, the advance they pay you is yours, even if it doesn’t earn out; and nothing in return? nope, they give you a story editor, a copyeditor, interior layouts, designer, cover designer, publicist (yes, for every book), even have a regional bookseller whose job is to sell books to bookstores; that’s six people you get working on your book that you’d have to hire yourself
trad publishers will make you give the advance back if it doesn’t sell: oh so ridiculously untrue; no one has to give it back for the book underselling; they do ask for it back for breach of contract, like the book isn’t done two years past it’s due date, or they signed a contract for four books but only wrote three
self-pub is faster and easier than trad pub: sort of true, in that you can go home tonight and push a book out, but that’s a quick way to produce crap; if you want to produce a good product, you basically have to take on all the jobs of a publisher yourself, which takes time away from your writing
self-pub means more money to the writer: self pubbing is sort of like opening your own restaurant vs being a chef in someone else’s restaurant; you can do what you want but you’re on the hook for all the expenses as well, probably have to shell out for someone else to do a lot of the work that you can’t do yourself; get a bigger cut of the pie but it’s a smaller pie from fewer sales
there’s a stigma to be self-published: this used to be true, but epublishing has changed everything, agents and editors alike are reading self-pub books looking for new stuff; clines’ agent has talked to him about doing some self-publishing as a viable path for some work
trad pub will never touch you if you self-publish: nope, just ask andy weir or hugh hawley, both of whom were self-pubbed before their books got picked up by trad publishers; trad publishers are even starting to view self-publishing as the minor leagues
odds of success are better: hard to dispel, because success is so hard to measure; there are people that make good money self-publishing, but there’s so many people that get into it to release garbage; just looking at the money, most writers come out agead with a traditional publisher; to use an analogy, most people strike out with self-publishing but it’s really easy to hit a single or a double, very hard to hit a home run
tips for anyone:
have the best manuscript you can; don’t take your first draft and try to shop it around
learn to spell! don’t just accept what your spellchecker gives you
billy wilder: if you have a problem with your third act, you probably have a problem with your first act; clines thinks that’s true of careers as well
follow the guidelines: don’t send your horror novel to hallmark; don’t violate the expectations of your genre, like trying to sell a 250,000-word romance novel
don’t assume you’re the exception: yeah, they’re always there, but don’t assume that’s going to be you
develop empathy: if you can’t see things from other people’s perspective, you’re going to have a short career; need to be able to see how publishers and readers are going to see it; his grandparents recently died, and they never read any of his books
top tip: SLOW DOWN: take your time, don’t rush to get somethig out to market, you’ll have better success taking the time you need to send out a better product
screenwriters that aren’t represented: going through screenwriting contests is a great way to get noticed
fact: when he met her, clines’ girlfriend made a living winning screenwriting contests
Comics Tag Teams: Writing and Drawing Action
what as an artist would you want to tell writers about their scripts?
just give me a few sentences and let me go
mariko: always tries to have a skype call with the artist so you can establish a relationship of trust; it’s always like a first date, little awkward, but you’ve got to figure out how best to work together
gail: prefers writing full script, marvel style ends up taking too long for her; still lets artist suggest changes, but likes to control the action since it’s such a great way to show character
comedy takes space, to give it the right timing, put the pauses in
gail: asks artist what they like to draw, and what they hate, so she can tailor her writing to that
ever changed your script for the art?
mariko: yeah, totally, all the time
matthew: for the collaboration, yeah, you rewrite once you see the art, always
Full-Time Creative Work on a Part-Time Schedule
mario martinez: co-founder of tomato tv
topher davila: started out graphic design, then animated pilots, then almost sold show to disney, etc
james frye: theconguy.com
dr rina balzinger: dean of a college in socal, quitting to take charge of a music school in LA
gene trembo: manager of krypton radio, reaches 165 countries, transmedia company starting to look at publishing books, and starting animated webseries called mighty aprodite
gene: don’t wait for permission to be creative, life’s too short
gene: don’t say “i want to be a writer,” say “i’m a writer” describe yourself as the artist you want to be to other people
james: orient your life so it points towards your goals; change where you are, who you hang out with, so you point in that way; except for spiritual and health pursuits
case in point: if you want to write for tv, or be in entertainment, you have to move to LA
topher: anyone you meet could be an opportunity; don’t close yourself off from tripping into other stuff, he started illustration found he’s good at management and he enjoys it, it’s rare in creative people so he can translate between business and art sides
mario: use what you know in your writing; approaches character building analytically because he was a historian for years
ron coleman, phd: specialty is regenerative medicine: turning skin cells into stem cells, working with sd zoo to bring back southern white rhino; also writes comic called kevin the drunk jedi
ron: always have cards with you that you can pass out to people; give them out to everyone
when you get a card, write down on the back where/when met and what you talked about
need illustrators? check creative marketplace online, and the comics creatirs conference in long beach in the spring
scheduling? always leave time for 2 minor disasters. at least one will happen
WonderCon 2018 was amazing! So much more relaxed than Comic-Con.
I’ll do a summary post about the Con later this week, but I wanted to get my notes from Day One up first thing 🙂
Note: Some of the panelists’ names are probably misspelled, because I couldn’t always get close enough to see their placards
A story is a story: writing in multimedia
sam sykes: bring down the heavens series; also munchkins series
Sarah kuhn: heroine complex series; also comics
Judd winick: artist and writer for dc comics and indies
Judy ann neeb: librarian and moderator
What was your first writing medium?
Judd: comic strips; was meat and potatoes work, you write and draw and ink and letter everything yourself, then send it out
Sarah: zines; at the time, heard you could write everyday and get paid for it by being a journalist; so middle school started their own zine, photocopies printed out and gossip about cheating on math tests, etc
Sam: devoured every dragonlance novel ever, and then all the dragons disappeared, so what’s the point, might as well write his own thing now, started with prose because art was hard, went right to novels, because that’s what he’d read, sold first novel at 25, but had been working on it since 14
Weird how market has shifted, short fiction is basically dead, can barely sell it, let alone make a living at it, unless you do nothing but anthologies, or maybe you get known as a novelist first, which is backwards, thirst for short fiction isn’t dead, though, just look at subreddits for people posting and consuming it by the ton, we’re just looking for the next way to do it
Short fiction used to be the minor leagues for writers, eventually would get asked to do a novel, but nowadays path seems to be through self-publishing more than short fiction
To be a creator today, you almost have to master multiple media, unless you can just knock one of them out of the park, to keep up with everyone else, need to be in many places at the same time
Sarah’s approach to comics: voltron-ing skills?
Judd: Everything other than one-room-one-person work (which is rarer now) means working with a team, so have to work on your social skills, interact with other people and compromise with them, in larger teams, bottom-line is still storytelling within the tiny garden you’re given
Sarah: whenever starting a new kind of writing, still feels like an imposter, owes her current career to short fiction, wrote geek-girl rom-com for her friends, serialized it online, did a pdf zine, got a bit of a following because wasn’t that many geek-girl protags, that series helped her get an agent when she had a novel ready; was approached to write comics, someone asked her to, she said yes but i have no idea how to do it, she did a lot of research before diving in, reading and interviewing and going through samples, before realized it is telling a good story at its base, same basic skills, though with different scaffolding on top
Judd: not enough credit given to editors who find people say “do you want to do this?” and barrel through objections from the writer about not knowing how to do it
Sam: as the mediums change, you start relying on more and more people, novels is just him and an editor, comics is him and artist and editor and letterer, etc, what it comes down to is the ability to trust other people, you’ve got this idea and you’re trying to get it out there, and trusting other people in that process is hard, comics is littered with the carcasses of writers who did not understand that trust of the artist that’s needed
Judd: best advice for writing comics from bob shreck the editor and founder of oni press: write the script like it’s a letter to your artist, like you’re talking to a person, and that’s how you can make things a partnership
Worth mentioning that artists understand geometry and positioning better than you do
Has there ever been a point in your writing where you’ve wanted to change the format? From comic to novel, or novel to script, etc
Judd: never been able to switch gears; not that the option is always there, don’t sit around saying “i think this would be better as a major motion picture, lemme make a call”; people have asked him to do prose, but when he starts thinking of a story, by the point he’s excited about it, he wants to draw it, that’s what he enjoys doing as an artist
Sarah: never wanted to switch in the middle, gets hooked into whatever the right media is for the story, and sticks with it; tried to make her heroine series very visual, since they’re inspired by comics
Sam: one of the marks of being a professional is putting your head down and barreling through, can’t chase every thought in your head, unless you’re pat rothfuss (and if you tell him i said that, i’ll tell him you’re lying, and he’ll believe me); your idea of perfect keeps changing, so no use in chasing that perfect, best to do many projects at the same time, not all of them have to be finished at the same time, if you have a novel, nothing can stop you from tweaking it a little and making it a comic, but if you want to do it as a living, you have to barrel through and finish it, which means you have to choose
Judd: advice he gives to kids about writing: know your ending, if you’re going to do a novel, do it, finish it, get a draft, and then you can edit it and make it better; writing is the worst, he likes editing, when he can fix it
Sam: a little like constipation, sometimes you just gotta sit down and force it out
Judd: greatest job in the world, we get to make shit up and people pay us money, i’m 48 and i draw and half-watch television, like when i was ten
Sarah: often feels the script for comics ends up being a conversation back and forth between writer and artist(s), her first comic was smaller team, used to tell the colorist “more sparkles!”, felt like her own little clubhouse, initial scripts for clueless series were more detailed, since had a different artist, once they started getting art, got to more a shorthand with her
Spotlight on VE Schwab
Written 15 novels in 8 years
No trunk novels, doesn’t start novel until she knows she has enough for the novel to come to fruition
Longest time, had just an image for darker shade of magic: wounded man falling through a wall and hitting a girl dressed as a boy
Six months later, hit on the idea of doing an homage to harry potter, a multiple worlds story
What if the young man isn’t walking through a wall, is walking between worlds?
That shot became the crystalizing ingredient needed for the book to come together
Always working actively on one thing and letting 3 or 4 others simmer
Leans towards fantasy, because grew up wanting the world to be stranger than it is; Wanted the cracks in the sidewalk to lead to other world; as a writer, wants to seed your world with doubt, wants you to look for the stranger things in the world
Was 11 when harry potter came out, and started reading the books; didn’t love reading at the time, mother’s friend was in a bookstore in socal and called her mom “hey, there’s someone here doing a signing, her line’s not long, it looks like something your daughter would enjoy”… which is why she has a signed copy of the sorcerer’s stone; potter was a hook for her, showed her you could create a story that would make a person forget they’re reading a story
“What drives the part of your writing where you describe clothes so well?”
Really, really loves coats
Watching pushing daisies, realized the guy has a really wonderful black trenchcoat
Never been very feminine, not a dresses person, but finds coats can be very cool and sexy and not strictly one gender or another
Uses fashion because it’s a very good shorthand for a character, lets you visualize the character very easily
Kell’s coat is a nod to the room of requirement
Kell’s coat, nella’s knives: ways for you to see character easily
Always been a cinematic writer, resisted writing novels for a long time, wrote short stories and poems and everything else, realized she was afraid of failing to write a novel, so sat down and made herself do it
Has to see each scene in her head before she can write it; like creating a movie in her head and then translating it into a book
Loves tv and comics and film, those are her recharge
Getting to write her first comic now, and that’s so cool because her illustrator can directly translate everything she wants to see
Nothing better as a writer than to see a lot of fan art and it all looks the same; means you were able to get it across well
At any given time, have up to 6 projects in development; currently has 3, film makes publishing look very very fast
“Where does your affection for redheads come from?”
Not a natural redhead, is a very light blonde, but never felt like a blonde on the inside
Her father is a weasley redhead, and always got teased for it, never felt good about it
Her male characters are always hufflepuff, and her female characters are slytherin
Wants to see more ambitious women and emotive men
“Books not about love, but about entanglements”
Loves romance, but so often in fiction, romance supersedes every other kind of relationship
And it’s the least interesting relationship, so often these cool dynamics take second fiddle; wants to see more sibling rivalries, more frenemies, etc
Loves a long con, where they start out adversaries in book one, but by book three they become involved, because the relationship is built on something
Likes room for progress and intensity
Really likes familial relationships, thinks rhy and alucard are the core relationship for the darker shade of magic books
“So how do you feel about ’shipping for your characters?”
Sorry, been rewriting a book from scratch for two months, not as articulate as normal, just finished yesterday
Fine with shipping, weirded out about it
As author brings 50% to the book, reader brings the rest
Tries to do nothing to dictate the reader’s relationship to the book and the characters, doesn’t want to control the other side of things
Side note: if you have a problem with a female character, especially a strong one, ask yourself if you would be as bothered by them if they were male
“Interest in monstrosity and monsters?”
Grad degree is in medieval depictions of monsters and monstrosity
Not interested in monsters so much as outsiders
Monstrosity is an easy way to talk about people that don’t belong, to otherness
When she does have something that is clearly monstrous, she tries to look at its origins, and explore that
“Why london for shades of magic?”
Two reasons: one, because she wanted to play against the assumptions we have as readers for what kind of story we’re getting in london
And two: multiple worlds, all based on the same geography, was thinking how fun would it be if you took a well-known city and take it down to studs, rebuilt it from the ground up with just the geography there, but to do that, needed something a broad audience would be able to imagine with little effort, and london fits the bill: city, with the thames running through it, and bridges, etc
“Really open with struggles with anxiety, how does that impact writing process?”
In savage song, main characters are different aspects of her anxiety: one lashes out, the other shuts down and internalizes everything
Didn’t set out to be open about anxiety, set out to be open about publishing
When she started, no one was talking about the industry online in an open and honest way
It’s very isolating, and you feel like you’re the only one going through it, when really every author feels that way
At conferences, she heard other authors griping about it, but then saying they needed to keep the glamour of the job alive, and so shouldn’t talk about it openly
She decided: well, i’m going to talk about it, and maybe it’ll help other people
Over time, she just became honest about all of it, the publishing, the anxiety, the depression, coming out, all of it
Found the most incredible thing: readers started celebrating with her, showing up at events saying “i’m proud of you”
Not calculated, not planned, comes from an authentic place
15th book, rewritten in two months, it’s still a struggle, the struggle changes but doesn’t go away
If you’re writing, even if you’re not published yet, you’re not “trying to write” you’re a writer, we’re all in this tribe together
“What’s a question you hate getting?”
Used to hate “where ideas come from?” Because each book is so different
Aren’t any questions she really hates anymore
Heard each question enough, tries to answer them in ways that are not just honest but also helpful for others
Does get tired of hearing people ask about when the third archive book is coming out, because she knows it hasn’t come out yet, and is very very aware of where it is, it’s a sensitive topic for her
“Why comics for the steelheart series?”
Had this idea for a story, about the king of red london as a prince, with pirates and bad magic, etc, but is working on three more books for the next arc in the shades of magic series already, so thought didn’t want to write it as a book, wanted to do something else
Was talking with titan, her uk publisher, and they do comics, asked her if she wanted to do a comic set in the shades of magic world, and she thought: this is perfect
So: first four issues are coming out this fall!
“Also have a middle grade book, and vengeful, the next book in the vicious series”
City of ghosts is a weird one, set in edinburgh, scotland, which is where she lives part-time, one of the great things about britain is that everyone has a ghost story, and they’re very blasé about ghosts
Middle grade book, but it’s written to 12 year old her, so that’s how she feels like it
Girl almost drowns, ghost boy pulls her out, and when she comes back, she pulls him part of the way back as well; her parents pick up a tv series called the inspectors that has them going from town to town doing shows about local ghosts
Vengeful: five years have passed since vicious was published, and it’s been five years in that world, as well
Has five new female protagonists, and it’s about how women take and hold power in that world
So dark, so violent, impressed her how violent it got
Comes out in september
Rapid fire questions:
“Live anywhere?”: edinburgh, scotland, just bought a place there, only place she felt like home
“Character in other world?”: delilah bard would fit in game of thrones perfectly
Favorite villain didn’t write? The Darkling
Favorite monster? Voldemort
If you had magic, what would you do with it? Definitely rule white london; white london is for the takers, with enough magic, could sit on that throne for a while
How to switch between middle grade and adult?
Only difference is the version of herself she’s writing towards
Middle grade: 12 yr old me
YA: 17 yr old me
Adult: current age
Middle grade is beautiful, because you can explore so dark themes, children as so good at reading things that would disturb adults more
Tries not to dial anything down, just thinks of terms of writing to herself
Will the next trilogy be cliffhangers?
Firm believer that the first book should stand alone
Apologized for the cliffhanger at the end of book two, but:
Second book is a little harder
Gathering of shadows was her first cliffhanger, so she went all out for it
Should be able to stand a little more on their own, because they will each have their own protagonist, but will build on each other
Tools that help you write from vast material?
Plot is her weakness, plot is not natural for her, so she works on it till it becomes her strength
Plot is the skeleton, gotta have it strong to support everything else
Marks out five plot points, when she gets to one, she bisects it: what happens halfway between one and two? Etc
Had to do a rewrite because spent so much time on makeup for a very badly skeleton’d corpse
Publishing your first comic book
Ryland grant does stand up during the technical difficulties
Was supposed to have visual aids, but they’re broken
Rylend: working screenwriter for years in LA, just recently decided to dive into comics, first book aberrant comes out in june
Haven’t made comics yet, and you want to? That’s ridiculous, do it
Never been a better time to get into comics
Used to have to troll artists alley to get people to draw your book
Has artists in brazil, in hungary, letterer is in the uk
Can find everyone with the click of a mouse
Get off your butts, and do it
David pepose: interned at dc, first comic spencer & locke (what if calvin and hobbes grew up in sin city) come out last summer, has been pitching everywhere
Karla nappi: tv writer and script editor, first comic book duplicant will be released by vault comics soon, was a pilot script she turned into comic, set in future where there’s a pandemic of organ failure, focuses on scientist that makes duplicate organs
David schrader: short filmmaker, recently got baby bad-ass published
Steve prince: self-publishing guru, six titles so far, including monster matador, set in a future where monsters have overrun humanity, travels world fighting monsters with sword and cape
Jeff leeds: anthology guru, collections of short stories, easier to produce and cheaper, good way to wade into the water, by day, jeff is exec at nbc
“What makes it the right idea?”
“How do you get it into the hands of publishers?”
Need a cover, 6 pages of art that’s colored, inked, lettered
6 pages is the min, more is better
Then need a treatment: the meat of the story, all the way through
Describe your team, list everyone’s experience
Need to be able to say “i know where this story is going”
Keep it short: no one wants a 60-issue series from someone they’ve never heard of; first arc of spencer & locke is only 4 issues
Karla: did five pages, no one would pick it up because they couldn’t see where it was going, so had to publish the first issue herself, find letterer and colorer via conventions, that helped her get a publisher; had a treatment for the first 15 issues, but publisher that picked it up only wanted to do the first 5 and see how they did
One place where having a finished book might hurt you would be with a company like Boom! Comics, who want you to use their own artists, and will want to edit it, etc
Steve: primarily a writer, writing pitches, going to publishers, you’re waiting a lot, very challenging market, but printing is relatively cheap, comixology submit makes it instantly out there, if he has an idea he just does it, no waiting for others to sign off, people more likely to read comic book than a comic script
Submission process for anthologies is a little different: a short compressed time window for submissions, instead of the eternal death march for regular issues; submissions process is going to be easier, will need pitch and character designs, not whole story
One example: theme was las vegas, sent in pitch, they asked for page by page outline, not a full script, and went from there
[but how do you find out about these anthologies?]
Unless it says otherwise in publisher’s site, only email them
There are really good fb groups connecting comics writers and artists, can use them to find people
Writing Great Dialog
Merifred scott: writes comics and animation; including guardians of the galaxy and transformers, avengers, spider-man, etc
Holly hukins: writes animation, usually comedy, first job was on rugrats (first season), story editor on recess, recently created some preschool shoes, now working on 8–11 comedies for amazon
Jim: wrote a lot of scooby doo, wrote an episode of supernatural where the brothers are sucked into a scooby cartoon, producer and editor on green lantern animated series, etc
“People from michigan are weird”
Matt lane couldn’t be with us, has been having back problems
Craig miller: written curious george, smurfs, beastwars, gi joe, done a lot of international market work
How many of you are writers or want to be writers?
I feel so sorry for you
Novels are very different dialog than comics or video games or animation
Harrison ford to george lucas: “you can write this shit, but you can’t say it”
What is it you keep in mind when writing dialog?
Meriford: make sure everyone has a distinct voice, a distinct pov; will go back through and read every line that a character has, all in a row, to make sure their voice is distinct; easy when writing back and forth to have the characters’ voices start to sound the same
Craig: every character should have a distinct speech pattern. Each line of dialog should tell you immediately when you hear it who it is
Jim: do your own personal table read to your family; read it out loud, always
Craig: there are lines that read just fine, but your mouth can’t say them
Holly: table read with the writing team is traditional on comedy shows, lets you punch up jokes and catch things like “you started each line here with the same letter”
Meriford: uses final draft’s text-to-speech feature to get robotic feedback on how well it works
Craig: people of different walks of life, from different parts of the country, speak differently
Meriford: definitely don’t want to distract from main character with weird dialog from the auto mechanic, but believes people talk the way they think. An auto-mechanic that thinks with their hands is going to speak differently than one that is very organized and thoughtful
Holly: actors really appreciate that. Love it when they can come in and use the dialog to figure out how to play it, because it sounds like how the character thinks and approaches the world
Jim: each format has its own constraints and needs; an 11-minute short, every line needs to drip character and be surprising in some way; for an hour-long piece, can let things breathe a bit more
Craig: in animation, things have to be happening, no one will watch really long scenes with lots of people talking; in comics can’t have soliloquies, have to keep things moving
How do you come up with the speech patterns for distinct characters?
Meriford: i steal it; noticed female characters tend to fall into sounding the like the same “action lady”, pulled one character from tommy lee jones’ patterns in the fugitive; had one class where they had to ride the bus and listen, take notes, to figure out how people talked
Jim: You cast your story in your head, with actors that you’ll never get
Meriford: you can even steal little quirks, like how obama used to tell a joke during a speech, and then stop and comment on it, and it was such a dad thing to do
Jim: like in improv, you build a character around these traits and quirks, and then put them in situations; what would norman be like at the deli? Things like that
Jim: what they don’t tell you, the introvert, looking for a job as a writer where you stay in a dark hole all the time, is that what you’re really signing up for is a lifetime selling your story to other people, and you have to become comfortable doing that
Meriford: hardest part of being a dramatic writer is having to walk into a roomful of people
How do you juggle between dialog that’s clear and not on the nose?
Jim: gotta hide it; to your ear, gotta sound like something someone would say; there are tricks, and everyone’s heard the backstory dialog that sounds weird
Meriford: three levels of dialog: first where you mean what you say (hello, i love you, duck), second is when you mean what you say, but you talk about it sideways (“it’d be a shame if something happened to that nice suit of yours”); third level is where you never speak about what you’re actually talk about (gene hackman talking about horses after getting demoted by denzel washington in crimson tide); don’t want to live in number 3 or number 1, want to bounce between 1 and 2; another number 2 example: the fight’s never really about the dishes, even though that’s what you talk about
Craig: if you do stop to have a conversation while the t rex is chasing you, it’d better be damn good dialog
Meriford: on the other hand, you can stop to have those moments, like hawkeye and black widow in the first avengers: “this reminds me of budapest” “you and i remember budapest very differently”; so much character and backstory embedded in those two lines
Meriford: loves writing spiderman, because he talks through every fight, it’s a compulsive tick for him, so you never have to kill your darlings in that one
How do you convey accents?
Holly: tries not to use accents, mainly
Craig: standard thing in scripts is to put in parentheses “has a german accent”
Jim: example, early mistake he made writing scooby was to actually write “rutt-roah”, actor took him aside and said “don’t do that; i know how to do the voice, if you put an ‘r’ in front of every word, i won’t know what it is”
Meriford: in print, especially, use a lighter touch with accents than you want to, it’s hard to read, maybe throw in a word or two from the language, or use the ol’ asterisk (translated from the chinese)
What about characters written as cyphers? Like james bond, a bland character in exotic situations?
Meriford: tries to avoid writing bland characters, just as a rule
Craig: bond isn’t a cypher, he’s a job, is allowed to show some emotion but in few situations
Jim: jack reacher books are like that, he’s a machine, what’s interesting is the situations “the corruption goes a lot deeper than you think”; sometimes it’s not about the character, it’s the world, but the other people have to have a lot of character in their dialog
Meriford: if you’re gonna write a character with very functional dialog, give them a quirk or two to give that smooth line of dialog a bump or two, make it seem like they still have some depth
Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books
Henry herz: moderating, three picture books coming this year; also does self-publishing
Jenni holm: newberry award winner, three time
Antoinette portis: will be here later; former creative directory at disney products; ny times bestseller
Dan santat: ny times bestseller, caldecott award winner
Deborah underwood: writes intersteller cinderella, supersaurus, here comes cat
Eugene yelchin: newberry honor winner; haunting of falcon house
What inspires your writing?
Dan: grew up watching 80s tv: a-team, falcon crest, airwolf, a lot of inspiration comes from borrowing other people’s ideas and making them your own, watches all kinds of movies, the weirder the better, anything to jump start his imagination, doesn’t shy away from anything that he might not be into
Jenni: pulls things from her own childhood, grew up in the 70s, middle child of five kids, only girl, read a lot of comics, late father was a huge comic fan, weaned on prince valiant and flash gordon, didn’t notice at first that weren’t a lot of women in comics, but when grew up wanted to see herself in comics, stole a lot from her own elementary school life
Antoinette: some from own childhood, some from daughter’s childhood
Eugene: so many ideas, so much information coming in, hard to decide which ideas to pursue, what he uses to choose between them is the emotion behind them and the strength of the idea, even if he has a poppy idea that would sell books, if he doesn’t feel anything about it, can’t write it, has to let it go
Deborah: quiet book inspired by sitting at concert, waiting for it to start, noticed the different qualities of the silence that the crowd went through; for her the common thread is ideas coming out of quiet or out of play
Questions from the audience: How many pages?
Picture book age: golden number is 32 (dan), if you add to it, you add by 4
Henry: fictional picture book, you’re looking at 500 words
Can find templates online to give a sense of the layout
All endorse society of children’s book writers and illustrators, chapters all over
Best book experience?
Deborah: new york children’s musical theatre group made her book into a musical, she got to go to new york and see her characters up on stage
Eugene: differs with every book, each book is its own world, living in that world for a time, is its own special experience
Antoinette: wanted to make her own art, her own property, after working for corporate masters for so long, ran away from disney, everyone thought she was crazy, but felt so good to get away and do her own thing, create her own art
Jenni: her son always read other books, had to do a book report on a newberry award winning author, left his book at school, she pointed him to her book, got him to write a book report on her own book
Audience question: as an artist how do you get on a publisher’s radar?
Antoinette: If you join the scbwi, it’s very helpful with all that stuff; can send postcards and have a web site, your target audience is editors and publishers, who are the ones that do the hiring of illustrators, not writers
Dan: you’d be surprised who’s looking at websites
Audience question: what do you think about self-publishing?
Henry: it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish; have your own timeline, own creative control, trad publishing is slow; downside is you’re responsible for everything, so either need to be a master at everything, or have a team that can be masters at everything; too often can see people rushing to self-publishing because they want to see their names in print, and don’t want to spend the time honing their craft; don’t think of it as a shortcut around traditional publishing, because the quality won’t be there
Antoinette: getting your self-pub book into a bookstore is a full-time job on its own, and as a creative person it’s probably not a job you want to take on
Dan: contra that, there are people that like the hustle, so even though they’re talented enough to be trad published, they choose to be indie
Audience question: proper approach for submitting manuscript if you’re not an author?
Deborah: if you’re just an author, double-spaced typed manuscript is fine, if you’re an illustrator and you submit art, it’s a red flag for publishers
Eugene: so much depends on the art, better to submit without art
Henry: cover letter is typically three paragraphs: what’s the story about, market potential, bio stuff
Jenni: industry is more agented now, so becoming standard practice for publishers to not accept unagented manuscripts
Henry: true for the big five publishers, but for the medium sized and small pubs, they’ll still accept unsolicited submissions
Deborah: also, some publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts from people that attend certain conferences
Dan: some graphic book publishers will even do “new talent” events
Audience: why prefer children’s books as a medium?
Dan: had a cartoon show on disney for three seasons, dealing with executives is a pain in the butt, whereas in children’s publishing, an editor will endorse your views and your voice, your perspective is more intact in children’s publishing
Eugene: also comes down to your personality; if you’re more comfortable working in a team, than by yourself, then you’re going to drift into different media
Antoinette: knows an author/illustrator that is constantly pitching shows, wants to be in tv and movies, and to her it sounds like hell, don’t make as much money in children’s publishing, but you have more creative freedom, so it’s worth it
Audience: how has having children affected how you write children’s books?
Jenni: they kind of ruin it, actually, productivity went into the toilet; i don’t think you need to have kids to be a children’s author, got her start before she had kids; in fact, recommend not having kids often
Deborah: i don’t have kids, and that’s why i have time to write; people write for the age of the kid they actually are, so i’m 6
Dan: kids help me become a better writer, because my memories of being a kid are a little skewed, thought was writing with things for himself as a kid, but then had kids, and realized he’d forgotten so much; had to re-discover his childhood through his kids
Audience: do you see a dramatic change in how you do things with tech?
Jenni: kids are growing up so fast now, feels like there’s a renaissance going on in comics for children
Dan: thinks the attention span for kids is shorter; take a book like jumanji, that’s 4,000–5,000 words, couldn’t get something like that published today; if you’re pushing 700 words in a picture book, you’re already getting word-heavy
Antoinette: counter to kids’ attention span being shorter, is that they are way more sophisticated visually, don’t have to show every step anymore like you used to
Eugene: but even grad students these days don’t focus on an image like they used to, we have so much coming at us that we don’t stop to study anything and read an image properly
Antoinette: but kids spend so much time with a book, memorizing it
Audience: appeal to parents first or kids?
Dan: flip flops, just tries to make a good book
Jenni: writes middle grade, she writes for the kids
Antoinette: my 4–5 yr old is dictating what works and what’s funny, want it to not be stupid, for the adult that’s going to be reading it
Eugene: little kids don’t buy for themselves, but older kids do, so it’s two different modes; i write for myself as the kid that i was, mostly write for 10–12; thinking about other kids and other teachers would make him too worried
Deborah: agree with writing for the inner kids; also likes to put things for the adult reading it that they can chuckle at that the kids won’t get
Inside the writer’s room
Mark: show runner for the librarians
Gab stanton: vampire diaries, the flash
Michael morducci: vampire diaries
Ashley miller: fringe, black sails, thor, x-men first class
Steve melching: star wars rebels, clone wars
Kay reinalt: twisted, free-form, freakish
Marc bernarden: alphas, castle rock
Amy berg: counterpart, da vinci’s demons, eureka
Chris parnell: co-president of sony pictures studios, worked at sony for fifteen years
Focus on the awesome task of writing in a writer’s room, a team work, and the writer’s room as a living organism
What’s inspiring you on tv
Amy: obsessed with the good place
Marc: also watching the good place, because he does everything amy says, also watching jessica jones season 2
Kay: also watching jessica jones season 2, loves it, waiting for the last season of the best show ever, the americans
Steve: watching a lot of weird comedies, like another period
Ashley: catching up on shows that everyone else has seen, recently discovered community, watching now and it’s perfect in every way: marvellous ms maiselle
Ryan: not a comedy writer, but love’s Love on netflix, gets LA completely right, also loves the crown, looking forward to the terror
Michael: handmaid’s tale is awesome, wormwood about mk ultra is amazing
Gab: the one dirty secret they don’t tell you is that once you work in tv, you no longer have time to watch tv anymore; check out no activity on cbs because it’s surprisingly good
Mark: rebels just wrapped up its four-year run, it’s like the breaking bad finale of animation; we binge everything sucks, it doesn’t suck
Chris: end of the fucking world is also great
Philosophy behind a writer’s room: impossible for one person to crank out all the material needed for a series; but lots of studies that argue against group brainstorming, that more creative work comes out of one person
How important is a good showrunner to a group think session?
Kay: most important; if you’re trying to tell a single season story, have to have a strong point of view
What does it take to be a good showrunner?
Chris: movies -> director runs it, writer is just one component; tv -> opposite, writer-driven medium
Amy: is really about surrounding yourself with the right people, need the right mix of personalities and skill sets, when you’re hiring crew, need your department heads to be great facilitators, can’t really go it alone and get the job done well (see true detective season 2)
Gab: have to manage people, have to manage a ton of money, have to manage all these writers, have to make decisions about all the costumes, etc, have to be the kind of person that can go to someone and say “help me out with this” and be open to what they have to say
Marc: have to be able to communicate what your objectives are, so others can march in the right direction and get it done
Ashley: best showrunners remind him of the best teachers, a lot of those skills convey, personality type that needs to walk into the room with a plan, but know the plan is going to change as soon as it encounters other people, not quite egoless, but have to let people talk and give them permission to be wrong; it’s a hard skill to teach people that just want to work alone in a dark room
Kay: showrunner has to protect the writing staff, has to make the room a safe place for everyone to be able to contribute
Michael: thinks what makes the best writers who they are is courage and empathy; that’s also what makes a good boss; don’t want to scream at people if they come up with a not-great idea that moves the show forward, because then you won’t get their best
Recommended: john cleese on creativity; find the video on youtube, it’s great
Chris: and yet, you’ve got to hold everyone to creative standards in the room
Michael: agrees, but don’t want to scare people, make them afraid to bring up ideas later on
Steve: and sometimes, those crazy, bad ideas you pitch lead to the good ones, you laugh about it, and then it frees you up to think of the good one
Gab: vocab about it, “this is the bad version, but…”
What kind of structure do you impose?
Amy: law of diminishing returns, happens early in the afternoon, comes in with an idea of what she wants to get done, and if she gets there, she gets there, sometimes you have to be willing to call the brainstorm session over and move on
When breaking season down, use a board, index cards with different color for each character, writer’s assistant is writing everything down, nice feeling that something’s being done because you have a physical object at the end of the day; break down the season episode by episode, or arc by arc
How do you build a team?
Mark: be as brutal as you can, until you tell me i can’t change it anymore, and then tell me it’s brilliant; there’s a real value in criticism, if you can trust that everyone is working toward the same goal, you want to make it better
Chris: have to be able to take a note, to teach people how to take notes
Michael: was told by a showrunner, most tv writers are not very good, his job is to let them take the script as far as they can, and then come in and make it better; on vampire diaries, they put all the character names in a hat, and everyone had to pull a name, and they became the advocate for that character, kept them from dropping the ones they weren’t as excited about
Marc: have to be willing to remember that you’re getting paid to not get everything you want, you’re not always going to win, and you have to be willing to accept that, and move on
Gab: writing tv is really about mimicry, because you have to be able to write in the voice of the creator of the show; when she was coming up, you had to write a sample episode, and that proved you could fit into the show; today everyone’s writing their own pilots, and that shows they can write, but not that they can do the work in the writer’s room on the show
Mark: “just because you can write hamilton, it doesn’t mean you can write ncis: des moines”
Ashley: any a-hole can be an artist, the hard part is being a craftsperson, showrunner has to bring an understanding of the craft into the room, and how to use the craft of the writers in the room; pitching responsibly means having an awareness of what the consequences of the idea will be both for what came before and for what comes after; best defense against terrible ideas is “tell me about”, it’s still notes and criticisms, but a different way to think about it, opens people up instead of shutting them down
Amy: worries that if you have to come to the room with such a complete idea, you won’t bring it, she’s good at ping-ponging off of ideas that are very small grains of things
Kay: very important when you’re doing it for the first time, that you feel comfortable and not stupid, even when you’re still learning your craft
Marc: what he wants from a showrunner is the same thing as from a dungeon master; some idea of where you’re going, but the ability to shift things on the fly as the players throw monkey wrenches into things, give them agency in the game; a good DM will roll with the players moving off of the main storyline, and find a way to incorporate it into the main arc
Intro to TV Writing: first draft to staffing
Previous panel talked about shift from writing episode for the show on spec to writing your own pilot; which is better?
How much of the show do you need to have worked out when pitching a pilot?
Better to get a gig writing on a current show before pitching your own?
Agents? Needed or not needed?
Where do you send these scripts? How do you know which shows/editors/producers might be open to them?
Melissa: wrote for lost, the gifted, veteran of the warner brothers workshop
Cat: being human, the cape, cw’s arrow, legends of tomorrow
Drew: marvel’s agents of s.h.i.e.l.d., buffy, arrow, warehouse 13
How do you go about spec’ing a script of an existing series?
Melissa: don’t write for a show you don’t like, it’ll be terrible; watch all the episodes so you don’t do something they would never do; watch a show with a legal pad and do a break down of the show minute by minute, the pacing, how it’s put together
Cat: seconds everything she said; first script ever spec’d was lost, tried to make it as much as a contained story as possible, found some plot holes she thought she could fill out; try to find that space to work in that’s self-contained; but also find a way to orient readers that might not have seen the show; she did a “previously on lost” to let reader know where everyone was and what’s going on; everyone said she was crazy to spec lost, but that’s how she got a job on the verge
Drew: wrote an ally mcbeal and a sopranos, and a buffy spec, had a meeting with an exec of 21st century fox, they showed it to joss whedon, which is a NO NO
Rule: you don’t show the spec you wrote for the show to the actual showrunner, not only will they immediately spot all the flaws, but for legal reasons they can’t read it (might be accused of stealing ideas from it)
Purpose of writing a spec is to show you can write in the voice of the show
Dangerous to write a spec for a show that’s been around a long time, because it could vanish, then you’re screwed
What are you looking for in a script?
Cat: ex: for a superhero show, not just looking for superhero writers, right now looking for humor, and writers who can write emotional moments, arcs are very important for them; snappy dialog also great; period piece for a time-travel show; humor and heart
Melissa: when reading for vampire diaries, looking for genre scripts, but in a wide range; had to be able to write banter, since it was so critical to the show
Drew: it’s character, emotion, and humor, just like cat and melissa said; for example, on agents of shield, they’re all comic book geeks, got that covered, what they’re looking for is emotion, can you write it, can you inspire it?
Original pilot talk: heard eps lately say they want to read the pilot, others just want the spec
Melissa: wants to read the pilot, tells you a lot about who the person is; when go into a meeting, they want to get to know you and figure out who you are as a person; even if you don’t get the gig, it’s not always about you, don’t ever take it personally; when she goes into meetings, starts with the story about why she became a writer
Drew: when writing pilots himself, he’s known for comic book shows, so will zig instead of zag, write a family drama; he’s looking for in a pilot is writers that can do some good worldbuilding, present a fully-formed world from the get-go; no place to hide in a pilot
Cat: when writing a spec pilot, really take a hard look at your dialog; showrunners will skip prose and go right to the banter, because they’re busy; what separates a good writer from a great writer is finding those voices and channeling them in a way that’s distinct; make it so it sounds like only those characters could sound that way
Melissa: harder bar: should be able to say at the end of the pilot: what’s the series? You should have questions, you should get to the end of the pilot script and immediately want to know what’s coming next, and know what sort of questions are going to be coming, what’s the underlying engine of the story
Audience q: How can get writing to people like them?
Drew: the best way is to have an agent, or a manager; need to network, go to writers events in LA, don’t cold-call them, meet them that way
Melissa: if she had unlimited resources, would invite a group of writer’s assistant’s out to drinks, find out who needs people
Audience q: why write a spec script if you can’t show it to the show?
Cat: main purpose is to get into any of the writer’s programs for the networks, warner brothers, nbc, fox, etc, all of them need a spec script as part of the application process; also EPs will read spec scripts later on
Audience q: how much map out for the series when pitching pilot?
Melissa: you don’t have to show anything, but as a writer, it’s a good thing to know the big signposts, what’s going in to season two, etc; ed solomon: don’t do it for the money, or the credit, or the fame, do the work, the rest will follow; it seems easy, but it’s not
Audience q: if a show gets cancelled, does that kill the spec scripts for it?
Audience q: what’s the biggest oopsie you’ve ever made and how did you get past it?
Melissa: do a lot of research on the person you’re going to meet when going into a staffing meeting; know whether they’re casual people or formal, so you know how to dress, how to approach them
Audience q: biggest takeaway from first season staff writing?
Cat: learn how to write on whiteboards, like practice, and get really good at it, because that skill will be enough for you to stay in the room, they’ll keep you just for your ability to write legibly; if you have good board writing, they will love you
Drew: really lucky that his first staff job was writing with buffy; once you get into the room, have to be ready to shift your skillset to working with a roomful of (potentially) geniuses; when you’re building a story with other people, it’s like a train, once it’s building momentum, if you’re the person that just says “no, that’s crazy” then you’ve just pulled the emergency brake on the train, no one likes that; gotta learn how to work with people and introduce things gently
Melissa: should have been more comfortable in her own skin; surprised by how miserable she could be doing the thing she had worked so hard to do; wasn’t quite the right fit for that staff room, and made it worse by being incredibly awkward; should have done some meditation and relaxed so she could enjoy having made it
Audience q: elaborate on the fellowship?
Cat: replicated feel of the writer’s room, ten people total, all pitching specs to each other, getting feedback; going through very organized process of outline, then vomit draft, then revisions; half of the program was writing, the other half was the business; practice going to general meeting, execs would come in and talk about what they want from writers, etc; got a speech instructor who told them how to speak in public; even had showrunners come in and talk to them; started out as a novice: one tv spec and one pilot; had two more scripts when she was done, and felt ready for a writer’s room
Audience q: biggest mistakes you see in tv pilots? How about submitting artwork?
Melissa: notices people overcomplicate things, ten pounds of story in a one-pound bag; simple idea executed well carries a lot more in the read; ask a friend of yours that you consider a little dense to read it and see if they can make it out
Drew: if you need art to back up the script, then you’re failing a bit, since the spec’s purpose is to show you can build the world with just the script
Audience statement: animation caucus has monthly meeting where they do events with professionals coming in
Audience q: if you have a pilot, what do you do?
Cat: same thing
Melissa: if you want to pitch it to a network, helps if you can find an actor who’s interested, will get them to answer the phone, at least
Audience q: final polishing?
Cat: writer friends, use them; writer’s groups can be so helpful; friends get on shows, and then they recommend you, and give you advice
Melissa: do a table read; find actor friends if you can, but even if not, just get friends together and have them read it, because you can discover things you missed
Wicked and Divine, Vol 4: Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. It’s back. Swallowed this one whole in about an hour. Need more.
The Vision, Vol 1: Art is…fuzzy? Seems like the lines are never sharp. Which is maybe deliberate, since it’s a fuzzy-line world they’re creating. But it’s hard on the eyes.
Constantly narrated via voice-over, instead of using dialog or pictures to show what’s happening. It’s a fine technique, and a known one, but it’s a bit tedious when it’s all the comic is written in.
Deadly Class, Vol 3: When did everyone become pretentious and annoying?
Saga, Vol 5: Artwork still fantastic, writing keeps me reading, but…did anything really happen? Threads wound up rather easily, it seems, and Fiona was ripped away again kind of arbitrarily. Also: too much time spent with the bounty hunters I don’t care about.
Insightful, like all of Scott McCloud’s books on comics. Not enough on its own for me to go out and start writing my own comics, but helped me to see connections between storytelling techniques in comics, films, and novels.
Three things I learned about comics and storytelling:
Comics adds additional choices to the way you tell a story. It’s not just the events themselves, but which moments from those events you choose to show, as well as how you frame the “shots” for those moments, and how you render the images within those frames.
Manga often uses aspect transitions between panels to build a scene. Instead of a single wide establishing shot, will focus in on different “aspects” of a scene (e.g., rain falling from the sky, puddles forming in concrete, raindrops battering steel and glass buildings, etc) forcing the reader to assemble the scene in their own mind.
Giving your characters different philosophies of life can both enrich their inner lives and make the world you’re building feel more real to the reader.