Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Writing Process:
've told interviewers and fans that I don’t consider myself to be as much a writer as I am a storyteller. The difference there is that I use images as my primary tool to explain & explore a story, not words. Sure Mouse Guard has dialogue and narration, and even before that I have to write something for myself to draw, but I don’t tend to smith words into the shapes of my imagination. I use them as bracing to hold up the pictures and as notes to remind me of the flash of images as I thought about my next story. 

oday’s blogpost will be about my writing process and also how it evolved. Today I write differently and with a different purpose than I did back in late 2004 when writing Mouse Guard Belly of the Beast. Then I was merely making notes, now I write scripts that help me shape the character's actions. But then and now I did always start with an end goal and an outline of notes. For that first issue I knew my goal was to have introduced the characters, concept of the Guard, and to have shown the real dangers of the natural world to the mice. I then wrote something that would work to that goal.

t’s similar to something I've heard other writers talk about as ‘know the ending’. But I don’t always know the ending of an issue or chapter when I sit to write it, but I know my goal for writing it. Sometimes they are one in the same: Character X dies and on his deathbed passes the torch to character Y. That was both the goal and ending to the last chapter of winter. But my goal in some issues is to explain a societal nuance or get the reader involved and to care about a character or place...and that is not an ending. Any number of endings could satisfy that goal.

y next step is to write an outline of steps I think should take me to an end. This is the same with writing the outline for an entire series like Fall, Winter, or Black Axe, or just for getting though one issue. The outline hits all the major steps of the story I want or need to include. I tend to write this rather quickly and without writing too many sub-notes under any given plot point. So some of those points come naturally and are just gut decisions. Other times I play out two (or more) variations of the same story, but with characters or situations taking opposing turns to the other version I've typed. It’s a bit of an exploration process, but also just a way to dump my thoughts one step beyond my head, because just the act of saying them aloud or writing them down give you the instant insight to edit or reject them.

nowing how to explore those ideas with writing or just brainstorming in the shower (a place I still find inspirational, so I keep a wax pencil & piece of plexiglass nearby for jotting down notes with wet hands) is something I judge by gut reaction. However I also think it stems from playing and running roleplaying games in my younger days. As a player, I was responsible for making my character as interesting as they can be for the GM to have moments to work off of and as a GM, I had to play off players’ decisions. When I ran games, I’d often not prepare a great deal, because I knew with any one choice my players could divert the entire story away from anything I’d thought of and into new and interesting or troublesome territory that I had to make work. Thinking on my feet like that helps with story writing when I write myself into a corner or the story shifts in a direction I didn't plan.

ow because I write AND draw Mouse Guard, the document I write is different than other comic writers’ text-for-the-artist. Just like theirs, it is meant to inspire and direct the artwork while providing a framework that fits into a larger whole. But the writer me doesn't have to worry as much about ideas getting lost in translation to my artist. Even if I have a good idea while writing, I don’t belabor the description of it, I rely that with just the seed of that inspiration jotted down, I’ll either have the same visuals I imagined when writing (it’s all in my brain after all) or I will have improved on it by leaving room for it to breathe. 

hen I started Mouse Guard I was writing the outlines with no dialogue and then drawing the story only filling in dialogue at the end where it was needed or perhaps making notes on the backs of pages as dialogue occurred to me. Through the Winter 1152 series, I started writing scenes of dialogue, still drawing mostly from outline, but using some character conversations as training wheels to get characters ‘acting’ more meaningfully at the right moments. Now for The Black Axe, I've been writing full on scripts. Not that they would make sense to work from for anyone other than myself, they exist to help me imagine and pace the art. There are no stage directions, location descriptions, page break notes, or emotion cues...just dialogue. The rest comes to me as I layout panels and make handwritten notes on the outline & script as I do so.

elow, I've posted examples of the finished outlines used to write scripts for Black Axe #5 & #6. I have not included the scripts themselves, because for the most part they are just the text from the issues. I advise that if you have not yet read any of Black Axe, you avoid looking at the images.

Watercolor Wednesday: 
Last week I posted three watercolors for sale.I had a sheet of paper with some watercolor smudges and splashes on it, and instead of scrapping the paper, gave it an equal wash and then painted the mummies in after that dried.

2013 Appearances: 
C2E2: April 26-28
Spectrum Live: May 17-19
Heroes Con: June 7-9
Albuquerque Comic Expo June 21-23
San Diego Comic Con: July 17-21
*more 2013 dates coming*


Casey Crowe said...

Fascinating post, really interesting to hear about this side of your process. How far out do you write scripts for individual issues? For example, do you write a script for one issue and then draw it or do you write a script for the whole mini-series? Thanks!

DPetersen said...

Casey: I only write out a script for the issue I'm currently working on...I don't like to write scripts too far in advance.

Casey Crowe said...

Gotcha, makes total sense. I'd imagine that once you start drawing an issue you probably wind up tweaking the story in ways that impact the narrative further down the line. Thanks for the info!

Vera said...

This is cool!

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