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roaring dragon, spore, monster friday
A fan of my work wrote and asked for advice about writing a graphic novel. Here's what I told her:

My first piece of advice is to completely give up on the idea of "totally new." Really. Let it go. Nothing is totally new. (A good thing to remember when people say "Kids these days!")
I wanted that totally new, too. It'll make your brain hurt. Instead, go for a fresh take on something that's already been done. (EVERYTHING'S already been done!) Take a story that didn't work for you because the idea was good but the execution was bosh, or had an unsatisfying ending. Take a page from your own life, take MANY pages. We've all had amazing days, and amazingly crap days. A favorite teacher, or not a single one. A friend who moved away or died, or was true to the end.
See?
 
Only ONE time has a story just come to me BAM! and been all there. Every other one has been a lot of work. Fun, sometimes nail-biting work. But work. Hard work. Enjoy it while you're doing it, because you will almost inevitably look back on the time you spent writing your GN and feel a little wistful. Only once in my career did I loathe a job from beginning to bitter end. One year out of twenty-three.

Don't pull things out of your butt. Don't try to be mysteeeeerious. Remember that your story is a closed world. Put in nothing that is not essential. You CAN have interesting characters that you don't have to explain them. They are texture. That's fun. But somehow, they have to fit. A good way to close your world is to have a prologue (which you can toss later) which encapsulates the theme(s) of the whole story. I did that in both Cathedral Child and Clockwork Angels and Rumble Girls.
A wonderful piece of advice is start as late in the story as you can and end it as soon as you can.

Read things beside comics. Please. For your own good. Fiction, non-fiction, it's all good. If you want to avoid reading things in the genre you're writing in, do. I do. But that's me. I'm chicken that I'll see someone do exactly what I wated to do, and better, and pffft my energy is gone.

Have people read what you've written, and ask where they got lost, if they did. DON'T ask how they liked it. That/those answers will make you crazy. Just ask if they got it. If they didn't, DON'T defend it, FIX it. LISTEN to what they say.

GIVE UP PERFECTION. There will always be plot holes, awkward turn of phrase, characters who would sound like jackholes if a real person said their dialogue. The beauty of your readers if they have NO IDEA how it looked/read in your head. NO IDEA what you threw out, or how art and dialogue turned to hash. Remember that YOU know everything about your story and at the start your audience knows nothing about your story.Relax!

My good friend Jim Salicrup (he's the co-publisher at the graphic novel publisher Papercutz, and was also and editor at Marvel and Topps) says, "Do the best you can in the time you have." That is the most excellent advice.

NEVER EVER put your work down. "It's not my best work..." Then why are you showing it? If you're not ready, don't share. If it is ready and you're saying that, you're trying to deflect criticism. True story: *I* did it. It's obnoxious. If you need fresh readers tell them, "I need readers." Full stop. When you're pitching that minty-fresh gn, say "Thanks for looking." That's ALL.
(On the other hand, NEVER say, "I'm better than..." Law of horrible awkward. genital-shriveling, stomach in the basement coincidence says you just insulted their best friend and/or favorite artist. ASK ME HOW I KNOW. Oh god do I know.)

Finally, finish it, and do another. And another. And another.

I wish you nothing but good luck. It is delightful to see people succeed, and I hope you are one of them.

Lea

Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
deensey
Jan. 16th, 2011 04:41 am (UTC)
Is this where I ask you how you know??

Good article. Can really be applied to any kind of writing.
divalea
Jan. 16th, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
The ASK ME HOW I KNOW was rhetorical, but I really do know. Boy do I.
deensey
Jan. 18th, 2011 03:47 am (UTC)
Oh I see how it is.

Seriously though, that's the one of the worst feelings ever. Dear earth, why aren't you opening and swallowing me up?
divalea
Jan. 18th, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
You would do anything for a rewind. ANYTHING.
uplinktruck
Jan. 16th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
What pseudicide said. Most excellent advice.
tingirl
Jan. 16th, 2011 04:59 am (UTC)
I am ASKING HOW! Did you discover the Law of Coincidence at a con?

I'm also wondering which job you loathed- everything I've read of yours (and I might not have found everything! I don't know the Complete Lea Bibliography!) seemed like you were having such fun with it.

I always figured "agh this sucks" comments to be a cry for help. Certainly anyone who gives me their work and tells me it's not their best is getting a detailed critique, because that's what I would be looking for with that line. I was 25 before I realized it was meant to be a call for compliments. Oops!
divalea
Jan. 16th, 2011 06:47 am (UTC)
I won't say what it was, just that I was ill and extremely depressed at the time I did it, and it was not a good working relationship. It was lousy work. I just wanted to be done with it.

It was not, however, The Hardy Boys.
kaylithin
Jan. 16th, 2011 05:00 am (UTC)
"Don't pull things out of your butt. Don't try to be mysteeeeerious. Remember that your story is a closed world. Put in nothing that is not essential. You CAN have interesting characters that you don't have to explain them. They are texture. That's fun. But somehow, they have to fit."

THIS. RIGHT HERE. This is the problem I've been having with a story I was trying to write. I think I was getting to the solution, but having it spelled out like that makes the problem crystal clear. Thank you!
divalea
Jan. 16th, 2011 06:48 am (UTC)
So glad it helped!
Fun comic, BTW!
kaylithin
Jan. 16th, 2011 07:47 am (UTC)
Oh wow! Thanks so much!
divalea
Jan. 16th, 2011 08:14 am (UTC)
I read Real Life Fiction, which is hilarious. I didn't know about Metraphor--Woah!
kaylithin
Jan. 16th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah...I had to leave off doing that one due to acute tendinitis in both hands. The intricate style really aggravated it. RLF is a better on them because I designed the style to look complex while actually being pretty easy to color. That said, they are doing much better now.
johncomic
Jan. 16th, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this, I loved it! :)
divalea
Jan. 18th, 2011 03:57 am (UTC)
You're most welcome.
dragonluk
Jan. 17th, 2011 05:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this!
divalea
Jan. 18th, 2011 03:58 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
brianfies
Jan. 18th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this very good advice. You packed a lot of wisdom into a few short paragraphs, and it never hurts to be reminded of some of these things.

I think the fear of being imperfect blocks a lot of people. Just start, and give yourself permission to be bad and throw it away later if you have to. One of the bravest things a creative person can do is make the first mark on Page One knowing they've got weeks or months of work to go. It's a real leap of faith. The best I recommend is breaking it into manageable bites: the idea of drawing a 200-page graphic novel might be overwhelming, but you can do 20. Or 2. Just start, one page at a time, one panel at a time. Doing anything is better than doing nothing.
divalea
Feb. 3rd, 2011 07:35 am (UTC)
I have to remembe to just do anything very often!
pingback_bot
Jan. 18th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
No title
User tammylee referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] Art links: How to Write a Graphic Novel Because I Said So [...]
zombie-dinosaurs.blogspot.com
Mar. 25th, 2011 02:09 am (UTC)
great Motivational post
Great tips and motivational words for any aspiring artist. I love it. I've put a link up on my blog - keep up the good work!

http://zombie-dinosaurs.blogspot.com/2011/03/great-motivational-quotes-from-graphic.html
maiji
Jul. 6th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for taking the time to write and post this! Like 320472304723743 people I'm struggling to create a graphic novel. So many of these things are easy to know but difficult to practice/keep in mind, so every time I can see it be said (especially bluntly!) and reinforced definitely helps kick my butt and get me mentally on a stronger path.
pingback_bot
Jul. 7th, 2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
My tweets
User maiji referenced to your post from My tweets saying: [...] http://divalea.livejournal.com/640573.html [...]
Joseph Elliott-Coleman
Apr. 3rd, 2013 12:06 am (UTC)
You're a mensch, Lea.

Don't let anyone tell you any different.

EVER.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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roaring dragon, spore, monster friday
divalea
Lea Hernandez-DivaLea
Atelier DivaLea

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