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Posts tagged ‘US graphic novelist’

Writing Stories In Different Formats, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’ve had the privilege to write for a few formats that are not novels. Namely, I got my start working on comic strips and was very entranced with that industry for a long time. I also spent a few years working in comic books, and because of my comic book Emo Boy I was given the chance to work on a feature film screenplay for a proposed film adaptation. I’ll talk here about those unique processes.

All of them are of course very different from prose writing, for teens or otherwise. While the heavy lifting of creating an airtight plot remains the same for any form of writing, and believe me that can easily be the most effort-intensive part of the process, there’s less focus on detail, generally because an artist or director will be supplying the actual images needed. Your job is strictly telling the story.

Comic strips may seem the easiest but I’ll always maintain that it’s a great boot camp for writing. You only need to do a small number of panels, usually one to four, with minimal dialogue, a small cast of characters and usually just the one scene. To do that well, to tell a full story AND elicit a laugh or a heartfelt moment, or to make someone stop and ponder something for a moment, is difficult. To do it day in and day out, week after week, year after year, you’ll understand quickly how hard it is to keep that momentum going. Every strip needs to set up who is talking, where they are, what the context is and then somehow turn that idea on it’s head by the end of the strip in a clever way. Sometimes a comic strip will have a storyline that goes on through a week or a month; Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame occasionally would play a game and see how long he could keep an idea going. Watterson is especially famous for pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the form. But through these storylines you can never assume a reader has read the previous instalments. You have to assume they’ve never even heard of your strip. So not only do you have to carry on the story, but you have to address it as if this is the first instalment of the story and find a clever or quick way to recap. Every strip is essentially a tiny standalone story.

Comic books have a bit more space to play in. You can grow from a 3 panel story to a full 3 act story. Comics generally have 24 pages to tell your story in; whether it’s a standalone story or part of a longer arc, which has become more common in the past decade or two. Comics are a very visual medium, so it’s often the artist who tells the story in terms of movement and dynamics, and the speed a scene may pass along at. The writer is generally setting up the scene and delivering the major actions and dialogue. I can draw decently, so I had written and drawn my comics. I’d usually come up with a long list of potential plots, as most of the issues of Emo Boy had anywhere from one to three short stories (Issue 11 had 11 stories). Once I had decided on a plot, I’d spend a day or two coming up with jokes, scenes and a general three act structure, and when it was time to write I’d keep those notes handy and often write the full issue in one sitting. The majority of the month I would spend doing all the art.

When I started work on the Emo Boy movie, I had to learn a lot about structure and writing a long-form work. With books and movies, that freewheeling speed and quick note jotting was no good, I needed to really sit down and put everything together like a puzzle. Theme, recurring motifs, and strong set pieces all became important. I had to really think of big visual moments that would look good in a trailer, I had to see everything on a screen in my head. I had to learn to cut for the first time, because, at 90 pages, you need a clean, strong storyline and you have to be aware of any scenes that divert from your story or don’t in any way enhance or add to the story. Real estate is precious in a screenplay: scenes are generally short, a few pages long at best, so you don’t have the freedom to stroll at your own pace the way you do in a novel. You can’t spend a page talking about the flowers your character just passed. A novel can be a thousand pages or it can be 300 pages, you set your own pace. A movie needs to hit the right beats at the right times and hit them strong.

One of the best things about novel writing is the control you have over it. There’s no space demand of a comic strip or even a movie, there are far fewer hands in the production. It’s essentially you and your ideas, particularly at the start when the blank page truly is an invitation to your own world, as large or small as you feel comfortable existing in.

There’s always an option for a writer whether to express a story as a comic, a movie, a video game, a novel, a blog, a news article… there’s always a need and a place for good writing.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Creating Conflict For Your Character, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

In this post and the next I’ll show you how I apply some common writing tactics to my own work. Today I’ll talk about my first novel, Happyface.

One rule that I found useful when trying to think up events to take place early in the book was the idea of rocks and shields: the idea that your character exists in a world where rocks are constantly being thrown at him or her, so your character seeks shields for protection.

In Happyface, rocks come at the protagonist all throughout the book. The tragedy that starts him on his journey can be considered one such rock. Happyface and his mom move to a new town near the start of the book, leaving his father and brother suddenly absent. Happyface’s story is about reinvention and hiding from his past. These are his goals. So what are the rocks?

An early rock is the presence in this new school of Mr Mulvey, his English teacher. Mulvey went to Happyface’s old school and taught his older brother. Mulvey knows Happyface and his family story. For someone trying to hide everything he was before, Mulvey, well meaning as he is, becomes a dangerous presence.

Another rock comes from the Moon sisters; best friends of Happyface’s crush, Gretchen. They’re over-protective of their friend and intensely nosey. Happyface is constantly trying to throw them off his trail and keep himself a mystery but they want to know who this kid is and, more importantly, who he was.

The arrival of Chloe, his old crush from his old town, also ramps up the intensity and reveals a lot of holes in Happyface’s story that has everyone questioning his reliability. Happyface’s mom is also a rock, in the midst of a breakdown and wanting to keep past events in the present.

As for shields, Happyface has those too. His sketchbook is one – it’s a diversion and it keeps his story straight, it makes his fake stories real. His entire “Happyface experiment” is a shield – he fully immerses himself in this social experiment that takes up his days and nights as a way of erasing a painful past and occupying his mind. Gretchen is a shield. His head-over-heels infatuation with her is a way of avoiding reality. His obsession with becoming popular, with having friends, is all to avoid his home life. If he loses them, he loses everything; all he has is a dark, broken, sad family life to return to.

Another writing method I used in Happyface is a character web – the idea that each character in some way illuminates a different part of Happyface. Around dorky Mike, who is shades of a former Happyface himself, Happyface becomes an alpha male, and talks down to him. Around Frog and Oddly, his “fan club,” Happyface truly feels like the popular kid in school. Around Gretchen he’s vulnerable and scared. Around Misty and Karma Moon he plays up the comedian role, not a care in the world.

Each crush of his reveals one of his “masks”. Together they showcase the idea that he’s always had this chameleon aspect to his personality. The book is never about popularity or about love, Gretchen is never the actual goal of the story, but it’s a book about becoming comfortable with yourself. The happy ending is being able to take off the mask.

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)Glow

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing Personal Stories For Teens, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I would never say that I write autobiography but I like to say that I write personal stories, because I do cull a lot from my life and from people around me and things that I see, as I imagine most authors do. It gets more difficult with each project because writers look for new aspects of their personality to mine, and usually it’s that first book that is the culmination of a life’s worth of experiences.

I was no different, as my book Happyface definitely felt like a look back on everything I’d lived before. It really wasn’t intentional. It would have been bold of me to say, “I plan to write a book about me, and the people shall love it.” Although, I may have pitched that at some point. It was an organic process, and when you’re sitting there asking, “What would this character say? Where can they go?” it’s definitely easy to answer with what you would say and where you’ve been.

In case you haven’t read it, Happyface is about a boy who suffers an unnamed family tragedy, moves to a new town and decides to start life over for himself. It becomes a social experiment and he uses it to bury pain and escape his reality. It’s a “downward spiral” story.

The genesis of the book came from a title I’d just written it down in a sketchbook. Later I wondered who Happyface was, and the idea of a kid smiling through a lot of inner pain seemed like a great character to dive into. I had his parents divorced, because my own parents were divorced. I made him kind of shy, a little geeky, because I could definitely sell that. He was an artist. That pretty much clenched it -this was going to be a personal story.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my high school years when working on Happyface. I often wished I’d kept a journal of some kind, something I’ve always felt through life but never actually did. It would have been a goldmine for material! I had moved to a new town my sophomore year of high school when my parents divorced, and I viewed it as a chance to be a new person, but this was honestly lost on me as I wrote and only after did it dawn on me that I had actually lived through that experience. I thought I’d just been coming up with interesting story points. Other things I did intentionally use. I pulled a lot of details and banter and relationship tics from my first girlfriend. I thought about the kids that reached out to me when I first moved. These girls Leslie and Emily would always talk to me in French class. They didn’t seem to realize I was an unpopular hermit, so they inspired the Moon sisters. A kid I sat with at lunch with a strong affinity for Married With Children inspired the character Mike. Much later in life, after a breakup, I met new people and had a new group of friends, and that inspired a chunk of the story as well.

This all sounds like autobiographical fiction but it really isn’t. A book starts off as an idea and usually for me it has little to do with anything going on in my life. The arc of the story, even when it involves real events, usually needs to be fictionalized. It needs closure, it needs structure, a lesson to learn, a theme, things a little more tidy than life ever offers. As I flesh it out, personal details tend to fill in the spaces, and round out the characters, and provide the little bits of wisdom and insight. Eventually, though, it also goes through my editor, and a much wider audience than myself or my friends is considered. It goes back to telling a story the right way, giving it a real structure, adding drama and taking away fluff. This is when we get rid of the 90s nostalgia, the Super Mario references, the old sitcom references. I keep adding those in, I can’t help it. This is when we search the story for those universal truths, where we find the pieces teenagers will really relate too, and we strengthen those and bring them to the front. That’s the stage where I stop writing for me, and start writing for an audience.

In my next article, I’ll talk a bit about how I use art in books – thanks for reading!

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

   

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HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection    The Night She DisappearedNecromancing the StonePrison Ship: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

I Was A Teenage Artist, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

I’ll dive right in and start this series of articles on teen writing by introducing myself, some of my work, and give a little insight as to how I got here, seeing as I was once a teenager myself. So, my name is Stephen Emond, I live in Connecticut, and I am a Young Adult author. My first book, Happyface, came out in 2010, my second book Winter Town came out in late 2011, and right now I’m wondering how I managed to write two books in such quick succession, because this third one is not going so smoothly! Before Happyface, I’d written and drawn a series of comic books for SLG Publishing called Emo Boy, which are collected in two volumes. And before that…

Despite having been first published in my late twenties, I’ve always thought of myself as an artist and storyteller. When I was 5 years old and sleeping over my grandparents house, I needed to have paper and crayons with me. I was always “the artist,” even when my drawings were wobbly circles with L’s for legs. In high school I’d gotten into comic books – the early 90’s were all about Image comics and Marvel comics for me, and I very much wanted to draw my own. I filled sketchbooks with doodles of my own characters and on rare occasions tried writing up worlds for them to exist in, and stories of hitting the streets to take down punks. These were not great stories.

Stephen Emond comic book art

In my senior year, I was drawing cartoons for the school newspaper, still nothing great, but I was “THE ARTIST!” now, with exclamation point! Even when I wasn’t good I had some kind of aura that said, “This kid’s the artist,” and aside from the occasional comment on how I gave everyone duck feet, it was just accepted that I was the artist. I think it was less about how well I could draw (or not) but more for the fact that I was always doing it. By graduation, as a gift for my circle of friends, I made a twenty-page book of comic strips that featured the few of us as characters. The art in these was still awful, and the characters infuriated my friend Mike with their lack of mouths and noses.

Stephen Emond - Steverino comic book art

The take away from this is that even though the art wasn’t great, I got a great joy from doing these things. Despite the brevity of your average comic strip, it was a way for me to communicate in a way I wasn’t always comfortable with in person. For me, drawing, and, I’ll add writing as a way for me to have something to draw, was a way of escape – it was a fantasy world I could escape to. But more than that, it was a bridge, a way for me to communicate, to explain who I am, what I’m like, and what I think about.

When people write to sell a hit book or make a ton of money or get famous, I shake my head. I think, more than wanting to create, you should need to do it – you should get a great enjoyment from it. Because I loved making those comic strips, and when Mike suggested I keep doing them and send them to our friends in college, I leapt at the chance. And every month for years I’d send out a pamphlet of new cartoons, new storylines, new ideas, and slowly I began to get better. Each month I struggled to learn from the last batch of cartoons and improve. I began sending my comic strips to newspaper syndicates, and as the editors there got used to my submissions, they began to watch my growth and offer feedback. Within a year or two I had communications with editors at most of the 6 main syndicates, even though I wasn’t ready for publication yet. It was all about learning and growing still.

In 1999 I won a national cartooning award, and in 2004 I had the idea for Emo Boy. By then I’d written enough comics to pull off a 24-page story. And in 2008 when I met my editor at Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, I’d written enough comics that I was comfortable in tackling a book.

I’ll close with take away #2: you’re never too young to start. It happens that occasionally someone later in life randomly decides to write a novel and has a hit with it but, for me and for a lot of creators I know, getting published is just a step on the way – and it’s usually not the first step. It’s a culmination of experiences, observations, short stories, poems, notebooks of ideas. It was for me, at least.

In my next article I’ll talk a bit more about Happyface and how else my teenaged self inspired the story. Until then!

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Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com

Stephen Emond’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

HappyfaceWinter TownSteverino: The Complete Collection    The RepossessionVirus AttackBoys without Names

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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