How To Write Comics And Graphic Novels by Dennis O'Neil #19 – The End Is Now

How To Write Comics And Graphic Novels by Dennis O'Neil #19 – The End Is NowDennis O'Neil has a long history in the comics industry as both a writer and editor. He's best known for writing Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman, through the seventies, Spider-Man in the eighties and for editing Batman-related titles in the nineties. A widely published novelist and screenwriter, he is currently lecturing at the NYU on Writing Comics And Graphic Novels. Bleeding Cool is grateful to receive a taster of the course every week.

The end already?  Yep.  My New York University class ends tonight and so, consequently, does this weekly space-filler.

And what have we learned?  Well, probably very little, if you  use "learn" in the sense of learning to do long division, or being able to tell us what happened in October of 1066, or if, like the no-child-left-behind mavens, your idea of education is passing tests.  As I may have mentioned earlier, I don't think I've ever taught anyone to write (and I doubt that anyone else has, either.) What I try to do is suggest, encourage, gently correct where appropriate, and throw out gobs of information. I'll point you in a certain direction, or hear when you disagree with me.  But I will never tell you what you must do in each and every dadburned situation—all hands brace for the mantra: There is seldom any one absolutely, inarguable, unimpeachably right way to do anything.

There is only the way that works here and now. It might have worked last week, or a thousand years ago, but that's not a reason to use it.  You know what that reason is?  Sure you do.

What else?

Arguably, the most important stuff I've tried to communicate comes down to the following:

A story is a structured narrative designed to achieve an emotional effect. demonstrate a proposition or reveal character.

Now add:

Must have conflict and there must be something at stake.

Action should rise and culminate in most powerful moment.

Everything should be presented with maximum clarity.

Every element of the strip–writing, art, coloring, lettering–should be aimed at achieving all of the above.

In arcs and miniseries: something must happen every issue.

Never "visit" characters.

Each scene must either reveal character, move plot or both.

As for the learning-how-to-write part…Good news and bad news, both nicely wrapped up in the same sentence:  You teach yourself.  You find a way to put in however much time and effort is necessary to gain whatever you need to gain.  In J.K. Rowling's case, that meant sitting in a warm café  to escape the discomfort of her unheated flat with her child sleepiong  nearby and getting the first Harry Potter novel onto paper.  Okay, that's what it took…You might have an easier way to do it.  Or a harder one.  You'll probably know how important this is to you, and if it's important enough for you to find, or create, the means to get it done.

How important is that?  We could do worse than end with another quote from Ms Rowling: I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Amen, say I
<em>Dennis O'Neil has just finished teaching a ten week course on <a href="">Writing Comics And Graphic Novels</a> at the New York University. Classes were every Wednesday evening from 6.45pm to 9pm. For further information, for the nest time he starts up a run of these classes, please call  NYU's School of     Professional and Continuing Studies at Studies at 212  9987200</em>

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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