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Author Topic: how to write for one-shots  (Read 7532 times)

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Offline Mari

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how to write for one-shots
« on: July 20, 2010, 08:56:35 AM »
I've been offered a monthly slot of several pages in a periodical publication looking to feature full-size comics, but they would like me to do a one-shot, preferably 10-30 pages total.

Sadly, trying to cram story into as few pages as possible has never been a strong point for me, and the more I try and size-down any of my fun story ideas, the longer it seems to get. Do any of you guys write stories for short comics very often? If so, what would you say is the key difference in terms writing? ...as I'm clearly missing it here.

Offline Gar

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2010, 09:31:52 AM »
I'd say Just write it as you would a normal short story. Set up your characters in broad strokes as quickly as possible, set a goal for the story and try to achieve it as efficiently as you can. If a line or panel doesn't advance either the plot or the character then you don't need it and can cut it out. In terms of writing style- think Kilgore Trout.

I'll point you to this nifty little imagination aid that might help you structure your short stories: http://www.storycubes.com/. It's a set of nine six-sided dice with a different picture representing an action or concept, and the idea is you roll the dice and tell a story that goes through all of the face-up images. The images are open to interpretation so you can come up with some pretty diverse stuff. There's also a 'verbs' expansion pack which you can play on its own or mix and match with the regular story cubes. Having a set number of ideas to go through could help you plot a short course for your story.

Bear in mind that if this is a long-term gig then you can probably get away with returning to existing characters as long as each episode is a whole story that can stand alone. Probably best to put a couple of one-shots between chapters if you want to go for the stealth series-pilot though.

I'll volunteer to do a first draft edit of your script if you want, point out bits that are too long or unclear; I'm actually pretty good at editing. I'll even promise not to steal your ideas :D

Offline Gibson

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2010, 02:01:54 PM »
I'm having a difficult time imagining a worse way to write than by doing it off dice. I suppose actual plagiarism would be worse. Besides, that has no particular value to helping write shorter stories.

To write short fiction, your work has to become simpler. Not just shorter, but simpler. Either the ideas you work with must be simplified...instead of what happened to you last week, what happened to you in the last couple hours...or your style of narrative must be simpler...less flowery, more to the point. If you're having trouble turning an idea into short fiction, try to find just a certain aspect or two of the story and work with that. Try one single event. Don't paint your character with broad strokes, make them simple, or at least not complicated. There isn't really a great trick to it except simplification, finding a narrative style that lets you write simply.

You don't have to include every detail. You don't have to include every action. You don't have to have lots of dialogue, and in fact it's often better if you don't. None of these things are absolute, though. I've done stories where the entire thing is dialogue or where every part of an instant is pored out in great detail, but in those, the simplicity was that it was only dialogue or only that instant.

Here are a few examples of very short fiction. The first is a very straight-forward process, the second is a three minutes of visuals covered by decades of narration, and the third is a single eventful night. Consider the kind of narratives being used moreso than the stories themselves. These exact story concepts could be made much longer than they are simply by expanding the narrative style, but by making everything simple, keeping details and/or structure simple, I'm able to tell a basic story in just a few pages.

http://forum.webcomicscommunity.com/index.php/topic,340.msg2512.html#msg2512

http://forum.webcomicscommunity.com/index.php/topic,369.msg2794.html#msg2794

http://forum.webcomicscommunity.com/index.php/topic,395.msg2992.html#msg2992

Offline Rob

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2010, 03:26:51 PM »
Wow Gib. Someone really pissed in your Wheaties this week didn't they? You want me to kick someone's ass? Why so cranky?

Anyway, Mari you should keep in mind that Gar and Gib are both good writers who operate on a completely different playing fields as far as their process goes. Which should underline to you the old adage that there are indeed many ways to skin a cat.

From looking at the problem you presented my first instinct would be to look at the magazine. What type of readership does it have? What is the overarching theme of the periodical? What are it's goals and ambitions? That's where I would start because I feel that in this instance, when you are being contracted for a specific audience it is more important than usual to give the audience what it wants.

With Shizentai you have this long form, recurring character story told in a very Asian flavoring. You wouldn't offer that type of thing up if you were asked to do a comic for "Popular Mechanics" now would you?

The magazine I write for is a Fantasy Literature mag so naturally anything having to do with Fantasy is in the money spot but other types of speculative fiction are encouraged too. The trick is to give the audience what it expects.

Once you figure that out then you have a beginning point. One shots are pretty easy in my opinion. So easy that I don't get a whole lot of satisfaction out of making them. Take a look at DC Comics "Elseworlds" series where they take familiar super heroes and put them in different times, places, even dimensions or planets. Those were always some of my favorite comics and they were almost always one shots.

I have one called "In Darkest Knight" where Bruce Wayne gets the Green Lantern ring from Abin Sur instead of Hal Jordon and becomes a sort of Batman/Green Lantern hybrid. There's another one where Kal El comes to Earth during the Revolutionary War and ends up fighting for the British. Needless to say things didn't go too well for the Americans in that revolution.

I recommend you pick one up if you're interested in the format. They really do a wonderful job of establishing the hero and telling a tale in a completely new world; all in one 30-40 pg mag.

They really are easy though. The trick, to my mind is just shutting off the possibilities in your mind. Whenever I'm writing the long form stuff, even if it's just one three panel strip, I'm thinking about all the things that have come before and all the possibilities and probabilities that can come in the future and how that one strip will marry into all that.

I'm thinking "oh if this character does this in this strip I can have him do this in two years and it will explain why he doesn't like sea bass" or something equally crazy. But when you are writing one shots you just have to let all those possibilities go. Write the story and get used to hitting all your big plot points hard and often (the reflex for writing long form is to build up to those moments but when you are doing one shots you just have to let it fly). And don't bother thinking about what the future may bring. If your characters survive the experience and you get an idea to bring them back or use them again in another project then great. But for the purposes of this one shot, this is their whole existence. They could all drop dead after the last panel but as long as you've resolved all the questions you raised in act one your readers will be satisfied.

And that brings me to basic structure. Most of my comics are written in 3-4 panels. I alway try and follow the three act format as closely as I can.

1) Present your protagonist with an internal and external problem. (Put your main character up a tree, reveal he is afraid of heights)
2) Make the problems worse. (Have your antagonist throw rocks at him forcing him to climb higher, increasing his fear of heights and making it more difficult for him to get down).
3) Get your Protagonist out of the tree (thus showing he has defeated the external problem of being up a tree and conquered his internal problem by getting out of the tree without giving in to his fear of heights).

These basics hold true on a macro and micro level. So if you are writing a scene that involves one page that scene should have a first, second and third act and in turn be a part of the larger structure of the overall work by fitting in to the first, second or third act of the entire piece.

Probably the best thing you can do though is pick up a book of really good quality short stories. In fact, if you like fantasy the magazine I write for Black Gate has some wonderful short fantasy fiction in it and the PDF download versions of the issues are very reasonably priced below print copies and with of course, no shipping charge.

Because one of the hardest things to do with one shots is world building. And once you have that down the rest is pretty easy. Short stories, good ones anyway, are great at showing you how to build a world and establish the rules of that world in a very short period of time. And that should help with your one shot writing.

Shorter works like one shots and short stories are about quality over quantity. You have to think a little bit differently to get the story on the page. Good luck though. Let us know how it works out.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2010, 03:31:17 PM by Rob »

Offline Gar

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2010, 04:59:52 PM »
Gar and Gib are both good writers who operate on a completely different playing fields as far as their process goes.

We worked out earlier that he's Jedi and I'm Sith, although it pretty often turns out that my mental process is basically the same as his defined process. It's good artistic antagonism, I like it. It makes me think about my process, which is helpful.

The story dice is just a get-out-of-a-rut tool or a fun warming up exercise to get into the write-efficiently-from-point-to-point mindset, but you know how it is when you start something just for funzies and then it ends up being kinda good and you decide it's worth putting more work into? That's when the story dice pay for themselves.

I think my joke about stealing your ideas kind of offended Gibson because he hates jokes. For the record: copying someone else's work and claiming it as your own is basically the biggest Dick Move you can make as an artist, I disapprove strongly when others do it, and I don't do it myself. I put a smiley face beside it, but that was a legitimate offer to look over your work for you, and my word that your intellectual property would be respected should you decide to accept my offer of free editorial advice. Just trying to be friendly. Unfortunately I have the social graces you might expect from a webcartoonist who describes himself as a Sith.

Anyway, actually reading some one-shot comics with an eye for structure is also a good idea.


Offline Mari

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2010, 12:26:20 AM »
From looking at the problem you presented my first instinct would be to look at the magazine. What type of readership does it have? What is the overarching theme of the periodical? What are it's goals and ambitions? That's where I would start because I feel that in this instance, when you are being contracted for a specific audience it is more important than usual to give the audience what it wants.

With Shizentai you have this long form, recurring character story told in a very Asian flavoring. You wouldn't offer that type of thing up if you were asked to do a comic for "Popular Mechanics" now would you?

Exactly! It would be so much easier on me if I could just put Shizentai (or heck, even communication confusion) in there. Though I'm not sure which is a worse fit for them, "Mechanics" or "Southeastern Living" which, by the way, is the actual theme of the periodical.

Nah, if I do this at all (as it's still up in the air) I was considering one of a couple options:

First of all I could modify a piece I had loosely written about <copyrighted btw> an agoraphobic church pianist that witnesses a crime and winds up in a reluctant tangle with some Crescent City criminals, his side-kicks being a cellist and a chain-smoking flutist. I'd call it "The Accompanists." The setting would be in and around various famous New Orleans churches. </copyright> The only problem is that I am doubting if I have the architectural chops to pull off that scenery it in a timely enough fashion. =_= ... if only I had art gnomes living in my studio. Even then, I guess the story is simple enough to do in 10 to 30 pages, but is it something they would like? Something that wouldn't be pointless if I crammed it down to that? meh, I dunno. I got to thinking that I was still planning in the form of an epic tale instead of a short story. In other words:
Quote
To write short fiction, your work has to become simpler. Not just shorter, but simpler.
I worry that if I shorten that particular story too much, it'll get too boring and predictable. I mean, if I don't get to have at least one epic cello fight scene in there someplace it's not worth it for me.

So then I thought that maybe I should go away from the light-hearted formulaic thing and just write a dialog-free nonfiction account of Hurricane Katrina from my dog's perspective. The latter would certainly be easier for me to draw. Still, I'm kinda sick of hearing and seeing Katrina literature. It always leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. =_= I think that might be a little too deep of a subject matter anyway.

Then I began thinking more, and more, and the more I think, the more I just don't know. This periodical doesn't have any other comics for me to refer to either. I would be in their first comic issue. Maybe I should just sit this one out and try different things in my own time, then have it all prepped and ready for the next person to come along ... if they do come along that is.

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I'll volunteer to do a first draft edit of your script if you want, point out bits that are too long or unclear; I'm actually pretty good at editing. I'll even promise not to steal your ideas
lol Very kind of you indeed. I think my real problem lies in the pre-editing department though. I'm not really an experienced script-writer since I usually do art and writing myself. Most of my scripts are hand-written with many goofy doodles everywhere.

Offline Rob

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #6 on: July 21, 2010, 02:04:46 AM »
Ok well a few things.

You're from that area of the world so who better to write about it? Besides someone from that area of the world with loads if writing experience I mean.  :-[

How are you ever going to grow if you don't push yourself? My lord girl this sounds like a wonderful opportunity to stretch yourself in an area (writing) where maybe you aren't quite as comfortable as you should be or could be in comparison to the other things that you're strong at (the art side of things maybe?).

RISE TO THE OCCASION! Or at least take an honorable stab at it. There's no shame in failure if you did you're best and this is a situation you can really learn a lot from.

If you want to be able to be a strong writer than this is your chance to find out if you can be. If there's a chance you will never be a strong writer and need to work with someone else then this is your opportunity to find that out. But you won't learn diddly if you don't even try. I can't believe you would even consider passing on something like this. You crazy girl!

Just looking at your few blurbs about the musicians I think you've already tapped into something interesting. Of course New Orleans is known for it's music (by the way I believe a person who plays the flute is often known as a flutist in the U.S. and a flautist in the UK and Europe... depending upon where they are trained/educated a musician may prefer one over the other... you could use that disparity to flesh out that character and make him prefer one over the other but have everyone constantly referring to him/her as the one he/she does not care for). So ask yourself... what else is it known for? Voodoo? Boobies during Mardi Gras? Oil slicks... at least lately? Corrupt politicians and even more corrupt police? People with a Creole accent so impenetrable that you might as well be speaking to a form of wildlife? Bourbon? Swamps and gators? Failing dikes and flooding? The Saints? Religion (non voodoo)?

That's just off the top of my head (and woefully stereotypical to the point of possible offensiveness I might add) and there are more than enough story elements there to put together a compelling tale. Chances are, since you are writing for a mag that focuses on the Big Easy you may want to go beyond the stereotypes of an outsider and bring in elements that are more locally and typically relevant to the actual residents. But if you want to work with your musician characters there are lots of stories you can tell. Make them a Scooby gang. Give them a mystery to solve. Have them witness a crime! There are many many things you can do here that are easy one shot stories. The trick is to establish your characters (your musicians) and your world (New Orleans greater metropolitan area) and you are most of the way there. I've got a hundred ideas already and I'm sitting here thinking about beads and boobies!

Sure Katrina is related to New Orleans but hurricanes in general are much more so than any one specific storm. You can always put a hurricane in there and draw on the experience of Katrina without involving the actuality of Katrina. It does free one up quite a bit. No one writing fiction should be constrained by something as inconvenient as the truth. :D

In short, don't back away from this. Opportunity is a rare and fickle wench and I can honestly say that at the ripe old age of forty I've regretted very few things I've tried at no matter how it ended up but I've regretted a lot of things I didn't even try. Those missed opportunities haunt me.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2010, 02:07:05 AM by Rob »

Offline Rob

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2010, 02:12:41 AM »
Oh and as far as the art goes I think you are selling yourself short. That sort of gauzy, blurry, dreamy element you have in Shizentai is a great tool for creating great images with lesser degrees of detail. New Orleans has great churches and cemeteries. Those will be the toughest things for you to draw from an architecture perspective but the lucky part is you have oh.... a gajillion photo references available on line.

So this is a chance for you to stretch yourself in writing and art. So lucky! :o

Offline Gar

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2010, 04:22:23 AM »
Also, a periodical magazine wants to start having a comics section that isn't just for kids, so that's good for the Art as well as for you.

Does the magazine run short prose fiction? If so then it couldn't hurt to go through some of the short stories they've published and see what kind of tone they like.

Southeastern Living doesn't really sound like the forum for science fiction shorts. I'd say some anecdotal stories would probably play well though. The kind of stories you'd tell your friends in a bar about a weird thing that happened to you. No need to go too fantastical with it, just write something for your local people.

The Accompanists sounds like a fun little New Orleans crime yarn, but from the outline it's perhaps a little too busy for the 10-30 page limit you're looking at. Do you really need all three characters to tell the story? Does it need to go to a bunch of churches or can you do it with one church and a follow-the-goons-without-being-seen scene? The cello fight does sound cool (I'm interpreting that phrase pretty literally), but is that something that would work better as the climax scene in a short dedicated solely to the cellist? Bear in mind that you can probably get away with bringing a sidekick from one story back as the protagonist in another (and vice versa) if you want to go for a 'hey, it's that guy!' reaction.

Offline JGray

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2010, 07:35:09 AM »
Writing off dice? Works fine.

Writing from tarot cards? Works fine.

Writing however works? Works fine. Beyond stealing someone else's work, there's no wrong way to write. Just what works for you.

Geez, Gibson, sometimes you're worse that Stephanie Meyer.

Offline Gar

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2010, 08:26:12 AM »
Geez, Gibson, sometimes you're worse than Stephanie Meyer.

Now that's just mean.

Offline Mari

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2010, 01:24:23 AM »
RISE TO THE OCCASION! Or at least take an honorable stab at it. There's no shame in failure if you did you're best and this is a situation you can really learn a lot from.
Yes, but I don't get paid for it (which is a big one) and taking on this project would take time away from my other comics as I do all of this part-time at the moment. I'm trying to be responsible and productive here, not defeatist. I swear! :D

Also, I guess I never mentioned it, but I chose New Orleans as a setting because it's my hometown, and my current address. My dad's side has lived in and around New Orleans for about 280 years, and I since my birth (excluding a brief period in Asia) so I'm not really thinking about what it's known for so much as what it's shown me in my lifetime. Also, I think that by approaching me about writing for them, this southern periodical is in some way looking for my statement on being a New Orleanian. So Sorry to say, I don't plan on writing about beads or boobs. >_< no fan service today!

As for the music, my first job in high school was actually as a church accompanist. To this day I still play for different masses around town. The pay is good and the music is simple and repetitive. Plus it gives me a place to watch mass where I won't get stared at for being... well... a little strange looking. It's a very weird first job to have I guess, but the experience of being in the lofts of a cathedral puts an interesting perspective on things. And what is a good story (or art) without unique perspective?

I dunno much, but it's the best I've got.

Sure Katrina is related to New Orleans but hurricanes in general are much more so than any one specific storm. You can always put a hurricane in there and draw on the experience of Katrina without involving the actuality of Katrina. It does free one up quite a bit. No one writing fiction should be constrained by something as inconvenient as the truth. :D
Yes... yes and no. If I write about what happened to us back then, I'd like to tell 100% truth, because in this case, the truth is fantastical enough already. Once again though, I think there was a time and a place when people needed more about that, and I think it has passed... for now. Maybe in 50 years it'll be novel again =_=  Then I can make it from an old crotchety woman perspective. :p

The cello fight does sound cool (I'm interpreting that phrase pretty literally)
as you should (mwahaha)
Quote
but is that something that would work better as the climax scene in a short dedicated solely to the cellist? Bear in mind that you can probably get away with bringing a sidekick from one story back as the protagonist in another (and vice versa) if you want to go for a 'hey, it's that guy!' reaction.
GOOD LORD! as I red this I had a great idea for what to do!!!
If you were here I'd KISS you!
5-10 pages of one establishing scene from the Accompanists. It doesn't tell the whole story (I can do that later in a longer medium), but it stands alone and strong by itself in terms of the sentiment I think.
I know the exact one (sad to say, not the cello fight).

You guys rock btw! All of you!

Offline Rob

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2010, 01:51:01 AM »
Sorry I didn't know they were looking for a freebie. Frankly that changes everything. It didn't even occur to me that someone would have the audacity to ask you to do some much work and no compensation up front or any hope of compensation down the road.

I'd rather just do my own thing and concentrate on my own projects on the web or whatever. That's an awful lot to ask of someone for nothing but a line in their resume.

I hope you weren't offended by the boobs thing I was just making a list of all the things I think of when I think of New Orleans. Having never been there my scope is pretty darn limited but I still think I threw up a pretty big list of stereotypes there.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do. Sounds like you've got a plan and that's usually about half of it right there.  ;)

Offline Gar

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2010, 03:52:09 AM »
Yay, I helped!

If the magazine sells for money you should probably ask for some sort of payment for your work. Even if it's a freebie and/or you're happy enough to work pro bono, you should make damn sure you retain all the rights to your stories.

[Edit: In lieu of a kiss, can I get a guest comic? I'm ending Act I of my current crop of stories in about two weeks and I want to run a guest week as an intermission before launching into Act II, I'd love to have you in the line-up for that if you've time to make a single-page gag strip :) ]
« Last Edit: July 22, 2010, 09:52:10 AM by Gar »

Offline JGray

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Re: how to write for one-shots
« Reply #14 on: July 22, 2010, 07:49:46 AM »
This I agree with. Never agree to work for "exposure" when your work is helping make someone else money.