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Overview Part Four

This is the final part of a look at how I wrote the road to god knows.... Here are links to parts one, two and three.

The first thing to really talk about here is the fact that since I’m a rookie creator, I didn’t have vast experience to draw on when it comes to writing a script. So back when I was running “my” bookstore (and yes, it was my baby despite the fact that I didn’t own it!), I started doing a fair amount of research into writing scripts. I think my favourite out of all of these was J. Michael Straczynski’s “Complete Book of Scriptwriting.” That really helped crystallize some of my thoughts on writing in general and script writing in particular. ‘Course, Straczynski’s really talking about television and film writing, but despite that it was a very useful took for learning the script writing process. At around the same time I also stumbled across a Word template created by Steve Gerber that he used to write scripts. And various similar books, too. So getting the format down wasn’t too much of a problem, but learning to be comfortable in that format did take some time.

The only way to do that is to do it. Practice, practice, practice. So I wrote a few short stories, analyzed actual comics to get a sense of how they were written, and so on to get comfortable with writing scripts. It was basically a form of play – seeing what other writers have done, figuring out what I liked and didn’t like, and then finalizing a format that I thought would work for me. Then, of course, I had to draw a few of those short stories to see if the script format I liked would actually work as a real-world tool. For a graphic novel, I’d be living with that script for at least a year, so I had to make sure it really was useful for me as an artist.

None of this, of course, came about quite as methodically as it sounds. I was doing many other things at the same time (not the least of which was getting my art to a point that I thought was “commercial” enough to have a real shot of doing the book) and this was just one element of my life at the time. I also believe that for a comic to work, the writing has to be fantastic. Great art (and I’m not saying mine is great here, folks!) might work for a time, but if the stories are “twee” then people will tune right out. So I knew that any writing I did would always have to be measured in this context. Kinda intimidating, that!

I had also used the various short stories I had done to get into a working rhythm with scriptwriting. Really what I was looking for was a “proof of concept” type thing – a format where I could develop the script from rough idea to final form in a fairly efficient way, building from each previous step to get something that actually worked. For me, these steps generally go as follows:

1) Plot Idea: I covered this previously, but basically a fairly straightforward synopsis of the plot. At this stage, this was fairly open-ended, since I was using it to partially explore what the story could be (as opposed to a very tight breakdown of exactly what the story would be). Regardless, this is what I based everything on.

2) Plot Breakdown: this is where the nuts and bolts start coming together. Basically done in bullet form that’s built up from my initial rough plot idea. All ideas go here. What I try to do at this point is start putting the story together, building up what needs to happen to move the plot along – and explore the ideas I want to talk about. This is the most malleable stage since I’m constantly tugging, adding and subtracting different elements to make the story work. Probably my most ruthless phase, too, since I’ll rework, rearrange, and modify everything and anything to get it to a reasonably final stage.

3) Refined Plot Breakdown: still working in bullet form, I begin to flesh out scenes. I’ll add dialogue, develop a nifty image, figure out chapter breaks and on and on. For the road to god knows..., this left the plot breakdown sitting at about 6 pages. Some scenes are fleshed out, some aren’t. Bits of dialogue are kicked in and some areas of have just a sentence or two to describe a scene. No rules, just tools – and these tools will enable me to turn this into an outline. But if you read the breakdown, you’d have a pretty good idea of what road is all about.

4) The Outline: this is pretty close to the classic “Marvel Method” of producing a script. I take my Plot Breakdown and turn it into a page by page accounting of the story. Everything that I want to happen on each page of the graphic novel is here. This is a key step and a fairly long one (about 45 pages when everything is said and done) since it gives me a good sense of how the entire story will look. And, of course, it gives me my first glimpse of what the actual page count will be. Not an exact hard count (since things will still evolve in the script stage) but a good approximation. If I had been working with another artist, I might have just turned this over to her (after tightening it up a bit more). But since this was for me, it was only another step along the way to a final realize script.

5) The Outline – Getting Feedback: at this point I gave the outline to a select number of friends to get some feedback. Since it’s readable and has a decent flow to it, I can step back and see what people think. These comments were critical in streamlining a few things and just polishing up bits and pieces before I went into the first draft of the script.

6) The Script, 1st through 4th Drafts: with my outline firmed up, I sit down and begin writing the actual script itself. This will be my tool; I’ll be living with it for a long time as I draw each page. So it’s gotta work. All dialogue, panel layouts, “camera” angles and whatnot are here. Not completely written in stone (I’m the artist, damn it, which means when I draw I’m still open to change. From a film point of view, I’m still the director – and not just the camera man!). The final script went through 4 drafts (though none had major wholesale changes) and I suppose you could call what actually hits the art board the 5th. Some of the drafts of the scripts went into various hands, too, to get some additional feedback of the story. In some ways, though, I learned that the outline is a better thing to give people. Why? Well, the script has all the formatting in place (panel breakdowns, dialogue balloons, and the like) and it’s not easy for someone who’s not comfortable with scripts to read. Kinda clunky. And on top of it the outline is shorter, so it’s not as much of a slog for someone to read.

So, there you have it. That’s the evolution of how I write. With the 4th draft of the script, I sat down and starting drawing the road to god knows....

About "the road to god knows..."

The road to god knows... is an original graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Von Allan. It features the story of Marie, a teenage girl coming to grips with her Mom's schizophrenia. As a result, she's struggling to grow up fast; wrestling with poverty, loneliness, and her Mom's illness every step of the way. With her Mom absorbed in her own problems, Marie is essentially alone while she learns to deal with the chaos in her young life.

148 pages, SRP $13.95 US, ISBN: 978-0-9781237-0-3

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