The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler is fantastic. I know plenty of people have said the same thing in the past 12 years since it was first published but it’s true.
The Writer’s Journey (now in its third edition) is essentially a laymen’s version of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. It simplifies Campbell’s dense writings about world myths and The Hero’s Journey for the modern day writer using examples like The Wizard of Oz and Hitchcock films.
I didn’t think The Writer’s Journey was so great when I first read it. There is a lot of story theory in this book (A LOT) and it discusses multiple paths writers have within each given section of The Hero’s Journey, so it is really easy to get overwhelmed with information.
But now I realize what I was doing wrong: Read more…
People cry during the opening ten minutes of Up. How did Pixar make that happen? We’re moved when Katniss volunteers herself in Prim’s place in The Hunger Games. Why? Why do we root for Gordon when he’s sent to Gotham in Batman: Year One? I mean it’s not like these characters are real, and yet they can affect us as though they are. Somehow, we connect with them and they become real. The writers did that. How do we create characters that people will connect with in our own writing? Read more…
“To be honest, this book is not the easiest of endeavors for me. A lot of what I do is very instinctive. When you’re flying be the seat of your pants, it’s tricky to tell people to sit in your lap (and, under certain circumstances, will probably get you strange looks). Nevertheless, I’ll do the best I humanly can to break down for you the hows, whys and wherefores. I will make the inexplicable explicable and the ephemeral… uh… phemeral.”
– From the Introduction to Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels by Peter David
Not every author will try to make the ephemeral… uh… phemeral. Doing so requires a certain kind of mindset and willingness to analyze your work and the craft of writing for the sake of educating someone else, and thereby themselves as well. Some authors prefer to be ignorant of how they make their stories work. So, I appreciate Peter David’s efforts to share the knowledge he has gained from his time spent in the trenches of the mainstream superhero comics industry with another generation.
The result is Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels a decent introduction to the art of writing comics in general and a more than decent introduction to writing for superhero comics.
The book is funny, loaded with examples, and does a good job explaining the basic techniques for writing comics. Unfortunately – probably due to the lack of experience in explaining his creative process to others – the lessons are often clunky in their delivery and less in-depth than other how-to-write books when addressing general writing principles. So, if you are looking for a reference for writing comics and graphic novels, this is a decent place to start but not the end of the road. Keep reading for more details
As I said in my previous post, I’ve read a lot of how-to books on writing. A lot. Writing exercise books, advice books, philosophical musings/zen writing books, how-I-made-a-million-dollars-as-a-writer-and-you-can-too books, etc. etc. etc.
How-to books on graphic novel writing have been popping up over the last few years and I’ll let you know as I read them, but the books that I’ve responded to the most, and still use, are books that offer directorial assistance; they hold my hand, tell me it’s all going to be okay and break down the fear of the blank page into bite-size little pieces. There is probably a name for this type of book, but I don’t know it. If you know, please send it this way.
So, in memory of Blake Snyder, the how-to books that have had the biggest impact on me and still influence how I work are the Save the Cat books…
The first book, Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, is mostly a series of tips and tricks from Blake’s times in the trenches of Hollywood. Some of his advice I’ve seen in other how-to books on screenwriting, but the aspect that makes this book special (and has spawned the sequels: Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat! Strikes Back) is Blake’s stellar analysis of screen-story pacing and patterns in plot structure.
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (a plot structure template) and Storytypes (categories based on problems that protagonists face) are both extremely helpful.
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is better than any other structure template I’ve come across. Snyder has analyzed hundreds of well-structured films and found 15 common patterns in the sequencing of events, or “beats.” Unlike the majority of how-to books that love to repeat what is already well known about the three-act structure, and leave Act 2 as a desert you just have to sweat through, the Beat Sheet presents the three-act structure in bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your story.
I don’t advise using it as a plug-and-chug template – in fact I typically don’t use it until I’m in a rewriting stage – but the Beat Sheet aids the writer in constructing a plot that keeps the story focused and moving forward.
Storytypes are a way to categorize your film based upon the problem that a protagonist must face (a monster story, love story, road trip/journey story), unlike genre, which categorizes films based on how those events are presented (action/adventure, romance, crime, fantasy) – what is said vs. how it sounds.
By grouping films into categories that deal with the same problems, we as writers can get a clear understanding of how the problem has been written about before without worrying about whether it’s sci-fi or western.
Again, I typically use this tool while in the rewriting stage. That way, I avoid editing a story I’m working into one of the Storytypes before I truly know what it is – let it be what it wants to be, then edit.
The Save the Cat books are marketed for screenplay writing but the lessons they present are suitable for graphic novels or any medium. For my fellow students at The Center for Cartoon Studies, I’ve donated a copy to the Schultz Library. If you are interested in learning more about them, here’s Blake Snyder’s website.
I hope that helps!