This is a really quick post, and it will be the last on tomrippon.wordpress.com, as I’ve done the impossible and upgraded to WordPress.org. It was a tough journey, but it’s all good now, and tomrippon.com is now the home of my blog. All the posts have been moved over, all the comments, but the people … alas, you are missing.

I can’t import followers between blogs, so I’m asking you to head over to tomrippon.com and read some of the new content. You can even subscribe by email if you so wish.

This is goodbye for a while, unless you fancy joining me over in dot-com-land. So I’ll see you soon. Thanks for reading.

Over the next nine months, I’m going to be writing two novels and a comic book miniseries. This is all for those very very important credits that will earn me a degree in creative writing. While I have absolutely no idea of what to write for the two novels, and I’m sure that I will change my mind between several ideas in the near future, I do know exactly what I will be writing my comic book series about.

I decided I wanted to write a comic book when I went to see The Dark Knight Rises in the cinema. I was talking with a friend about super-heroes, their powers, their personalities, and most importantly, if we were to create our own super-hero, what would their powers be? We had several ideas up in the air, but we settled on one that we thought would be incredible; different, experimental, but free of cliche and convention. I decided then that for my third year independent project, I would write a comic book.

Over the following weeks, I did some research. I had no idea about comics up until about thirty days ago. I looked online for advice, I bought comic books, I bought comic books about comic books… And I learned a lot. I figured out that there’s no way to write something properly, especially in the world of script. That’s what happens when writing a comic book. It’s much like a film or TV script, with the directions and speech and descriptions of setting and characters. I used to love writing scripts.

Scott McCloud and Will Eisner became my go-to mentors. I read some of their respective works on writing comics, understanding comics, and I did some reading of other super-hero stories.

The one thing I think is really important about the planning process is having a tried and tested way of doing it. I never had one until Dennis O’Neil told me about his via a book called DC’s Guide to Writing Comics. It involves several documents open on the computer at any one time, but all of which I’ve used in my planning process, and all of which I think I’ll use in the future, even outside the realm of comic book writing.

The Proposal

I’ve got a folder titled “Legacy” in my documents on my laptop. That’s the name of the piece I’m writing. Inside are three documents, each made up of various bits and pieces. The first document, and by far the most extensive and most visited out of them all is the proposal. Writing a comic book for a publisher involves a proposal. Actually, writing most anything for anybody involves a proposal. Write a proposal. Not for your publisher, your editor, or anybody else. Write your proposal for you. Write it as you would write yourself a note when you’re drunk and want to remember something important the morning after. Use language that you will understand. Use code if you want. Use personal jokes. Make sure you get it, and as soon as you open it, you can find yourself back in that mindset you were in when you wrote it.

The proposal should be made up of a number of sections, each of which I’ll outline below:

  • Premise should be the first thing you write. Then follow it with the premise of your work. It doesn’t have to be a complete outline. It can be three words. But as long as it represents the key story elements of your piece, that’s fine.
  • Goal of your work. What do you want to achieve? If you just want to make people laugh, or entertain them, or scare them, that’s cool. But if you want to establish a mythos that steps away from the conventions of the genre in an attempt to wake up the audience to the truth of the style, write that. Even if you don’t know what it actually means.
  • Structure is important, and it should definitely be something you think about. No matter the format you’re writing in, the structure should reflect the story. Are you going to split lots of stories up into small chapters? Are you going to have lots of character-centric chapters? Are you going to write an epic trilogy, a comic book miniseries…?
  • Background is what leads to the story’s beginning. What has happened to get your character to where they are today? For a story to be interesting or real or both, you need to have thought about what comes before the story, not just want comes during or after.
  • Story follows. Now that we’ve established the background, setting, and all that stuff, we can get to the juicy stuff. Draw from your premise – flesh it out, but not too much, as you will probably want to change things later. Any key moments you wouldn’t dream of omitting should probably feature in your story outline.
  • Characters is the longest section of my own proposal. There’s a lot of them, and there’s a lot to them, even if I don’t know it yet. There’s always a new one added last minute, or one taken out, or a different name or personality… But at least get an idea of the key players in the game.

The Outline

This is probably going to be a far simpler document than the proposal. At least, on the surface. In reality, uncountable numbers of man hours will go into crafting the perfect outline. For a comic book, I’ve done mine page by page, describing in a sentence what happens: “Fight scene”; “Charlotte runs away”; “Sam is being taunted”… It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t even have to be good. But as long as it gives you the idea of how a character gets from point A to point B, it’s probably good enough. Besides, you’ll probably end up changing it substantially once you actually get going. I have. It’s fun.

This is where your structural decisions come into play for the first time. If you’ve chosen to write a novel, your outline will be defined by its chapters. If you’re writing a movie, scenes will be the way you lay things out in the outline. Of course, these things aren’t binding, and you might even find that maybe your story wasn’t meant to be a movie, and you want to make it a novella or a TV series instead. Whatever. That’s what this process is for.

But once it’s done, and you’ve got your outline written out, as extensively or not as you like, then you can start writing.

The Notes

Ah, the notes. The messiest, least thought out and most sporadic document you’ll have in your folder. Hopefully. Whenever you think of something important and want to remember it, write it down. Out of context idea? Noted. It’s how you’ll fill in the blanks later. Writer’s block, whatever that is, can be beaten many ways, but one of the best ways, from my experience, is looking over your previous ideas, whether good or bad, used or discarded, and crafting them into something new. That, and notes are important for not forgetting stuff.

Note: The above super-awesome way of planning stuff isn’t my idea, but I’ve taken O’Neil’s suggestions and made them suit my own style. Hopefully they’ll do something for you too. If you want to read his own advice as is, check out The DC Guide to Writing Comics.

Those are the three documents I’ve got, and they’ve seen my through to the finish line … of the planning stage. I’ve never finished planning anything before, not even as I’ve been writing it. The finish line comes when I feel like it should come. Not when a previous document with a detailed outline says it should come. But times are changing, and it feels better knowing that I have a structure, a purpose and a plan behind the whole story. I haven’t started writing yet, but I know that when I do, in the next thirty days most likely, I will be able to power through, experiencing what is hopefully the smoothest writing experience of my life.

That, or I’ll find myself unsatisfied with my former-self’s planning abilities and writing will become hard again. But I’ll let you know.

Not the most exciting title for a post, I know. But that’s only because I’m going to be doing very little of the actual writing today. In between traveling back and forth from Bath, taking care of and adjusting to pet rats, and extensively planning my writing for the next academic year (something I’ll probably delve into another time), there’s not been a whole lot of time to actually write anything. Sure, there’s planning and all, but not much follow-through.

So to make amends, I’ve been surfing the internet in the hopes of finding something that will kick me into action and get me back to work. Even if it’s only for a second. Below are some links to articles I’ve discovered, handling things from writer’s block to finding a good editor (something that I’m not concerned about now … but maybe in the future). So read, learn and enjoy. And I just read that back and it sounds corny.

Popular Soda gives tips and advice on how to identify a good or bad editor, especially if they’re freelance. Take the advice and avoid getting screwed.

It’s easy to say that a sentence doesn’t flow. It’s harder to explain the grammatical reasoning behind the problem. Be wary of any editor who tells you that you need changes without explaining why the sentence needs to change. Freelance editors work with words all day long. Experienced editors should be able to identify, explain, and fix grammatical errors without looking up every single mistake.

Wordplay takes a look at some of the most common problems that writers face, and how to overcome them. Not the most original article ever, but certainly worth a read.

If you choose to make writing a priority, you will inevitably have to give up other things. Sometimes those things will be important. But once you’ve made the decision to devote a certain amount of your day to writing, don’t allow yourself to be guilted out of it. If you don’t treat your writing like a priority, it won’t be.

Writer Unboxed takes the cake with this article, written by published author Kristyn Kusek Lewis. Discover the truth behind the dreaded writer’s block. Spoilers: It’s a myth.

Writer’s block, to me, is helplessness. It’s giving yourself an excuse to get out of the job. And part of the job is getting stuck, because (newsflash!) writing is hard, and as much as you may hate those difficult moments, admit it: You wouldn’t do it if it were easy.

“A little death makes life more meaningful,” sings Mark Hoppus, singer and bassist in the band Blink-182. Perhaps the philosophy or ideas put forward by this band are not the best to base my own writing on, but nevertheless, a little death can go a long way, especially when writing.

I believe I wrote a short piece regarding the killing off of characters at some point last year, but I can’t find the link, so you can’t have it. It was probably poorly written, uninteresting and otherwise best left forgotten, but I still find myself sharing a problem with circa-2011-me. I can’t kill people. And it’s a really big problem.

As somebody who likes to spend his time looking up ways to improve his writing rather than actually putting them to the test and doing some writing, I’ve found that a common piece of advice is to not be afraid to let bad things happen to good characters. I’d think this would be obvious – there’s nothing better than a character who you really love getting killed off for doing everything right. Eddard Stark, Boromir … in fact, most of Sean Bean’s roles have been based on characters from books who had bad luck from the start. I love watching a character fail in their quest, especially if they really don’t deserve any of the horrible things that happen to them.

But it’s different in my own work. There’s something really difficult about developing a character, getting to know them, working out exactly who they are, only to throw them out of a window for the sake of the story. I can’t write very convincing or deep characters, which means that I rarely get the option to have a character than somebody will care enough about should I chose to kill them. But the issue is that when I finally do get a character whose death will impact the emotions and actions of the characters around him (and hopefully the audience, too), I find I care for him so much that no death seems good enough for him.

I’ve been working on a story-driven poetry anthology and/or collection for about six months now, and in the first set of poems, the main character is mourning the loss of his wife. When I originally wrote these six poems, they were all there was going to be. There was not going to be another set of poems that would explore their relationship, her life, or anything about her. Because she’s dead. But now that I’m opening up the old wound, traveling back in time for the second of what will be three clusters, I find that everything I wrote about her at first is simply not true. She’s a bitch, an awful wife, a bad person, but worst of all, this is all she is. I daren’t explore her too much, because I don’t want to get bummed out that she’s dead.

I know it’s important to create a great character for the audience to care about their death, but I want to separate myself from that and detach myself from what I know is going to happen. But there’s no use in doing so, because otherwise why should I expect anybody else to care about her?

I’m going to go back to writing the cluster. And I’m going to bury this woman once and for all. And then I’m going to mourn her.

Despite hating being told how to do something, I tend to find that there’s something very satisfying about being told how to approach something. There’s a great sense of solidarity formed inside a writer when they know that somebody else is having the exact same problem as they are – whether it be writer’s block, difficulty cutting or editing, or anything in between. Because writers have a lot of problems.

A short time ago, I found an article via reddit that listed some of the most useful and simple and downright agreeable advice I’ve heard in a long time. It spoke to me because it was achievable. There’s nothing worse than being told that to write a successful novel one must research for eight hours a day and write for another ten. There’s nothing worse than being told not to use certain words or phrases for the sake of sounding proper. These are “tips” I’ve received in the past, both in person and via the internet. But these tips were different. And not just because I didn’t put them in quotation marks.

Pixar story artist Emma Coats was (some time ago) Tweeting a number of segments of advice; things she had picked up from her time working for one of the world’s most successful and loved animation studios, things she had learned from her colleagues and peers, and things that she believes make writing not only easier, but more enjoyable for writer and reader alike. So, here are Emma Coats’ tips for creating an interesting story.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Pulled from the blog and website of The Pixar Touch.

About a month ago I turned twenty. About a year ago, I wrote this post, listing the things I’d like to achieve before I got to the age I am now. I didn’t do too many of them. In fact, the only thing I think I achieved that I intended to was finish reading Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series, which I did only two days before I turned twenty.

Just the other day, I made a list of things I wanted to do this year. I mentioned it briefly in another post, but have since lost the list. With it, I’ve lost track of all the things I wanted to do between now and the end of next year. Eighteen months is a long time, and there’s a very definite fear that without some kind of structure – especially following my graduation in only a year – I’ll look back and think on days where I didn’t achieve anything. And I’ll be disappointed.

I make lists a lot, for a lot of different things. Day to day, I keep a notepad on my desk, jotting down things I need to do, and crossing them out is certainly satisfying. A friend suggested once that I start my list with “make a list”, and so when I’m finished making my list, I can cross something out straight away. My mum makes lists all the time. For years she’s been forcing this habit on me, and so I can only blame her for my compulsive list-making on a day-to-day basis.

But a list for the year seems a bit excessive. Sure, if there are things I need to do, I’ll make a note of them, but the idea last year was not to make a list to make sure I succeeded, but a list to make sure I enjoyed my last year of being a teenager. And I did. I didn’t join some kind of society, as the list suggested I do. I didn’t even come close to getting out of my overdraft. And I certainly didn’t work harder than I’ve ever worked before; I worked hard, yes, but not to the point of excelling and being awesome.

I didn’t really want to do those things. At the time of writing the list, my thought process was probably: “These things will probably be beneficial, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll enjoy them. Screw it, it’s going on the list.” I wouldn’t have enjoyed getting out of my overdraft. I wouldn’t have enjoyed working harder than ever before. They would have had their benefits, but they weren’t things I needed to do, or wanted to do.

But I did do a lot of things last year that I would never have even considered twelve months ago. I entered a poetry slam, participated in Bath’s Illuminate Festival, completed a small poetry collection, welcomed an old friend back into my life, discarded some old ones, and got an iPhone. Those are things that I couldn’t have put on the list, because I didn’t know that I would want to do them last year. But I’m glad I did every single last one. I have no regrets about my not sticking to the list.

So I’m not going to make a list this year. Maybe this is a bad idea – at least last time I made a list, I had some illusion of structure. But this year I’m winging it. Good idea or bad, I’m confident that things will come along that I want to do, need to do, and never expected. And I’ll probably enjoy a good fraction of them. A list looking forward could never sum up the year I’ve got ahead.

Today, I worked with children for the first time in … well, I think ever. I was a child once, as a good 90% of us were, but that was a short while ago, and they change so quickly. Or at least they seem to, because as I watched and talked to the little people, I didn’t see anything of myself in their personalities. Except for the fact that they liked reading, and they liked reading even more when I promised them that if they read enough they would win prizes. They even seemed satisfied that the prizes were only things like fridge magnets and wristbands.

I was working in a library, trying to convince children that reading was a great idea, and trying to convince parents that I didn’t want anything more than their children’s time. For the most part, this was fine, but there were some parents who thought it completely inappropriate that I – a well-dressed twenty-year-old male – was encouraging children to colour in pictures and look at the many books they could read over the summer.

I’m not sure who was scarier. Adults, despite being oftentimes overprotective of their offspring, are polite enough that approaching them with a question on my lips is not really daunting. “Do you know about our summer reading scheme?” Sometimes they even smile. It’s wild. It’s only until you catch their children alone and start sharing some one-on-one time with them, such as the colouring incident, that parents seem to get all jittery and nervous. Like, if given the chance, I might just make off with one of the kids, spiriting them away to some weird alternate reality that the parents aren’t invited to. Or they may just consider me to be a criminal with a keen interest in children. Neither of which I am.

The children, on the other hand, are scary upon first approach. Children are honest – probably the most honest of all people – because they’re not afraid to speak their minds. If you’re boring them, they’ll call you on it. They’re not impolite, but they’re not fully aware of social norms yet, and so approaching them with the words, “Hey guys!” doesn’t really work. It’s not until you get them by themselves that they start to become normal. Quite the opposite of their parents, it seems. Kids like attention, especially if you’re offering to give them prizes for something as simple as reading a book. They go from unapproachable monsters who will probably laugh at you should you make a single wrong move, to fun little creatures who just want to be entertained. And that’s fine – I’m a funny guy in person, despite what my words may suggest, and more often than not, it only takes a cheeky grin to make a kid giggle.

And now I’m not sure who I should fear more. Parents, who trust me right up until the point I bring up their children in a conversation, or children, who don’t trust me until the point that their parents are off somewhere else.

Now I’ve just got to wait for the results of my CRB check. Which I’m confident will clear without any hitches.

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