Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Do Something Different

I write novels. Novelist is one of the titles I like to wear. Novels are what most people want to read in the modern world and I am happy to supply them because I like to write novels.

I write short stories. Not many people read short stories. I think it's a form that is of interest to writers and few other people. But I like reading short stories and I like writing short stories, so I do.

I write comics. It has been a while since I wrote a comic script, but I've written a number of them in the past. It's a skill I have and I like to think I do a good job of it.

I don't often but have written scripts for radio and I have written the occasional script for stage. They were not very good but they were fun and educational and I can say I wrote them.

I occasionally write poetry. I'm definitely not a great poet but I'm particularly fond of tanka and haiku and will, if I'm in the mood, write a poem to pass the time. I never call myself a poet but I do sometimes write poetry.

What do you write? I'm going to bet you write short stories and novels and maybe you sometimes write poetry just because, like me. But have you ever considered writing a script for a television show? No? Why not?

Some time ago now I said "A story is a story is a story" and that you can learn how to tell a story from all kinds of media, not just books. I still say that. If you're a novel writer, you should also study how movies and TV shows tell stories because it's highly educational. The same is true about writing in other formats.

Writing a comic book is a lot different to writing a novel. Firstly, your audience is divided. The comic book reader is part of your audience, you write to engage and entertain them but much of what you write will be invisible to them. You also write for an artist (who might also be you) and in this way your writing must be instructive. The writer must have a sense of what to draw in order to give clarity to the words, but not be so instructive as to constrain them. The artist is the expert and you must write with enough wriggle room for them to do their job well. You and the artist are in a symbiotic relationship and you have to remember that when writing a comic script.

Comics also have a lot less words and if you write with a mind to having all the words of prose in a comic book then you're probably going to write a bad comic. Comics are a visual medium and the pictures must do a lot of leg work to convey place, time, thought, emotion and action. Most or all of the words that will appear in a comic are dialogue and so you must know how to write good dialogue. Because a panel has limited space, it must also be efficient dialogue.

I've been told I write good dialogue. If this is true (and I think it is, even if I do say so myself) then I credit that largely to having written comic books. That said, I can also think of one or two areas where my writing is weaker which is probably a result of writing comics. Oh well.

But you can see how writing a comic is a very different beast compared to writing prose. And yet, it made me a better writer.

This is why I encourage you--

No, this is why I am telling you to write something different. Experiment, go outside your comfort zone, try something different. Write a comic or a movie or a radio drama or some poetry or, if you are a screen writer, write a novel or a short story.

And when I say write, I don't mean slap together a quick piece out of left over alphabet soup and hazy memory of the plot to last night's Law and Order. Take it seriously. Put some time and effort into it.

Learn to do it properly.

Read about the needs of writing in your new format, find a guide book, find an expert, study examples of good writing in your format, study examples of bad writing in your format. You know, all that crap you did when you were learning to write for the first time. Treat yourself as that clueless, wide eyed newbie with big dreams.

And when you write it and you suck at it, go back and edit. This is serious business. You're educating yourself here and you will get out of it what you put in.

Then, when you can honestly say you completed a project or two to the best of your new found ability, go back to what you usually do and see how those skills carry over. Not all of them will, but some of them will. Maybe writing poetry improves the rhythm of your prose, maybe it improves the emotional impact of your writing over all. Maybe writing a script helps you to set a scene better and makes your dialogue more efficient. You won't know until you try.

But you've got to try.

Doctors go to medical conferences to learn the latest theory and practice. Scientists read journals to keep up to date on discoveries and research in their field. Like doctors and scientists, you're a professional. This is one way you can undergo professional development and make yourself a better writer.

Don't stagnate.

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