I'm the co-founder of ADK MOGUL, a film and writing resource program that provides location and production management for films shooting in the Adirondack region. I'm developing a seasonal journal featuring the best in local student writing.
Currently, we are working with ten small independent movie theaters in the Adirondack Park in helping them transition to digital film and provide alternative and sustaining programming as part of our campaign, Go Digital or Go Dark.
We just released our first short film, The Deal, which was written and directed by my better-half, T J Brearton.
I'm also an English teacher. I wrote my thesis on comics writer Grant Morrison and Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. I'm teaching English at Paul Smith's College and North Country Community College, while assistant coaching the PSC swim team. I may never sleep.
I use my Instagram as a process diary, so it’s filled with photos of what I’m reading and photos of my notebooks and boring shit like that. But this weekend, I thought about posting my current process–for personal posterity reasons–for writing a recent Thought Balloons script. The prompt was in celebration of “home” and celebrated the six year anniversary of @ryanklindsay founding the blog.
There are far better resources for this sort of thing than me, take @jimzub for one. And the excellent comic book script archive–this is just how I do it now (May 2016) after years of fiddling with different processes. Who knows whether this is how I’ll write comics come next year or even by the end of this summer.
Initially, I said I would send this script in my newsletter, but since it contains some sensitive material that really isn’t for public consumption, I’ve decided against it. Regardless, here’s my process.
1. my first step when is to lay out the plot points on every page.
2. After going through the plot points, I’ll start doing page breakdowns where I’ll detail panel descriptions with some dialogue. I check it off when I’ve written the page in script format so I know where I left off.
3. Then I’ll break out those page breakdowns into thumbnails to see if what I detailed actually works on a three-tier comics page. I got this idea from Archie Goodwin, who would draw thumbnails, then script, adding those thumbnails to his script.
4. Yeesh, I need to clean my laptop keyboard, and yes, I’ll never spell TOBOGGAN correctly on the first try. That’s the idea behind this picture: this is my first draft of the script. I won’t start writing until I have the page breakdowns done and the first take on the script is just to combine the page breaks and the thumbs, but really it’s to work out the dialogue. Knowing what’s going into the panels prevents me from writing dialogue that is in reaction to what the art is showing. So the first draft of a script is all about voice, and, for me, that’s about rhythm, so I don’t number the panels until I do what is essentially the fifth draft of a script to make sure things work together.
5. Once I’ve written a draft of the script I will go back and number panels and dialogue. As you can see here, on what is the first plot point in this “Home” script is a situation I had in high school with the school counselor. The numbered word balloons with “3B” and “3C” are continuing word balloons. It’s a trick I picked up from Charles Soule.
I usually write letters at the beginning of scripts to the artist clarifying a few things with character notes and opening the script up for feedback. That’s something I took from @kellysue who I think got it from Neil Gaiman.
This is just how I do it at this time, and I would say it’s a far cry from polished, but this post is just meant to show how I developed my current scripting style and calcify it in time for future reference.
But amidst all the upset fans and people calling me a nazi and other fun things for a comic I had nothing to do with and haven’t read, I thought, this is why more people should just follow creators and read original comics (which is what I like to call “creator-owned” comics). If readers want consistency and passion and craft, it’s a lot more rare in company-owned superhero comics than it is outside of them. Sure, there have been great long runs on those books, I managed to get lucky and have long runs where I got to do what I wanted (mostly) on Captain America and Daredevil, but those runs are generally the exception. Because the thing is, with those company-owned characters, there are always going to be events and reboots and twists that are spoiled online or in the media first, and there are always going to be outraged fans because of it.
For many of you the writer Warren Ellis will need no introduction. For those outside of comics and genre fiction circles: he is a supremely successful writer. He has a delightfully miscellaneous weekly newsletter to which those of you in the first category ought to subscribe if you haven’t already.
The past couple of weeks he’s written a bit about process in a way that I think may be useful to academics of all stripes.
From 1 May: This is the part of the job that doesn’t get talked about a lot, not least because it’s hard to talk about, but also because it doesn’t involve Productivity and Goals and The Magic Of Writering and The Grand Statement and all that good stuff in interviews. Sure, we all talk about the important Staring At The Wall And Farting Around time, but it’s also about sifting through the shitpile at the back of your head and deciding if you actually have anything to say. Any idiot can recycle the monomyth and plug in a setting and a handful of blank characters, but that’s not the same as having something to say: about the world, life, a thing, even yourself. I have a whole folder of loose ideas that dried up and got thrown in the folder because they and I turned out to have nothing to say about anything - they were just collections of cogs and levers. And by that, I mean probably eight to ten dead ideas, written up and filed, for every one that gets published.
8 May’s installment featured a day by day breakdown. It is a punishing schedule, painfully familiar to academics, and full of advice and commentary ripped directly from our lives as working writers.
The Pitch: Like this one – the entire first page is not the useful part of your pitch. 90% of your pitch happens in the first three or four lines. You need to understand that most pitches are shit. The one that has an arresting, crackling opening paragraph is the one that gets read all the way through.
The Proofs: Proofing, these days, involves opening a Microsoft Word file, clicking on Review and then screaming and poking randomly at buttons until the comments and edits from the copy editor and the production editor are revealed. And then finding one of them has put their comments in a pale blue that is essentially invisible…So you lose time to fashioning a little voodoo doll and then smashing it with a hammer and then burning it….
The most important word in copy editing for an author is STET. It’s a derivative from Latin that very roughly translates as “let it stand,” and it means that a copy editor’s change to the manuscript should be reverted. Or, more bluntly, that I meant to write that and you should all leave it alone goddamnit. What you can’t use it for, of course, is for genuine dumb mistakes you actually made. The temptation can be awful. One of the many horrible things about this stage in the process is having to cop, to complete strangers, to being fucking stupid, over and over again.
So aside from the good advice and humor, what can we take away from this writer working so far from our own wheelhouses? Ellis has been lucky, no doubt, and is talented, absolutely. He also writes. and writes. and writes. and follows up the long long process that results from any given piece being picked up. He gets so busy that he cancels other plans.
It is not healthy, this pace. In our world success may not be healthy. I think Ellis’ writing about his process offers a sobering look at the work, the toil, behind a successful writer today. Like other writers, academics tend to hide this work, and revealing it, laying it bare perhaps gives us all a chance at building supportive community that may make our writing better, and our lives more livable.
How about this, then?“ Antonucci asked. ”‘The mystery of the Trinity is not the mathematical riddle of Three in One. It is the manifestation of the Father in politics, the Son in economics, and the Holy Spirit in the culture.’ Does this really reflect your thinking?
No everything isn’t cool, Peaches thinks as he walks back to the truck. First thing that isn’t cool is I’m out here playing Lawrence of Arabia in East Bumfuck, second thing is I’m sitting in a truck chock-fulla felony, third thing is I got major non-returnable investment in the truck that I leveraged with other people’s money, fourth thing is them other people is Johnny Boy Cozzo, Johnny’s brother Gene, and Sal Sachi, none of which brings me to the fifth thing, which is that if Big Paulie ever gets wind we’re dealing dope he’s gonna have us whacked–the “us” starting with “me”–which leads me to the sixth thing, which is that all the coke is now in an airplane somewhere in the sky and these beaners can’t seem to find it.
We’ve been called Generation Catalano, Xennials, and The Lucky Ones, but no name has really stuck for this strange micro-generation that has both a healthy portion of Gen X grunge cynicism, and a dash of the unbridled optimism of Millennials.
A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the Internet. We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.
Yes, yes, yes. I’ve always felt that I couldn’t defined as Generation X, mostly because I have no affection for the music tastes of that generation, but also that I grew up on Oregon Trail, Nirvana, and I was still using a typewriter in eighth grade to write a paper on A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Napster became a thing when I was a freshman in college.
We were the first to experience the beauty of sharing and downloading mass amounts of music faster than you can say, “Third Eye Blind,” which made the adoption of MP3 players and music streaming apps perfectly natural. Yet, we still distinctly remember buying cassette singles, joining those scam-tastic CD clubs and recording songs onto tapes from the radio. The very nature of buying and listening to music changed completely within the first 20 years of our lives.
I’m part of that divorced generation and didn’t want to do that to my kids, so I took a year off and became a full-time dad, changed diapers and all that while my wife worked. I wrote at night, eight hours a day, three times a week and slept during the day while the baby was napping. After that year was up, we reevaluated the situation at a Starbucks. The one where my wife and I met, actually.
I had sent in a short story that had been rejected twelve times and got one nice letter back essentially saying “you’ve got potential.“ And I’m like, yeah, maybe I do have potential!
I do not want to read your 3AM-energy-drink-fueled excuse for a thesis statement. I do not want to sift through your mixed metaphors, your abundantly employed logical fallacies, your incessant editorializing of your writing process wherein you tell me As I was reading through articles for this paper I noticed that — or In the article that I have chosen to analyze, I believe the author is trying to or worse yet, I sat down to write this paper and ideas kept flowing into my mind as I considered what I should write about because honestly, we both know that the only thing flowing into your mind were thoughts of late night pizza or late night sex or late night pizza and sex, or maybe thoughts of that chemistry final you’re probably going to fail later this week and anyway, you should know by now that any sentence about anything flowing into or out of or around your blessed mind won’t stand in this college writing classroom or Honors seminar or lit survey because we are Professors and dear god, we have Standards.
Basically my thoughts all this week. Talk to you next week.
If there’s an analogy to be drawn there in terms of storytelling, I can’t seem to think of anything other than Baz Luhrmann’s work on ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE! Both are stories we all know the endings to. We also know all the broad strokes in the stories as well as any “plot twists” that may exist in them and so on and so forth. Luhrmann’s remakes are capable of keeping us engaged and invested throughout, even though we pretty much know all the story beats and know exactly how the stories will end. Baz Luhrmann’s films force us to re-evaluate what we may mistakenly think are the most important aspects of storytellings (i.e. plot twists and big radical ideas) and instead show us that perfecting the way a story is told is actually key.
Long piece by screenwriter Todd Alcott comparing the classically-constructed act structure of Star Wars (3 40-minute acts) to Jaws (4 30-minute acts).
What studying the act break does is reveal the journey of the protagonist – at one moment, the protagonist is one person, and in the next moment he is another, and that change is irreversible. The path of the protagonist is the meaning of the movie – that’s the important thing, everything else is in the service of the delineation of that concept.
I’ve been meditating for years–most recently with the Headspace mobile app–and I just started running seriously and I’m find that there is a lot of truth in this. Running pushes me to get through a task and meditation pushes me to be more mindful and take little meditation breaks when I’m feeling overwhelmed with a task.
This is the first Dan Simmons book I’ve read and I am officially obsessed. I loved this book. From the Martin Silenus chapter:
And so it goes. Francis Bacon once said, ‘there arises from a bad unapt formation of words a wonderful obstruction to the mind.’ We have all contributed our wonderful obstructions of the mind, have we not? I more than most. One of the twentieth century’s better, forgotten writers—that is better-comma-forgotten, once bon moted: ‘I love being a writer. It’s the paperwork. I can’t stand.’ Get it?”
The Sol Weintraub chapter, obviously, was the most upsetting to me. That was a real tear-jerker, but I loved how the entire book was really a love letter to writing–from it’s structure to the basis for the World Web, to the interlocking stories. And the ending just felt so, so appropriate and hilarious. No wonder it’s considered a classic of science fiction.
Words bend our thinking to infinite paths of self delusion, and the fact that we spend most of our mental lives in brain mansions built of words means that we lack the objectivity necessary to see the terrible distortion of reality which language brings. Example: the Chinese pictogram for ‘honest’ is a two-art symbol of a man literally standing next to his word…A philosopher/mathematician named Bertrand Russell who lived and died in the same century as Gass once wrote: ‘Language serves not only to express thought but to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it.’ Here is the essence of mankind’s creative genius: not the edifices of civilization nor the bang-flash weapons which can end it, but the words which fertilize new concepts like spermatozoa attacking an ovum.”
The Brawne Lamia chapter was my favorite, and I can tell this year is going to be filled with Dan Simmons books.
John Jeremiah Sullivan writes about David Foster Wallace and tennis.
It can be amazing how early in life some writers figure out what they are and start to see their lives as stories that can be controlled. It is perhaps not far-fetched to imagine Wallace’s noticing early on that tennis is a good sport for literary types and purposes. It draws the obsessive and brooding. It is perhaps the most isolating of games. Even boxers have a corner, but in professional tennis it is a rules violation for your coach to communicate with you beyond polite encouragement, and spectators are asked to keep silent while you play. Your opponent is far away, or, if near, is indifferently hostile. It may be as close as we come to physical chess, or a kind of chess in which the mind and body are at one in attacking essentially mathematical problems. So, a good game not just for writers but for philosophers, too. The perfect game for Wallace.
His last four years in teaching were spent creating, coordinating, and teaching in APEX, an extensive gifted/talented program serving 19 elementary schools and some 15,000 potential students. During his years of teaching, he won awards from the Colorado Education Association and was a finalist for the Colorado Teacher of the Year. He also worked as a national language-arts consultant, sharing his own “Writing Well” curriculum which he had created for his own classroom. Eleven and twelve-year-old students in Simmons’ regular 6th-grade class averaged junior-year in high school writing ability according to annual standardized and holistic writing assessments. Whenever someone says “writing can’t be taught,” Dan begs to differ and has the track record to prove it. Since becoming a full-time writer, Dan likes to visit college writing classes, has taught in New Hampshire’s Odyssey writing program for adults, and is considering hosting his own Windwalker Writers’ Workshop. Dan’s first published story appeared on Feb. 15, 1982, the day his daughter, Jane Kathryn, was born. He’s always attributed that coincidence to “helping in keeping things in perspective when it comes to the relative importance of writing and life.”
I’m currently reading HYPERION, the first of Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos series and loving the Chaucerian structure of it. I’m going to read the whole series. Does anyone have any other Simmons favorites?
When I talk about the CIA stuff, I feel guilt, because I left. I really believed in that job and my colleagues are still there,“ he says. “But I have kids now. I spent my life overseas. The first two years of my marriage, I was barely with my wife. I could have stayed with the CIA and worked in an office, but to be a great agent, you have to work 15-hour days and go overseas. I just couldn’t be the father I wanted to be and the officer I wanted to be, so I chose the father.
As before, Julie Rubicon got there ahead of me. We took another walk. She said: forget this day-trading shit. “Let’s become data brokers. We’ll start a secret company hidden inside Facebook.” It would be reachable only through a site on the dark web; it would provide only raw data, not interpretation; it would accept payment only in Bitcoin.Julie read a lot of William Gibson novels.
I do this when it comes to teaching. As an English teacher and a writer, I spend a lot of time reading a lot of freshman composition papers–it can be downright punishing to do anything else after engaging in thirty freshman research papers. So the way I do it is by unconsciously deloading every other week. Some weeks have a lot of reading to do for classes, other weeks are pretty light and I’m generally done with my grading tasks in little more than an hour or two. That’s how I stay fresh over the course of the semester and not burn out. It also helps to use Todoist to schedule out when I’m grading what and what priority level it is so I’m not overloading my day with three must grades–that’s where madness lies.
After a certain age, no matter how you’ve been spending your time, you have likely earned a doctorate in living. If you’re still here–if you have survived this long–it is because you know things. We need you to reveal to us what you know, what you have learned, what you have seen and felt. If you are older, chances are strong that you may already possess absolutely everything you need to possess in order to live a more creative life–except the confidence to actually do your work. But we need you to do your work.
Going into massive debt in order to become a creator, then, can make a stress and a burden out of something that should only ever have been a joy and a release.
It’s the act of reflecting on yourself, of picking apart your story in this analytical way that your creative brain doesn’t always want to do. It’s getting yourself to be aware of what you do, and did, and how, and why. If you want to see the next level application of this then just read the Back Matter in the latest Casanova HCs where Matt Fraction writes footnotes on his back matter written years before in the original single issues. It’s one of the greatest explorations of creative and personal growth ever.
While going through my old comics to sell, I fell upon Nextwave #1 director’s cut complete with full issue script and @warrenellis ’s pitch. Not gonna sell this one…
Man, I wish they still put out these “director’s cuts” of sold out first issues. The last one I saw was from the Death of Wolverine hardcover. These director cut’s issues are by far the best way to teach developing writers. Here’s Ellis’s pitch for Nextwave, which is still probably one of my top ten favorite Marvel books ever.