graphic novels

Frenzied scripting

Script Frenzy is now 2 days in, and so far I’m enjoying it. A French classical station on the internet radio (moved from the kitchen to my bureau for the occasion) – no adverts and plenty of piano. A mug of something warming (coffee just now). A computer and a dash of inspiration.

So far I’m at 6 and a half pages, which isn’t too bad considering the average of 3 and a third pages a day which would be necessary to hit the 100-page target by the end of the month, but I would like to get ahead of myself this weekend to make up for the inevitable slackening at some point during the week. The script may well end up in some adapted form as the next-but-one Ostragoth venture, though it may not. And since a graphic novel’s unlikely to take me all the way to 100 pages, I’m also planning a radio play, largely for my own amusement (kind of like 20 years ago, when friend T and I wrote a whole series of plays and radio plays with recurring characters, which certainly entertained us).

Good luck to anyone else who’s currently frenzied. Back to the fray.

How to hook a reader in seconds: finding a good title

What’s the first part of your story that a reader sees? Whether it’s on the spine of a book, at the top of a magazine page, or in a table of contents, it’s the title, so it had better be a good one.

Pretty much all you can see is the title

Sometimes the title is the only thing someone will see, for example a bare list of titles and authors on a webpage – you have to entice the reader to click on your link purely on the strength of that title, before they even get a chance to experience your story. It can be amusing, quirky, groan-inducing, exciting and full of promise, but it definitely has to be eye-catching. If it’s in a mixed-genre setting it may also have to suggest its genre within its limited character set.

The Menagerie. Goth Opera. The Mind Robber. Shadowmind. Mission Impractical. Doctor Who and the Green Death.

Those are all titles of Doctor Who novels, but they don’t all have the same feel. When I acquired all those Doctor Who novels recently it struck me how the titles variously suggested horror, sci-fi, highbrow fantasy, tongue in cheek comic fantasy, old-fashioned mystery, adventure story for children, thriller, or some combination of these (and other) moods. Titles have such potential, but if you’re anything like me you may often throw one at your story at the last minute, an afterthought considered vaguely acceptable and sent out into the world. If so, you and I both need to think harder.

Blame my unfortunate affection for dodgy puns on my dad (and I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again) if you like, but whatever the origin, I know I do use them in titles. Leaf Encounter for instance – their eyes met in a greengrocer’s shop and it seemed like an obvious choice; I hoped that it might also suggest to others some of the things it suggested to me, that maybe it wasn’t entirely serious and that it might involve a love that wasn’t to be.

For that reason I also use common phrases like Rain Stopped Play or Windows to the Soul. Rain Stopped Play isn’t about cricket (though it is about rain) but Windows to the Soul does have eyes as a central point. I use song-titles, some of which fit the mood (Resurrection Joe and Boys Don’t Cry are both about goths), some don’t (Wasted Years has very little to do with Iron Maiden but I still like it as a working title). Sometimes the title comes first – I have a few in my bits file that have only sparked glimmers of ideas or very rough outlines so far, and most of them will probably stay that way.

I don’t always throw in a title at the last minute, and I don’t always stick with the first title I think of – Boys Don’t Cry had two previous titles I think, but was usually known as the gothlad comic. A good indication that your title isn’t so hot is when you and your closest friends can’t remember it; I had another story recently which a friend was trying to refer to and had to fall back on a plot summary, and when he apologised for forgetting the title I had to confess I couldn’t remember it either (I’ve renamed it since, and I now know it’s called Cracks in the Foundations).

I’d already started drafting this post (see the work that went into this) when I spotted a link to a wordpress advice page about choosing eye-catching post titles, and certainly the basic principles of that also apply to story (or any other) titles. I’m not claiming I come up with good titles, in fact mainly I’m saying the opposite, but I’m trying to learn, both for stories and blog posts, and if I’ve made you think a bit harder about the next title you have to come up with, that’s probably a good thing. Just don’t blame me when you’re stressing about it.

Introspective retrospective

Partly for inspiration, partly to avoid repeating myself too much, I’ve just had a read through my posts from the last couple of Christmas breaks. It made me realise how little reading I did at Christmas this year, in fact I haven’t picked up the book I’m currently reading (History of Education in Great Britain by SJ Curtis, interesting but heavy-going so it’s taking me a while to get through) since the 23rd.

Books were still quite a feature of Christmas in the parental home, being given to OneMonkey (by me), me (by OneMonkey and my parents), my mum (by me and my sisters), Big Brother (by sister number 2) and my dad (by Big Brother and probably my mum and sisters though I realise I wasn’t paying attention at that point). On Christmas Day, however, the spare hours were filled with board games and Doctor Who. This year I was sitting next to BB, so we didn’t have to pull it to pieces on the phone later, though given the high quality of Moffat-written Christmas special we wouldn’t have had to anyway. Most enjoyable (and very little Amy Pond, which is a bonus in my opinion).

Which brings me to the other recurring feature, the resolutions and the look-back over the year. In 2010 I made only about three-quarters the number of submissions I made in 2009; 2 are still out and I had 6 accepted (compared with 7 in 2009) so although I slackened off a bit in 2010 (submissions between the end of February and the end of October only) I still did OK. One of the accepted pieces is due out soon in The View From Here.

The graphic novel, Boys Don’t Cry, finally came out in 2010 which was probably the high-point of the year for me – it’s something we’d talked about for so long, and its emergence has provided me with proof that with enough nagging from OneMonkey I really can stop talking about doing something and actually do it. I also bought a fabulous trilby this year (as seen at Thought Bubble) which lives by my bureau and is worn for inspiration, particularly for that noir mood (though I am in fact wearing it as I write this).

So all in all, another good year but as usual with a hint of ‘must try harder’. I shall finish this now, replenish my new mug with Earl Grey, grab a mince pie and get down to the serious business of finishing the story for Ostragoth Publishing’s next moody venture.

A proud moment at the bookcase

One of the reasons I’ve been quiet recently is that I’ve been concentrating on the graphic novel, its associated blog, and attending the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds. Well, Thought Bubble was on Saturday (hectic, tiring, but most enjoyable) so I might get round to doing other things for a while (like making the submission I’ve been almost completing for about 3 weeks) but in the meantime I thought I’d share the proud moment at which my own graphic novel joined Cerebus on the shelf (even if it was just in my own living room)

Boys Don't Cry joins some of my Cerebus volumes

See the main Ostragoth website if you think you’d like to know more or maybe even buy a copy.

A new blog to neglect

I now have a second blog, dedicated to the graphic novel I keep mentioning, Boys Don’t Cry (I never claimed to be good at titles). So now I have two blogs that I won’t quite get round to posting on (or maybe I should think more positively). OneMonkey has his editorial hat on (literally – it’s quite a fetching trilby though I think he should get a red fedora), and also his (metaphorical) lettering hat as he’s adding all the words. So if you’re interested in our progress, I’ll try and keep you posted over at the other place, and in the meantime I’ll occasionally ramble on randomly here as usual.

Interzone excitement

I may have mentioned before (just once or twice) that my artist friend Mark/LeMat is going from strength to strength these days. Excitement overload last week as I bought issue 222 of Interzone, the first to feature his artwork, though apparently not the last, as he’s already busy on his next illustration for them. In my view (and I don’t think I’m alone here) if you make it into the pages of Interzone, then you know you’ve arrived (or you’re walking up the path to the front door, anyway). If we assume this applies as much to artists as it does to writers then we could consider Mark to have broken through some kind of threshold now, from small-press comics to the Great Beyond.

In typical self-deprecating fashion (typical if you know him, obviously, and unless you’re my friend D, if you’re reading this I’m guessing you probably don’t), Mark refuses to declare his triumphs in public in case anyone thinks he’s bragging. So while he’ll mention in a picture description on his deviantArt page that the painting was done for a book cover or for Interzone, he won’t list his successes anywhere as a whole. As a poor attempt at crowing from the web-based rooftops on his behalf, his artwork (including comic strips he wrote rather than illustrated for someone) has appeared in: 2000AD fanzines Dogbreath and Zarjaz, Violent! and the Girly Comic (including the latest Violent! cover), Shroud magazine (and the cover for a forthcoming Shroud book), Morpheus Tales, and is in the next issue of fantasy art magazine Imagine FX (which as he keeps pointing out, is even available in Tesco). A band have asked if they can use his art on their stage backdrop, someone wants to get a tattoo from one of his pictures, and more homes than mine and OneMonkey’s now house LeMat prints. I know I’ve forgotten a few things from the list, and there are probably some I don’t even know about, but you get the general idea.

I have an ulterior motive in all this I guess: the storyboard of his graphic novelisation of my Boys Don’t Cry is all but complete, with luck and a good supply of chocolate biscuits we’ll be ready to print by Christmas. You heard it here first.

Long time gone

The more astute among you will have spotted a gap here, and may have wondered what I’ve been doing. Some of you may even (though I doubt it) have hoped I’ve been busy writing brand new fiction, or fine-tuning some almost-completed pieces. I’d like to be able to say that was true, but while I have made a couple of submissions this week, mainly I’ve been coughing, sneezing and feeling sorry for myself. However, with the help of a lot of tea and a couple of afternoons working outdoors instead of in a stuffy office, I’m now feeling much better, my voice is back, and OneMonkey’s peace has been shattered.

Now that I’m well (or not being as pathetic) I’m going to have to get myself organised (I’m already planning a regime for the Easter break): apart from a friend eagerly awaiting (mildly interested in) the serial novel, who won’t start reading it till it’s finished, I’ve also got the chance of a collaboration with Mark. I know we’ve said before that we were going to write a comic, sketch show, play, radio script, TV script, sitcom, drama, comedy-drama… but we never seem to get beyond rough notes and hazy ideas. The exception is his graphic novel adaptation of my story Boys Don’t Cry (oh I’m so fond of those goth song titles) which is on the back-burner but is at least slowly progressing. Now, spurred on by a recent burst of success with his art we have a definite aim: write something short that’s somewhere between an illustrated story and a more traditional comic, and get it finished before his name’s faded from the minds of the great and the good in the world of sci-fi. All we need is the time and space to sit down and work, then we just agree on a plot, characters, style, length and approach, and write it all down. Simple.