Robot 6

Quote of the day | Tom Brevoort’s advice for young comics writers

Feel like it’s perhaps time to drop some knowledge–or what passes for it at any rate–to young writers. I’ve run into a couple of moments this week where I’d swear, you guys don’t quite understand what your job as storytellers is.

Tom Rule #1: Know what your story is about. Not what the plot is, but what the point is. Why you’re telling it beyond collecting a check. If you can swap out your leads for other characters and it changes nothing meaningful, you story does not work. It’s all about characters.

Tom Rule #2: Do not try to impress me or others with Byzantine structures or pseudo-clever narrative devices. These tools all have their place, but they don’t in the slightest make up for not making me care about the characters. When in doubt, simpler is better. Start at start, as much as possible. Take the time to make me give a damn about these people.

While they’ve become industry standard, devices like “Dueling Narrators”, where two characters have a back-and-forth conversation over barely-related visuals is inherently confusing and pulls people out of the story. Clarity is your friend, and your job. Impress me with the conflicts your characters face, and the choices that they make. Don’t be overblown for it’s own sake.

Also, dropping a lot of references to old stories isn’t the same thing as making me care about people. By itself, it’s lazy, counting on good will and interest in the characters created by your predecessors. Your job is to make me care every issue. Emotional Truth!

Your mission is to tell your story directly, and well. In general, novices love technique, pros love content. Don’t confuse them. Remember, you’re asking readers to drop at least three bucks and twenty minutes of their lives for this experience. Earn it.

I will remember a story that touched me or moved me far longer than one that was over-clever in its execution. It is in no way passé or uncool to be direct.

Also, watch any episode of any television show and count how many times characters are named. Tell me your cast’s damn names! Every issue!

Alan Moore is incredibly talented. He can break the rules, because he knows how. You are not Alan Moore. Not yet. Walk first, then run. There are a million ways to write a comic book, but nobody enjoys being baffled, or uninvolved, or just plain bored.
  
And that’s one to grow on.

–Marvel Senior VP-Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, in an epic Twitter “rant” (his word, not mine — this is way too reasonable to constitute ranting) last week. Who says you have to be “stupid and provocative” to get on Robot 6, Tom? (Although the tweets did apparently trigger a miniature stampede of creators concerned Brevoort was talking about them…)

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16 Comments

Thank you – this is the best thing I’ve ever read from Tom Brevoort.

And as a working editor (not comics) I appreciate it.

The Coolest Dad (tm)

November 9, 2010 at 9:41 am

“Remember, you’re asking readers to drop at least three bucks and twenty minutes of their lives for this experience. Earn it.”

More like four bucks and ten minutes.. heh.

“Also, watch any episode of any television show and count how many times characters are named. Tell me your cast’s damn names! Every issue!”

Hey Tom, can you PLEASE start enforcing this in every Marvel comic? And can someone elbow DC and get them to do the same thing?

One of the things I love about Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny X-Men is he acknowledges that he’s got an absurdly big cast by actually putting in a little box every time someone shows up in an issue for the first time that has their code name, their real name, and what their powers are, and does it in such a way that it’s zippy and not distracting. Would that more books bothered to do this.

Too bad editors don’t follow their own guides.

Because most Marvel comics read as though they don’t have an editor and are in need of one… badly.

I’m actually getting much of the same advice from my screenwriting class right now. Clearly, there’s some amount of truth in it.

Jason: While I find the Fraction Captions to be one of the weakest things about his work….he spends so much time trying to be clever in those, he forget to write a story for the comic.

was this entire rant directed at Jonathan Hickman?

Scavenger: I’m not saying that Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men is the most amazing thing ever or anything, just that, as a guy who quit reading the core X-books for about 10 years, the monthly refreshers of who the heck everyone is are greatly appreciated.

The one thing I would debate is “If you can swap out your leads for other characters and it changes nothing meaningful, you story does not work. It’s all about characters.” Sir Arthur C. Clarke has a number of stories where you could do that and not change the story or the quality of the story. “Rendevous with Rama” comes to mind. The characters are all interchangeable and pretty forgettable. The book is a classic nonetheless. The sequels (co-written with Gentry Lee) have somewhat more distinct characters, and are not nearly as good.

You could say that Sir Arthur, like Alan Moore, has earned the right to break the rules. But in some cases – especially the sort of SF that Clarke wrote – the rules might be different.

Well, some stories are character-driven. Some stories are plot-driven. Some stories have other things going for them. Character-driven stuff is particularly popular and respectable these days, but it’s not the only way to do it.

How about having EVERY monthly issue containing a story with a beginning, middle & end?

As long as you, Tom Brevoort, and every other comic editor continue to publish a chapter of a novel, and charge upwards of $4 for the privilege of reading it, you’re failing. Just because you’re telling a part of a larger story it shouldn’t be unreadable or impossible to follow for any new reader.

Well, Arthur Clarke started writing science fiction in a time in the genre when idea was king, and character work was secondary. Things have changed since the 1960s, not many people write in that style anymore, not even in the hard science fiction subgenre.

“Alan Moore is incredibly talented. He can break the rules, because he knows how. You are not Alan Moore. ”

Yes– the very worst thing that can ever happen is for young people to break rules.

That is strictly a job for the old.

You got to love the internet. People will find something, anything to complain about it seems. If you take his advice for what it is all the statements are quite true and would be helpful for the beginning writer. But folks would have to leave their personal bias’ out to do so and seems that some folks can’t do that. Everything does not have to always go back to the books are too expensive etc. I’m not saying those complaints are not valid, just that sometimes a post about writer advice can just be a post about writer advice.

If Brevoort believes that naming the characters is so important, then why does the current SECRET AVENGERS arc (SECRET AVENGERS #6–) feature Shang-Chi’s father, aka Fu Manchu, except that he can’t be called by that name because Marvel doesn’t have the right to use the character or his likeness — but if Marvel doesn’t have the right to use Fu Manchu, then why use him at all? Nobody could think of anyone else to feature as the villain?

Then there are Bendis’s repeated failures to name costumed characters in Avengers issues. The Fu Manchu situation, though, can serve as an example of multiple problems at Marvel Editorial, including the failure of writers to be creative.

SRS

Oh this is fantastic. I recently read a “Marvel” comic magazine* and found that in an issue that contained no fewer than fifteen characters, only about three or four were ever mentioned by name. While I brought enough personal knowledge to this comic book to identify the “good guys,” I did not know and still do not know who the “bad guys” were. I enjoyed the particular comic book, it was kind of funny. But would it kill a man dead to indicate who “this guy” and “that lady” and “him-with-the-face” are?

*New Mutants

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