Outlining My Thoughts on Writing Outlines

I never wrote outlines before I started making comics. My memory was sharp back before I began to be treated for anxiety, and I could organize things well enough in my head. If I wanted to make certain to remember something I’d just jot a note, which I would inevitably find years later when I’d no longer recall the context. It was an inefficient system but one that was low-cost in terms of time and effort.

When, fresh out of college, I got serious about the craft of writing comics I developed a system of writing one sentence to describe the action of every page. The theory was that this would ensure that each page would thereby feel like a contained unit. Further, pacing could be controlled by simply devoting more or fewer sentences to each plot point.

In practice I ignored the fact that the collection of sentences failed to present a coherent story, but it did actually produce cohesive individual pages. Before I could get much further in the development of a solid way to outline comics, financial issues combined with social anxiety and depression to drive me out of the writing business altogether.

But I never lost my affection for comics, and as companies began releasing collections of pre-code horror and crime comics I gleefully bought all of them I could find. Fortunately, the days of financial stress had passed by that point. I got on medication and began working on behavioral modification to learn to combat periods of hopelessness and lethargy. And I started this blog as a way to start writing again.

Now I feel that it’s all coming together again. I’ve published a comic with my previous collaborator Rafer Roberts, and he’s had me script two more short pieces for inclusion in other works. I have a semi-regular gig writing an advice column for mad scientists. I’ve had a story published in an e-book, and another is coming out in an anthology this year. And my outline process has evolved.

For the shorter scripts it’s pretty much the same, except that the page descriptions have become brief paragraphs. This allows the outline to serve double duty as a synopsis to send for buy-in and approval. For full scripts and prose stories, I’m essentially writing a story. There’s not a great deal of detail or characterization in it, and the language is nothing that’s trying to be compelling, but the story-form outline gets the main thoughts on “paper”, as it were. It’s a sort of idea test.

The genesis of this approach is a peculiar thing I noticed in a lot of the old anthology comics. Among the short comics would be one or two very prose pieces. Any reader of reprinted EC comics has probably seen these, but the practice was widespread throughout the industry.

Bear in mind that I have done no actual research into why they did this.

Whatever the truth of the matter, I decided that it was an artifact of the scripting process. The editors would write short stories and hand them out to artists. The captions and dialog would largely come from the prose script, but the artist would determine layout and panel breakdowns. Any extra scripts would be used as page filler.

Who knows, really? I mean except for the few pros still with us from those days or anybody who’s actually bothered to do any research on the subject whatsoever.

At any rate, that’s my new approach. It allows me to get ideas written down without worrying about pesky details like final dialog, pacing, or characterization. It’s working well for the idea I’m writing up for a weekly web comic, and it even helped me to bull my way through the first draft of the story coming out this summer.

I should probably start applying that approach to the story I’m working on now…


So How Were the Movies?

I wrote last time about the 2nd annual April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama, and many readers (1) expressed amazement that I wrote about a movie event without talking about the movies! This wasn’t so much an oversight as a choice to allow that post to flow a little better, focussing on how we exhibited Garamon-like indifference to the slings and arrows of probably predictable annoyances.

Now I’d like to go over the 7 movies I watched, as well as why I bailed on the 8th.

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No Plan Survives a Road Trip

If there were a contest for Most Pathetic Giant Monster then Garamon would be a serious contender. Appearing twice in the Japanese mid-1960s show “Ultra Q”, Garamon is a gigantic robot that looks like a cross between Big Bird, a gollywog, and a bucket of orange paint. It shuffles a little and flaps its big goofy hands futilely. When its guiding transmission signal is cut off, it falls over and drools.

I feel a great deal of empathy for the stupid thing, being little more than a drooling giant myself. That’s why he sits on top of my cube wall, reminding me that at the end of the day I’m pretty much just a disposable (and not very respected) tool.

So when I faced a drive to Monroeville on my own, I decided that it was time that Garamon went on vacation.

Garamon needed a vacation before it got fed up and fell on someone.

Garamon needed a vacation before it got fed up and fell on someone.

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Film Diary: May

Looks like the final count for May was 42, which puts me well ahead of schedule. Guess I should spend more time writing.

I’ve been on a Godzilla kick, thanks to reissues on bluray from Kraken. That’s unlikely to change in June as more keep coming out. We’ve also re-started the Harry Potter series, since I picked up the last two movies while in Vandergrift for the drive-in festival.

“The Bamboo Saucer” was a neat take on the espionage thriller, with the reliable Dan Duryea as the military commander of a small American force sent into China to investigate a flying saucer before the Chinese government discovers it. An uncomfortable alliance with a Russian expedition ratchets the tension, and it’s honestly a miracle that any named characters survive.

The two biggest surprises were “The House on Sorority Row” and “The Black Pit of Dr. M”. The first is an early 80s slasher that’s competently made and utterly ruthless. It’s a reminder of how ferocious the genre was before it became safe and smirking with endless sequels in a small handful of franchises. The second is an effective bit of religious horror from Mexico. The theme of scientific inquiry into forbidden areas is familiar, but the plot plays out like an intricate trap instead of the usual quick road to irony. The ending is still very much what any EC reader might expect, but the path to it is what’s marvelous here.

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)
Best Friends Forever (2013)
The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959)
Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)
Catch-22 (1970)
Cremaster 3 (2002)
The Curse of the Crying Woman (1961)
Cutie Honey (2004)
Dracula III: Legacy (2005)
End of the Century (2003)
The Flight That Disappeared (1961)
Gargoyles (1972)
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S (2003)
Godzilla vs Destroyah (1995)
Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)
Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)
Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)
Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1993)
Godzilla vs Megaguirus (2000)
Godzilla vs Mothra (1992)
Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla (1994)
Godzilla vs the Sea Monster (1966)
Gog (1954)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Harry potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
House of the Long Shadows (1983)
The House on Sorority Row (1983)
The Jungle (1952)
King Kong Escapes (1967)
Monsoon Wedding (2001)
Moon Zero Two (1969)
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Pick-Up (1975)
Pontypool (2008)
Red Planet Mars (1952)
The Teacher (1974)
Terror is a Man (1959)
Transatlantic Tunnel aka The Tunnel (1935)
12 to the Moon (1960)