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B&N Week 94: Be A Better Creator–Editorial Goals

| October 9, 2012

It’s another glorious Tuesday! We’ve got love and happiness going on. We’ve got shorter days, cooler temps, and football! I love this time of year! Not as much as I love Tuesdays, but I definitely love this time of year.

We’re still talking about becoming a better creator. This week, I want to talk about your editorial goals.

If your goals are unclear, then you’re dooming your project to failure. Right now, I just want to focus on the story. This is the foundation for everything else that you want to do in comics, so without it, you don’t have much of anything. With me so far? Good.

Your editorial goals should be clear and concise. As my friend and mentor Lee Nordling puts it, “Not vague, like ‘we want it to be good,’ but clear like, ‘We want the reader to have finished the story and thought (insert theme here).’” It is that clarity of thought and the lack of making editorial goals and focus that make many of your stories not as good as either they could be, or as good as you think they are.

Being a better creator is a challenge. Most of us are lazy and don’t want to put in the work. (That sounds awfully familiar!) [It should. I’ve only been saying it for two years.] You get the Great Idea, and then you immediately want to start working on it, never for once thinking just how you want to affect your reader.

Always remember this: “good” is subjective. What some people think of as good may be crap to someone else. You don’t want to make editorial decisions based on what you think of as “good.” It would be much better to make decisions based on what you want people to take away from the story.

Here are two examples of how a simple conversation can go:

Writer Kletus Jerkovitch is writing a story about Pen-Man, and in that story, he wants to tell Pen-Man’s entire backstory. Kletus is going into the origins, evolution, and production of ink, and goes on for half the comic on it. Sounds interesting, right? Well, Kletus thinks so, and he submits it to his editor, Roger McRedpen. Roger tells Kletus that the story is boring, and that he has to cut almost half the comic, reducing the first half to two pages. He then has to come up with more story in order to fill the space, and Roger gives Kletus a couple of leads to follow.

What does Kletus do? Kletus gets pissed, pulls the “editorial control” card, and says that Roger is trying to make Kletus’ story into his own. He may even fire Roger.

What could have been done differently? Let’s look at the second option.

Roger tells Kletus that the readers will find the story boring, and that they will reject what’s going on. He informs Kletus that while he may find the subject interesting, he’s also in the business of selling comics, and if he does this, he won’t sell as many copies as he thought. Roger then tells Kletus that if his intention was to bore the readers, then to leave it, but if he’s trying to tell an engaging story, then he should do the following: reduce the backstory to two or three pages, and get to the more engaging part of the story faster. What this will then do is keep the essence of the backstory, but will also keep the readers where you want them: in the pages of the story.

What does Kletus do? Kletus starts to think. In the first example, Roger says that the story is boring. Well, that’s subjective, right? One man’s opinion, and as such, can be dismissed.

In the second example, Roger says that it will bore the readers, which is different from saying that the story is boring. By putting it on the readers, Roger has not made it about him as the editor, but about the story and how it will be received. This leads to a conversation on how to affect the reader how Kletus truly wants. This in turn leads to editorial clarity.

This is a nuance that takes a while to learn. However, it is very important.

Most cries of “editorial control” comes from miscommunication of the parties involved. Most of the time, the editor says “crap” [however nicely], and gives ways on how to fix it, without saying why they think its crap. Instead of putting the onus on reader reaction, they put the onus on themselves. That’s incorrect. There should be only two parts: story and reader.

This can go for all steps of the creation process. By being clear in stating what it is you want the reader to perceive and take away from the story when finished, creators can then stay on track about the story itself. When the editorial goals aren’t clearly stated, then communication can become muddled, and that can lead to the story not being the best it can be.

Does this mean that you can reach your editorial goals without an editor? I’m going to say no. And I don’t mean just someone to dot I’s and cross T’s when it comes to the script itself. Anyone with a little training can do that. An English major can make the script readable just by learning a little format. I suggest getting a comic book editor, instead. (Somehow, I knew you’d say that.) [That’s because you’re psychic.]

Want to be a better creator? Then you have to be clear in your editorial goals. Have the conversations that are more about the story than ego. When conversations are about ego, then it turns into a contest over willpower, who’s right, and there has to be a “winner.” When it comes to having a winner, then everyone loses: the creators, the editor, and worse of all, the readers. When the readers lose, then it starts a cycle that can be difficult to get off of.

Remember that words have power, and as long as it is always about the story, then you are building a relationship of trust with the reader. As soon as it turns into ego, then the story suffers, and then readers start to jump ship. Once they’ve jumped, they’ve done so for a reason, and its hard to get them back.

But as long as your goals are clear, then it becomes a partnership for the betterment of the story, which the readers will sense and stay.

No one ever said it was easy.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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