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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

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Old October 24 2008, 11:26 AM   #16
Therin of Andor
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Andrew Harris wrote: View Post
[An editor isn't going to give an assignment to someone who would be challenged by the prospect of writing an ordinary comics script. Which, you would think, should be obvious to everyone involved; and yet, somehow, isn't.
Surely every piece of professional writing should challenge the writer? I don't think writing is ever necessarily easy, but a good writer makes it look like it was easy. Comics are especially challenging. A brevity of text and the need to suggest the visuals and yet giving enough freedom to the other contributors...
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Old October 24 2008, 12:41 PM   #17
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Therin of Andor wrote: View Post
Andrew Harris wrote: View Post
[An editor isn't going to give an assignment to someone who would be challenged by the prospect of writing an ordinary comics script. Which, you would think, should be obvious to everyone involved; and yet, somehow, isn't.
Surely every piece of professional writing should challenge the writer? I don't think writing is ever necessarily easy, but a good writer makes it look like it was easy. Comics are especially challenging. A brevity of text and the need to suggest the visuals and yet giving enough freedom to the other contributors...
Sure, I understand where you're coming from, Therin, but I think you've romanticized it a bit. Is every song a challenge for a musician? Obviously not--and in fact, were I producing a record, I wouldn't hire a pianist who was looking for a new challenge to play guitar. I'd hire a guitarist.

I'd possibly consider a pianist who was interested in taking up a new instrument, but not if he'd never once picked up a guitar and attempted to pluck a few strings. And, yet, you'd be surprised (or, maybe not) at the number of prose writers who've never even attempted to write a single panel of comic book narrative, but inherently expect that it's already part of their storytelling skill-set. Because, as I mentioned, they see it only as a spare tire to the car that they already drive.
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Old October 24 2008, 02:48 PM   #18
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Andrew Harris wrote: View Post
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Well, I certainly don't see it as slumming. The reason I'm interested in writing Trek comics is because I'm interested in working in the comics medium itself, taking on a new challenge. And because I'm a visually oriented person and would enjoy seeing my stories told visually.
...And therein lies the point exactly. An editor isn't going to give an assignment to someone who would be challenged by the prospect of writing an ordinary comics script. Which, you would think, should be obvious to everyone involved; and yet, somehow, isn't.
What? First of all, I never remotely suggested that I wanted someone to just "give" me an assignment. I understand perfectly well that I have to earn it, that I have to prove myself. All I'm hoping for is the chance.

Second, I think you're defining "challenge" in an odd way. Therin's right; any worthwhile writing project is a challenge. Being challenged doesn't mean you're incapable of doing something or that it requires skills beyond your own; it means that it requires hard work, dedication, and problem-solving rather than just being something superficial you can blow off. It's like exercise -- if you don't push yourself, you don't stay strong. That's what challenge means -- not trying to do something you're incapable of, but making sure you stay capable by refusing to get lazy.

All my novels have been challenges to surmount in one way or another, and it's been the most ambitious challenges -- fleshing out the unexplored post-TMP continuity, creating an ecosystem of spacegoing life, filling in the missing nine years of Picard's life and a lost prehistory of the galaxy, reinventing the whole continuity of Voyager -- that have been my best-regarded works. Every time I write a novel, I try to bring something new to it, to explore something I haven't explored before. That's what challenge means.

It's not a bad thing to want to expand one's skills. You should challenge yourself to keep trying new things, or else you'll just get complacent and your work will become formulaic and uninspired. And the whole point of it is that it's something you have to earn, not something that's just handed to you.


Andrew Harris wrote: View Post
I'd possibly consider a pianist who was interested in taking up a new instrument, but not if he'd never once picked up a guitar and attempted to pluck a few strings. And, yet, you'd be surprised (or, maybe not) at the number of prose writers who've never even attempted to write a single panel of comic book narrative, but inherently expect that it's already part of their storytelling skill-set. Because, as I mentioned, they see it only as a spare tire to the car that they already drive.
Well, I absolutely do not see it that way. I have, in fact, dabbled in writing a few comics spec scripts years and years ago, but I don't assume I'm completely ready to tackle the job. I know there'll be a learning curve. But I'm willing to learn. So the question is, how does a new writer get started?

Honestly, I'm surprised to hear you talking this way. When you and I spoke at Comic-Con back in April, you seemed quite interested in the prospect of working with me on comics projects, or at least giving me advice on how to break in. I never got the sense that you thought there was anything wrong with a novelist wanting to branch out into comics.
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Old October 25 2008, 05:34 AM   #19
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

I'm not a professional, but I've written comics and comic scripts before. I don't see it as slumming either. But to try and say it is completely different from writing a novel is kinda weird to me. Obviously both are unique with unique challenges, but writing a story or a story outline doesn't change radically from a novel to a comic. I respect and know writers of both mediums, but that doesn't mean one cannot do the other. I've had the honor (in my opinion it was an honor) to talk to Kevin Smith a few times when he was taking over Green Arrow a while back. He was also working on screenplays at the time. I asked him which one was harder or if he had trouble going back and forth and he answered that neither was harder and it was to a large degree the same coin but different sides. The analogy with the piano and guitar seems a bit off, because both comics and novels are in the same group. Piano and harp maybe, or guitar and violin. Both involve writing and fleshing out a story. The scales are the same, but obviously the fine tuning and WHAT you are playing are different. I don't think they are as far apart as they are being depicted as.
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Old October 25 2008, 02:16 PM   #20
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

^^Well, to be fair, I think comics scripts and screenplays have more in common than prose has with either of them, since they're both meant to be blueprints for stories that are told as a mix of words and images, whereas a work of prose is a complete, final product in itself where the entire story is told through words. They can be very different disciplines. It's often hard, for instance, for TV/film writers to do first-time novels. Look at Roddenberry's rather awkward novelization of ST:TMP. It can be hard for screenwriters, who are used to writing externalized accounts dominated by only two senses, sight and hearing, to adapt to writing prose that gets into the characters' inner thoughts, stays focused within a single subjective viewpoint rather than an omniscient one, and encompasses all the senses in its descriptions. Conversely, I'm sure that a lot of prose authors have trouble adapting to the more visual focus and limitations of screen or comics storytelling. For instance, one of the key aspects of comics storytelling is that the story is told in snapshots; you can't depict an ongoing process in detail, but have to pick the key moment that lets you convey that whole process with a single image. It's a different kind of pacing and storytelling style that has to be learned.
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Old October 25 2008, 03:06 PM   #21
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

There are some good sources for writers wanting to learn about the comics writing process.

TwoMorrows publishes a quarterly (roughly) magazine entitled Write Now!, which features articles on the process, script samples matched to artwork, and the like. Best of Write Now! features a nice mix of articles from the first dozen issues or so.

Peter David has written a book on comics scriptwriting. So has Denny O'Neil. And Avatar Press published an essay by Alan Moore on writing comics (though Moore approaches the problem from a theoretical, rather than a practical, perspective).
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Old October 25 2008, 03:49 PM   #22
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

^^Yep, I've got the O'Neill book. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is also valuable as an analysis of how comic-book storytelling (or more generally "sequential art") works.
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Old October 25 2008, 04:18 PM   #23
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Christopher RE: #18--you're taking this much too personally.

Ferd Burfel wrote: View Post
I'm not a professional, but I've written comics and comic scripts before. I don't see it as slumming either. But to try and say it is completely different from writing a novel is kinda weird to me. Obviously both are unique with unique challenges, but writing a story or a story outline doesn't change radically from a novel to a comic. I respect and know writers of both mediums, but that doesn't mean one cannot do the other. I've had the honor (in my opinion it was an honor) to talk to Kevin Smith a few times when he was taking over Green Arrow a while back. He was also working on screenplays at the time. I asked him which one was harder or if he had trouble going back and forth and he answered that neither was harder and it was to a large degree the same coin but different sides. The analogy with the piano and guitar seems a bit off, because both comics and novels are in the same group. Piano and harp maybe, or guitar and violin. Both involve writing and fleshing out a story. The scales are the same, but obviously the fine tuning and WHAT you are playing are different. I don't think they are as far apart as they are being depicted as.
Ferd--

Go back and read your message again--and you'll see that you're exactly making the point I had discussed: presuming that comics and prose writing are so similar as to simply require "fine tuning" between the two.

I didn't want to parse Christopher's previous words too exactingly, since I think he was being more casual than precise when he said this, but comics aren't "stories told visually"; they're visual stories. And, before you think that difference is purely semantic, consider a story primarily of two people having a conversation. You can obviously depict that visually, but it won't be a "visual story".

I once saw a great pitch for a story of Spock and Data having a 3-D chess match in their heads, simply calling out the moves to each other as they discussed the nature of life, death and sacrifice. (Data had contacted Spock by viewscreen after his cat Spot almost died saving one of her kittens, remembering what Spock had done at the end of TWOK.)

A great idea, full of metaphor (chess sacrifice), foreshadowing (Data's sacrifice at the end of NEM) and the philosophical differences between a person interested in enhancing his logic and a machine interested in enhancing his humanity.

The makings of an outstanding prose story, right? But as a comic...it was a couple of issues worth of two guys, playing chess.

And not even real chess--imaginary chess.

By viewscreen.

I encouraged the writer to depict the story more visually--flashbacks, some sort of action interspersed with the conversation, whatever he wanted--but he felt that would be "blunt" and cheapen the narrative. C'est la vie.

This is, of course, an atypical example, but comic book writing is rife with these kind of differences with prose on virtually every page and in almost every panel. Economy of dialogue, issue pacing, page cliffhangers, page-turn reveals, character blocking, panel-sequence techniques, miniseries vs. ongoing story arc construction, eye-movement composition, page-unit composition, text and visual transitions...the list goes on and on.

Most prose writers who want to "dabble" in comics probably don't even know what half those things are--and most readers probably don't know either, because they're not supposed to. You want to give them economy of dialogue without them realizing that they're only getting 35 words per panel. You want to move their eye around the page without them realizing that they're being intentionally led. You want to have them look at the characters in a panel and not realize that they're positioned a certain way primarily to make sure that their word balloons don't criss-cross or land on top of someone's face. And so on.

Can prose writers learn these different processes? Well, duh--sure, and many do all the time. But they learn them by, you know, learning them,
which usually involves actually writing them. Not "dabbling", or thumbing through a published script and thinking that you've got it, or even reading an entire book on how to do it. You can read a book on how to drive, but it's not really going to teach you how to actually drive.

Or, perhaps I can summarize it this way: If you were a book editor, and a comics writer came to you and said: "I don't have any pitches or samples, but I've read a book on how to write a novel, and years ago I dabbled for a couple of pages, they must be really similar, and I know that Peter David does both, so could you challenge me with an assignment?"--would you say "Yes"?

Because, if you wouldn't, then that's exactly the kind of diminished perception of comic books that I'm talking about--since those are the traits that people here are saying would qualify a prose writer to work in comics.
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Old October 25 2008, 06:15 PM   #24
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Andrew Harris wrote: View Post
I once saw a great pitch for a story of Spock and Data having a 3-D chess match in their heads, simply calling out the moves to each other as they discussed the nature of life, death and sacrifice. (Data had contacted Spock by viewscreen after his cat Spot almost died saving one of her kittens, remembering what Spock had done at the end of TWOK.)

A great idea, full of metaphor (chess sacrifice), foreshadowing (Data's sacrifice at the end of NEM) and the philosophical differences between a person interested in enhancing his logic and a machine interested in enhancing his humanity.

The makings of an outstanding prose story, right? But as a comic...it was a couple of issues worth of two guys, playing chess.

And not even real chess--imaginary chess.
Not to step on your particular example, but one good reason to reject such a pitch is that, IIRC, the idea of Spock and Data playing 3-D chess by calling out their moves has already been done in comics--by Peter David in The Modala Imperative.
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Old October 25 2008, 06:30 PM   #25
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Okay, Drew, you've talked a lot about what's the wrong attitude for a novelist wanting to get into comics, so what's the right attitude, the right approach? There's limited value in knocking something down unless you have something better to offer in its place. How does a novelist who has a sincere respect for the comics medium and a sincere desire to participate in the field go about earning that opportunity?
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Old October 25 2008, 07:07 PM   #26
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Christopher wrote: View Post
Okay, Drew, you've talked a lot about what's the wrong attitude for a novelist wanting to get into comics, so what's the right attitude, the right approach? There's limited value in knocking something down unless you have something better to offer in its place. How does a novelist who has a sincere respect for the comics medium and a sincere desire to participate in the field go about earning that opportunity?
C'mon, Christopher, do you really need this explained to you? You do it the same way that you learned to write anything else: You read. You learn. You practice.

You do writing exercises, draft sample pages, get them critiqued by your peers. Redraft, resubmit, practice.Take a class, join a writer's group, whatever works for you. And, oh yeah, did I mention practice? It makes perfect, gets you to Carnegie Hall, and lets you look good in front of the cheerleaders before the big game.

When I'm dealing with a prose writer (or screenwriter, etc.) who's actually made the effort to learn the craft of comics writing, then I'm more than happy to take a look at what they've got--and, quite frankly, the effort that they put into learning the craft usually immediately shows in their work. It's almost always head-and-shoulders above the work from prose writers who have "dabbled", maybe written a couple of comics pages years and years ago, flipped through a couple of comics scripts and decided that their reputation qualifies them for comics writing, like the writer that I mentioned in my initial message here.

The difference between the two is really that obvious; and, as I said, it's the difference between prose writers who take the prospect of comics work seriously and professionally, and those who simply see it as an extra closet in the basement of their talent.
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Old October 25 2008, 07:13 PM   #27
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

TheAlmanac wrote: View Post
Not to step on your particular example, but one good reason to reject such a pitch is that, IIRC, the idea of Spock and Data playing 3-D chess by calling out their moves has already been done in comics--by Peter David in The Modala Imperative.
Yow! You're right! After 600+ TV episodes and countless books and comics, I had completely forgotten about that. No wonder I liked the idea so much.

What's even weirder is that this pitch came from a fairly well-known, published professional writer. (No, don't try to guess; you'll get it wrong.)
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Old October 25 2008, 07:47 PM   #28
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Andrew Harris wrote: View Post
Christopher wrote: View Post
Okay, Drew, you've talked a lot about what's the wrong attitude for a novelist wanting to get into comics, so what's the right attitude, the right approach? There's limited value in knocking something down unless you have something better to offer in its place. How does a novelist who has a sincere respect for the comics medium and a sincere desire to participate in the field go about earning that opportunity?
C'mon, Christopher, do you really need this explained to you?
I'm just trying to turn the conversation in a more constructive direction. You've spelled out one side of the issue, now let's talk about the other side. And yes, I would like to know. I'm not one of those alleged dilettantes you're going to such great lengths to condemn. I genuinely do want to get into comics, and that's why I'm asking.

For instance, when you talk about drafting sample pages, what should they be? If someone's trying, specifically, to get into writing Trek comics, should they write sample pages of a Trek comic? Or should they be of some other extant comic, or an original creation? You also mention writers' groups; where does one find a writers' group for comics writing?
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Old October 25 2008, 08:53 PM   #29
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Ferd Burfel wrote: View Post
But to try and say it is completely different from writing a novel is kinda weird to me. Obviously both are unique with unique challenges, but writing a story or a story outline doesn't change radically from a novel to a comic.
Out of curiosity, how many novels have you written? I ask that not to be a smartass, but legitimately, because I can't imagine that you'd believe that if you've ever written both.

Speaking as someone writing both at the same time right now (Farscape, StarCraft, and Star Trek comics in addition to my prose work, which averages four novels per year), they're completely different in terms of story and story outline. For starters, the storytelling space in a comic book is much much much smaller than it is for a novel. Even the 160-page StarCraft manga I'm working on for TokyoPop has much less room to tell the story than a novel does. By the same token, the method of storytelling is also completely different because you don't have narration (or if you do, it's considerably less than it is in prose -- unless you're Don McGregor in the 1970s, anyhow... ), and you do have visuals. Plus having artwork completely changes the way you construct and pace your story.

There's a bit in Farscape #1 that's an amusing joke, an exchange between Crichton and Jothee, but the sequential artwork method of telling the joke makes it considerably funnier than it would've been had I done it in prose. For that matter, there's an exchange between two characters in #3 that would be boring talking heads in prose, but by doing it as a traditional nine-panel page (three rows of three identically sized panels) it becomes a more effective back and forth (especially since one character is constantly changing facial expression and the other stays the same the entire time). It's the words and the pictures that are telling the story together.

In prose, you're completely on your own, and you've generally got more room in terms of word count.

Yes, you're still telling a story, but the two methods are much much different.
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Old October 26 2008, 02:34 AM   #30
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Re: Graphic Novelizations of Trek Novels

Christopher wrote: View Post
^^Yep, I've got the O'Neill book. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is also valuable as an analysis of how comic-book storytelling (or more generally "sequential art") works.
Will Eisner wrote a bunch of stuff about graphic storytelling and visual narrative as well. All are excellent books.
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