B&N Week 87: Become A Better Creator–Decide Your Story’s Medium

| August 21, 2012

It’s another beautiful Tuesday, and I’m glad you’re here with me. I look forward to spending this time with you every week, and every week, you never disappoint me. Thanks for that.

This week, we’re still talking about making you a better creator. To that end, I wanted to talk about something that is very important to every project you take on: what medium your story should be in. Let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of that, shall we?

(Steven, I’m here to write comics. I come here every week, because my focus is on comics. That means my chosen medium is comics. Right now, I have no idea what you’re talking about.)

I know. It’s okay. Let’s talk about your chosen medium, and the stories you decide to tell within it.

Now, I love comics. I believe anything and everything should be a comic. A comic is nothing more than words and pictures working together to tell a story. Know what that means? If you’re putting together a computer, and there are words and pictures giving you directions [the story], then what you’re doing is reading a comic. (I I never thought of it that way.) I know. It’s okay.

Anything can be a comic. Anything. Cookbooks, instruction manuals immediately come to mind, but there are others out there as well. The turn by turn navigation on your GPS. Words and pictures, right? That’s a comic. Anything can be a comic.

Now, that being said, just because anything can be a comic, doesn’t mean that every story you tell will work as a comic.


I have a story that’s a horror/mystery type of thing. My main character is unusually built, has some peculiar physical characteristics, and a few character quirks. He’d look splendid as a comic book character. However, because of the horror aspect of the story, this tale should be told either in prose or on film.

Remember, it’s harder to scare someone with a comic. Why? In order to scare someone, you need ambience. While you can get that in comics, it’s harder to do, because most of the scares are in a person’s imagination. Since you’re doing the visualizations on paper, you’re taking part of their imagination out of it. This wasn’t the case forty years ago. There wasn’t a proliferation of horror movies to desensitize us. Now, it takes something special to truly scare us.

My personal feeling is that, today, horror is better left to prose and movies. Prose gives your imagination free reign to see the story however you wish, and film has the added dimension of sound to scare the hell out of you.

Now, that isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t use horror characters in your stories. [I’m still holding out hope that Marvel will let me use Simon Garth in a solo series.] I just feel that horror isn’t best served in comics.

Romantic comedies are also something that you might want to think twice about. While it isn’t hard to be funny on paper, it’s a challenge to be funny and romantic on paper, and let that be the core of your story.

Remember, while you’re writing your story for you, because it’s a story you would want to read, and if you want to read it, there should be others out there who would want to read it, too, the story itself also has to sell. You put in a large investment of time, energy, and money in order to have the story produced. Do you want that story to be a loss, or do you want to at least break even? (I at least want it to break even, Steven.) Then that means it has to sell.

Not all of your stories are going to work as comics. The real trick is determining which stories those are. Not only that, but you also have to determine in what medium they would work best in.

I’m softening in my stance that comics shouldn’t be backdoor movie pitches. If you can get away with it, why not? The main thing is that it has to sell. And it is in the determination of what will sell is where the decision of in which medium to tell the story will lie.

Let’s get back to my unusual guy. His name is Shades McDonald. I have a few stories in which I want to feature him, and only one of them is for comics. Why? Because the other stories won’t work well as a comic.

I have a story featuring the Universal monsters [Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, etc.] that I want to tell as a movie, but it may serve me better to do it as a comic first.

I have a screenplay concept I wrote and fleshed out for a friend, but haven’t yet moved forward on [romantic comedy type of thing].

That’s comics, prose, and film. I have stories for them all.

How do you tell which is which? By studying the buying and watching trends available, and determining how your story would do in each medium.

Shades would do well as a novel, but not that well as a comic. He may do okay as a film, but then I wouldn’t have complete control over the story. Besides, there are things that just don’t look good in real life. Wolverine’s traditional costume doesn’t look good in real life, and white hair on a young person doesn’t look good in real life [it’s either stunningly bad, or it looks like an obvious wig]. Knowing what I do about the character and the story, I’ve decided not to try to shoehorn him into something he isn’t, and so he’ll mainly be a prose character.

You’ve got to be ruthless when you’re doing these assessments of your projects. You’ve got to be objective. Getting the distance to be objective can be a challenge, but if you’re able to achieve it, you’ll better be able to tell which projects will fare better in which medium, as well as which projects deserve to actually see the light of day. [No, not all of them do.]

With age comes wisdom, or it should. I’m not talking about your chronological age; I’m talking about your creating age. How long you’ve been doing something is your age, and with that should come the wisdom of knowing what is and isn’t good, what will and will not work, and in the case of stories, which medium is best for which story.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that your story of old men, tights, and kebabs won’t do well as a comic versus a film; just know that there would be changes made to one or the other, more than likely due to story.

Your creative age will help you determine which story will work in which medium, especially if you study other mediums. However, even if you don’t, you’ll gain instincts over time as to which stories won’t work well in your chosen medium. Those would be the stories you unconsciously avoid or don’t pursue. If you studied other media, you may find that just because the story doesn’t work in one doesn’t mean it won’t work in another.

And that’s all I have for this week.

Homework: Look over your stories, and ask yourself if they’re really going to do well as a comic. See if they wouldn’t do well in other media. Why, or why not? Post your thoughts in the forum.

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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