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B&N Week 113: Storytelling Questions To Ask Yourself

| February 19, 2013

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Welcome to another Tuesday! The days are getting visibly longer, if only by a little, and while the northwest is getting slammed by the weather, things are a lot more sedate here in North Carolina. I’d like to get some snow, personally. I haven’t seen any since leaving Tennessee. I think it’s time.

Anyway, this week, I want to talk about the stories you want to tell. Everyone has a story they want to get out into the world. There are some questions to ask and answer before you go through the hard work of creation, though.

Before I get into that, I have to say this: I want you to follow your urges. Don’t stifle your creative freedom. I want you to make sure that you follow your bliss…to financial viability. Creating a comic is too much of an investment in time, money, effort and energy to not get some sort of return on your investment.

What kind of return of investment am I talking about? Let’s take a look at it.

Returns come in many different forms. When we’re first starting out, the return we’re happiest with is seeing that comic either in our hands or on the shelf. Sales are secondary to seeing the finished product. When we’re newbies, that’s all that really matters.

A different type of return could be having your name in the credits box. There’s something to be said for that. Being in the credits box is different from having a finished product, though. As a writer in the indies, usually the prime mover, seeing a finished product is usually the culmination of a lot of hard work and money being laid out. Having your name in the credits, though…generally, you didn’t lay out any money. Possibly, your contribution only consisted of the work you put in. (Only?) [I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s part in creating a comic. Everyone’s job is important. But there are only three choices when it comes to doing work in the indies: you paid for it, you got paid for it, or you’re going back-end. If you got paid or are going back end, the story more than likely is not yours, which means generally your contribution would only be the work put in. Let’s see if that covers my butt enough…]

As we get further in our careers, though, we start wanting monetary remuneration. Sure, if you’re part of the art team, you get that from the writer/prime mover. But as that writer/prime mover, the only way you’re going to get remunerated is through sales. Lots and lots of them.

Besides having Wolverine in your book or having it drawn by Jim Lee or having a Neil Gaiman endorsement, the only real way to ensure sales is by having a good, easily marketable story. While “good” is subjective, “easily marketable” is not. Easily marketable is very quantifiable. However, easily marketable also implies that you know which market you’re selling to.

Tyler James, my partner, has a good, easily marketable book entitled Epic. Again, good is subjective, but the easily marketable part is the hook: a male teenaged superhero in Miami, who’s kryptonite is pretty girls. All kinds of stories can be told with this character, and we can all relate to it, male and female alike. [What teenager doesn’t feel awkward and “powerless” around someone they’re attracted to? Epic just makes it literal.]

Something that might be a tougher sell? My story Keys, which is about a guy who becomes God. That story will not be easily marketable, so other things will need to be done in order to make it more palatable.

Easily marketable books will make it that much easier for you to get a financial return on your investment. Once it is no longer about the money and is more about just telling the story, then you don’t have to worry about the easily marketable bit. But you have to pick and choose your battles very wisely here.

Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s talk about those questions to ask and answer. The first one is simple: who is this story for? If the story is for you, then you have the challenging task of stepping outside of yourself and looking back. Why? Because you’re going to have to craft a campaign in order to sell this book to the most amount of people possible. You’re going to have to go through your likes and dislikes, and then gauge how many others out there are like you and would want to read something like what you want to create.

In order to do this well, you have to have an incredible amount of self-awareness. Just because you think that a fairy in a toga  carrying a shotgun and a sickle would be a neat character design doesn’t mean that everyone else will.

The next question is this: does my story have a simple, marketable hook that readers can instantly identify with or understand? My good friend Yannick Morin will be doing a zombie book, and he’s got a really interesting take on it. (More zombies, Steven?) [Yep. And, really, it’s a very interesting take on it. You’ll hear more about it on Free Comic Book Day.]

The next thing you want to think about: can I get a big-named creator to talk about my book? Can I insert something into the book that will have that big-named creator talking about it in a positive light?

These are the questions you should be asking yourself as you do the work. It should come after the plotting stage [actually, it’s part of the plotting, but we’re now talking about the actual creation process, and not the storytelling process], but before sitting down to script. Doing it this way should give you a stronger story in the long run.

Just remember that you have to be honest. Honest with yourself about yourself and about the story you want to tell. The more honest you are, the more smoothly this process will go.

And that’s all I have this week. 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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