< Piro >
Wednesday - March 3, 2004
Before I let loose with what turned into my usual blather of a rant, I wanted to make sure that I mentioned that Sarah and I will be leaving for Megacon in Orlando, Florida tomorrow. We'll be there for the entire weekend, most of it at our table which will be right next to the Wizzywig booth. As always, we'll be more than happy to sign stuff and draw stuff for you if you stop by and say hi. Also, there will be a Megatokyo panel, which will be Friday, March 5th in room 312 B&C from 4:30pm to 5:20pm. Should be fun :)
Well, it finally feels like Chapter 5 is starting to roll along the way I wanted it to. When I sat down to start planning it I faced that normal problem of a blank slate with all the parts, pieces, directions, threads and other things that make up a story floating out somewhere in that hazy space between my ears. I'm not a professional writer, nor have I had any training. I've just had to poke along, learn from my mistakes, and keep trying different approaches to mapping things out that will work for me.
I honestly don't think there is a single best way to do anything. Everyone has what works for them, and what works for one person may not work at all for someone else. I think I've got a good idea of what my process is now, or at least what it is that I'm attemting to make work for me.
The real challenge to writing is to try to distill things from the ether and get them into some sort of cohesive comic form. Chapter 4 suffered greatly from the fact that the formation of the ideas, concepts, themes and linear outline of events was never well formulated -- in fact, it was pretty much non-existent (except in my head). I sorta knew what I wanted to do, but because I never sat down and actually tried to map things out, I was always deciding the direction of things almost the same day I ended up drawing the comic (most of the comics in chapter 4 didn't even have a prepared script in place before I started drawing). This doesn't mean that Chapter 4 was horrid - it had its moments, but it sure didn't hold together as nice as I would have liked. About 3/4 of the way through my lack of planning became painfully evident, and I found myself with a unwieldy storyline that was gonna take a lot of effort to bring back down to the ground, and some of it wasn't pretty.
All together I think I did ok, but I know I could have done a lot better with some planning. So that's what I have been endeavoring to do here for chapter 5. Briefly, these are the steps I'm taking for planning this chapter, and some of these steps I am no where near complete with. Ideally, I shouldn't start the chapter until it's all done, but I figure if I keep at it, I'll have it all in place before the chapter gets moving too far along.
A tool that I've been using a lot is Omni Outliner, which happens to come with Mac system (yes, it only runs on macs, sorry) and it's a treat to use, far easier to write with for me than just using Word or text files is. On the PCs I used to use Ultra Edit Pro, which is a text editor. Programs are just tools. Don't be afraid to experiment -- find what works best for you.
The first thing I did was map out the general themes and goals for Megatokyo. I know where things are going, I just haven't really put it all down into one place before. I wanted to fine tune things down to large, specific themes that I could track the progress of, to make sure I take care of them each in turn. This is more of an overall step that really applies to all chapters, not just this one.
The next step was to graphically layout of what I figured was going to go on in the chapter. I use blank pieces of paper and scribble on them. I sorta use some kinda demented, deformed flowchart-like approach. Lots of little bubbles and circles with things in them describing events, character names with arrows showing where things connect, where other characters come into play, events, things that are happening at the same time, etc. This is the hardest step in writing -- its like pulling stuff out of thin air, trying to make sense of the general ideas you have. You can't just sit down and start at the beginning and write it to the end. You have to think scenarios through and move things around, have good ideas that can suddenly push out old ideas, or deal with ideas that are not going anywhere. Be brutal, don't be afraid to discard a path if it's not really working for you. Don't to worry about specifics at this point -- even if all you can think about is specifics. For instance, I may know what goes on here and here, but no idea how to connect it all together. That's why you keep things loose.
This graphic step may take several iterations before you end up with something even close to the final direction of the story. I've rehashed the general direction of chapter 5 many times, each time I do it, things come more into focus.
This just gives you a general idea where things are at, the next step is to bring things into even sharper focus by starting to write what I call the narrative. What this is each episode or what I think will be a single episode written out in a linear outline fashion - usually each one being a outline item. These are usually not fully refined -- in fact, sometimes they are very rough, including things like "Erika makes some kind of comment about what she sees" kinda stuff. If you know the details, you write it down, if you don't, you gloss over it and move on. Sometimes you find that one comics really needs two comics, or that you really should stick something else in-between these events, or things should move to later -- it's a fluid process that is almost as hard to get through as coming up with the main ideas. I take a lot of notes for things to remember in the future, things that I need to remember later. Sometimes, you'll have a great idea while doing this, and that gets worked into things. This is the part of the process that I am working on now with Chapter 5, and I'm about 1/4 the way thru.
Once this is done, then you start writing actual scripts. I still think that scripts should be done as the comic goes along, rather than all at once - I think scripts need to feed off of the comic and the art as it progresses, to keep things dynamic. The planning function of things is to help make sure that the things that come up can be fit in even better, rather than relying on spontaneity to solve all your problems :P
The final piece, of course, are the comics. I have a very serious goal this chapter which is one I've had for many years, but I feel a strong desire to meet it - that is to try to get as many comics as I can done every week. The flow of chapter 4 (and other chapters as well) was seriously hurt by all the hiccups and missed comics for the last few years. The comic will be more readable, more enjoyable, and overall much better if you, the reader, know you can come here 3 times per week and read a new comic. There will be off days here and there, its bound to happen, but last year I averaged 2 comics per week. that's an AVERAGE. That will never do -- you folks, and the MT story itself, deserve better.
Anyways, that was far more detailed and much longer than I intended. Bleah. But that's the kinda stuff I've been working on since finishing book 1. I even felt the need to clear out the cobwebs yesterday and spent a few hours in a Starbucks writing. Sometimes doing that is good for the creative flow. I'm feeling more confident in chapter 5 now that its moving along, and I hope to make most MT readers happy. Those of you who wont be happy no matter what I do, well, you know where you can go. :P
Ok, I was gonna talk about some games and some things that I've been poking at recently, but I think I'll save that for the next rant. :)
Oh, and that stack of sketchbooks on my desk in the rant image? Those are sketchbook from the first few years of MT. That's the stack I went thru to find images for the extra art section of book 1. I have about 4 times that many sketchbooks laying around here. Contrary to what you might think, 95% of what is in them is pure crap. I should take a picture of all the drawings that I've done for mt... it's quite a stack, I should do that.