I woke up this morning with that feeling in the back of my head again.
Morning consciousness, often spurred by an unpleasant tone, or the realization that the motor neurons directing my arm to the coveted snooze button have completed their task more than four times, is accompanied by the mental slideshow of things I need to do on that particular day. I’ll probably groan (especially if I have to work, often the case) possibly mutter an obscenity to open the pores for the next twenty-four hours, and in those briefest of seconds, instantly forget half of the to-do list. Despite this, every so often (okay, quite often) something else is there too. A half completed string of dialogue. A random scene. Possibly even something new.
I’m awake again, and everything’s working properly.
My brain is burning at both ends, because a couple days ago I decided to start two new scripts. This will mark the first time I’ve attempted to write two scripts concurrently, ricocheting between two wildly different concepts, hoping to capture the ever elusive New Hotness and imprison it within my word processor. Twice. We’re establishing a time limit to keep myself dangerously potent, too scared to begin, too scared to stop.
Because it may prove interesting, I’ve decided to chronicle the creation process in a sort of “writer’s log” that will offer an in-depth examination of the process that leads from random thought to final script. Either it will paint me as some untapped creative genius, or a neurotic nutcase that just broadcast to the entire internet that he has absolutely NO idea what the hell he is doing. Should be fun.
As always, comments are more than welcome.
-Sunday, January 12-
First day of work, considering that the Dark Horse piece featuring editor Scott Allie and the accompanying imagery is safely secured within the editor’s AOL account. I’m benefiting from the fact that both scripts are in some manner of “pre-production” which aids in shaking off first page jitters, and other similar nonsense that does its best to impede progress. PROJECT S- formerly known as The Syndicate, has a handful of pages scribbled in an old notebook that I find after rummaging through the bag that carted about a half dozen The Reserve scripts to Wiz World Chicago. Curiously, most of them are still there. Find the pages, and instantly make arrangements to condense five pages to four, with a possible seam to wrap cleanly in three. Three pages may choke the scene, but I have a strong feeling that I’ll need the extra space. Leave it at four for now.
Old-school Ambi. readers will remember The Syndicate, but for those new to the proceedings, I’ll describe it only as “world domination for the twenty-first century.” Ultimately, I’ll have to change the name, because according to a recent Pulse article, there’s an independent title readying for release that uses the name in a prominent location. The theme is similar as well, because my luck is running true to form. Syndicate was only a working title anyway, and a partial nod to the television series that largely inspired the whole thing, The X-Files. The show was a spastic mess when it concluded, but I’ll put the first five seasons against any other drama out there and watch the opponent utterly consumed.
Another fun fact, as yet unrevealed, is that Marvel editor Mark Powers took immediate interest in the pitch after I blanketed the Marvel offices with it several months back. I sent him a stack of reading material so that he could better gauge my skills and tendencies, but he left Marvel before having a chance to take a look. The flame still burns and after flipping through the detailed notes, the characters are speaking to me again, so it’s time to move on it.
The other project is going to be so blindingly obvious that if I say more than three words about it, you’ll figure it out. And we can’t have that can we? Call it PROJECT X for now. The first scene has been crawling in my brain for the last few weeks, and putting it down is all that’s required.
Playoff football nearly devoured the whole afternoon, but I did manage to scribble down some things at commercials and half-time. By the time evening closes, one more page of PROJECT S is down, X is off to an adequate start, and on Monday the real challenge begins…balancing all this planned productivity around the day (and sometimes night) job. Writing is incredibly easy when I have off-days.
-Monday, January 13-
This is the morning on which this Ambi. actually began (if that makes any sense), and I wake up with the next page of PROJECT S (soon to be extended to two pages to prevent scene strangulation), and a few ideas on bridging PROJECT X’s fifth and sixth pages. The transition here was starting to bother me, as some of my notions were steering dangerously close to the Generic Zone, a realm I have no interest in entering. I’ll figure it out later and therefore focus on S because the bridge there makes more sense at this point.
While fitting it into panels, I decide to let the encounter between two main characters breathe a bit and eat another page. It’s important that the meeting establishes a certain tone that seven panels just can’t accomplish, and I should’ve known better. I’m hearing the dialogue pretty clearly, and these pages are going to be easy to get down.
While driving to work, I’m trying to solve the problem on page 6 of PROJECT X, and decide to outright skip it for now, confident of how the page will end, and supposing that once I allow the character to roam within the story a little more, the answer will present itself. X is fun because it’s not about what I’m pretending it’s about, and page 7 will drive that home, if page 1 hasn’t done so already. Stealing time from work produces the intro to this piece, and before picking up the draft before bed, I dropped page 6 of PROJECT S down. Nice and smooth. I’ll probably re-write every word before it finds its way into the word processor though.
Oh well, more tomorrow.
-Tuesday, January 14-
The morning shower triggers a notion that may solve my problem on page 6 of PROJECT X, but it greatly alters the composition and flow of the script, introducing a couple of supporting characters a few scenes early. It may work, but I’ll have to think about it more, and I’ll probably leave the page unscripted for now, hopeful that the next shower will trigger another brainstorm, even better than the first. It’s a temporary side-step, but it’ll hold for now.
I wanted to finish page 7 of PROJECT S over lunch, but halfway through my brain went all fuzzy, and I lost control. Something wasn’t clicking with the characters, and several hours later, upon picking it up again, feeling that familiar confusion, did it all become clear. Cameron Ricks was behaving like Marcus Iso, and it happened with the turn of a page. The scene was falling flat because I was forcing the emotion, instead of allowing it to naturally evolve.
Something else to consider is the possibility that tightening my notes would aid in the scripting process. A balanced set of notes helps to keep me focused, infinitely more than a plot summary, especially when everything is positioned to set me off and turn my thoughts acidic without warning. Subsequently, this makes it difficult to render coherent script. Got an overdue notice from the electric company to complement my late rent, car note, and cable bill. If my notes were better, the obscenity-laced tirade I flew into wouldn’t have triggered so drastic a set-back. Tomorrow, the yellow steno pad returns to save me from myself.
-Wednesday, January 15-
Wrong side of the bed for real. Was up so early that my body’s natural defense mechanism that staves off life’s major annoyances hadn’t a chance to completely purge last night’s kick to the groin quite yet. Few hours later and I’m fine as the ability to conceive of coherent script has returned, and though I haven’t obliged it as of yet…the yellow steno pad is ready to save me.
The yellow steno pad became a friend several scripts ago as a method for keeping my mind right. Simple trick, important results. Every page of script gets a short three or four line description of the relevant events occurring on the page, sometimes with dialogue laced in the margin, because when I’m laying out the thing, there’s usually at least one planned line that remains unchanged throughout the drafting process. Sometimes. It’s useful to have around, and is just one more tool that will aid in the final “justification” process (more on this later).
Before sitting down with it, I tear through the bag of new comics that made it home this afternoon. Besides the general intimidation factor that comes from the work of such modern luminaries as Bendis, Millar, Morrison, and Loeb comes the slight electric tingle that wants you to complete your own work. You want to be able to do this. You need to be able to do this. I also paid additional attention to the economy of the page. How much are these writers trying to accomplish with one page? How much action? How much dialogue? You can do almost anything with a page as long as you do it right.
I inject the yellow steno pad with a rough outline for the entirety of PROJECT X, and about half of PROJECT S before passing out for the night. Slow progress, but my field position is improving.
-Thursday, January 16-
PROJECT X slides comfortably into pole position, and three pages lay themselves out quite nicely. Things are becoming more dialogue-specific and I’m almost to the point where I’m just writing the conversations, back-pedaling, and then fitting everything into panels. The composition of the page itself seems to dictate what comes first, the breakdown or the dialogue, and with my partner the yellow steno, this is permissible and even welcome. I’m not panicking when things appear on the pad differently than I imagined because I’ve provided a structure that will hold things together. The beats are there. I just have to figure the most comfortable way for you to hear them.
My largest concern is “padding” the script. We’ve all read “padded” stories before. Six issue epics easily handled in four. A series of pages merely filling up space until the big explosion. Scenes that say nothing. I’m very careful to ensure that everything carries an appropriate degree of storytelling merit, which brings me to the “justification” process, which we’ll explore in further detail next week…
New Hotness is back by the way…
Ultimate Spider-Man #35 (Brian Michael Bendis/Mark Bagley/Art Thibert)
There is a moment within this book that will cause you to say, “Holy fuckin’ shit.” More than likely, you’ll say it out loud. Though I have told you there is a scene which will cause one to utter the passionate exclamation of, “Holy fuckin’ shit,” thereby eliminating a portion of the reflexive reaction, it will occur just the same. Trust me on this one. Holy. Fucking. Shit. Most guys use at least ¾ of their titles in the pursuit of the coveted New Hotness…Bendis and Bags do it in two pages. Two pages. And people say there’s no life in superhero comics…
Ultimates #8 (Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch/Paul Neary)
These guys make it incredibly difficult to bitch and moan about the sporadic release schedule of this title. I want you to take a look at Hitch’s artwork, really look at the composition and the detail contained in every panel. Now tell me this could be done in four weeks. Rendering one of the most visually exciting action scenes in recent sequential history takes time, and if the results even approach the brilliance laced between the cardstock cover this month, I could give a damn when the book comes out. Though Matrix-inspired, Millar and Hitch take two characters I have absolutely no interest in, and turn them into two of the most bad-ass “heroes” I’ve ever seen. I keep rewinding this scene like it’s a DVD, reading it over and over again, and finding something else I dig about it every time. Am I gushing? I’m gushing aren’t I? So what. This is the superhero comic of the new millennium. There are a lot of good books out there. Ultimates is better.
Queen & Country #13 (Greg Rucka/Jason Alexander)
Sex is dangerous. Anyone that tells you it isn’t, hasn’t had enough. Read Queen & Country if you don’t believe me. This issue, and to a degree, this storyline, is revolving around sex, and all the perils associated with the pleasurable activity. The opening scene is written entirely in French, little of which I understood, but I had no problem getting the gist of the situation. Blame it on Jason Alexander, who brings his own unique flavor to the title, much as he predecessors did. Back to the sex though. It’s dangerous, especially if it’s occurring with someone you work with, as it is between Tara Chace and Ed Kittering, threatening to further complicate the already complicated existence of an intelligence operative. Apparently, it’s also dangerous for wealthy businessman wishing to entertain the highest bidder, as unscrupulous governments have few qualms resorting to blackmail. More high quality storytelling in the traditional Q & C manner, involving a subject most of us can get down with. So to speak.
Next week: The saga continues…