How to write a good story

Today I am starting a project I’ve wanted to do for… years. To share in a free public forum the tips on how I write comics for DarkBrain. I’ve learned so much working with great talent and want to share that with you.

I’ve considered going back to retro some titles into an exploration of how we did it, but I now have a better idea – I’m going to blog as I go with a new story “Boneeaters.” What better way to explore the process than to just do it with you?

Will Boneeaters live up to the ideals in my head? I don’t know – and even if it fails to do so, perhaps this process will end up even more educational in the end. So, yeah, let’s do it together.

A good story - the essential 5 elements

But, before I get started on the work, here is a summary of what I see as the DarkBrain method of writing.

Every story starts with an awesome idea, but to make a good story that idea has to have some very important elements. And working on these elements is the first important step towards taking an idea and making it real.

  1. The ending!
    Start with the end – what is the point – the message – of the story? Every DarkBrain story is designed to be a novel with a killer ending. An ongoing series with no ending is simply not interesting. We want the reader to close the story and have enjoyed the journey (and especially the ending) and be satisfied. The ending needs to be a climax of the main character’s journey and wrap things up cleanly.

  2. Unique?
    Stories have to be unique and interesting. Copycat or derivative work is not interesting. Obvious, right? However, to really know, you will need to bounce things off editors and others who know the field too. If it is just “another zombie story,” then just stop there, your premise isn’t baked enough. Another trick is to ask yourself, if you boil your story down and remove the setting/gimmicks/tricks, is it a good story? Does it evolve from your characters’ motivations and choices?

  3. Summary
    A summary of the story should explain the whole series in a few paragraphs, detailing the themes, character development, major events and the ending. You have to boil it down, briefly, and detail it. This process may surprise you as it shines a light on the skeleton of your story. As a creator, I’ve found just this step to be very revealing and I’ve got tons of “almost stories” that I let go at this stage.

  4. Publishing target?
    Does the story fit with the intended publisher’s body of work? Assuming the story needs support to be completed, identifying this up front is a good plan. Many interesting concepts have floated our way, but simply did not fit with the company image or content plan. Know your target if you intend to shop your story around. Any submission that lacks this knowledge is almost an instant decline – so instead state exactly how and why your story is a fit for the publisher.

    Even for DarkBrain, our work was R-rated at one time and I had many stories I had to shelf because they just would not work at that lightweight status (Brandi Bandit, for example). The story has to fit the intended publishing target. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is the main reason so much work is produced that totally sucks donkey balls… because solid work is watered down (or completely changed) to meet publishing objectives. Unfortunately, that’s life, and it’s part of the deal. Finding the right publisher is pretty important.

  5. Singular directorial vision
    Another key aspect to good stories is having a primary driver, someone who owns it totally and molds the work. I believe that “committees” just kill good work. This is why, for example, I follow directors more than properties. Anything that Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, the Wachowski sisters or Chris Nolan put out, I’m going to see, period. (Although the latest Alien has rocked my confidence in Scott, it was dreadful).

    It is exceedingly hard for studios to allow this, as the bean-counters want to shape every aspect of a property for maximum profits (and they don’t care at all about true art), but leaving a singular artistic vision in the driver’s seat is exactly what makes a property good. I also believe that this is why movies made from already successful novels are reasonable strategies – at least it starts with a singular vision in control that shaped the story.

    In addition, keep in mind the laws of the marketplace. I believe this is one of the main reasons you don’t see innovation from the big comic shops – because they can’t. They have to focus on maximizing profits and that is in direct contrast to innovation. There is a wonderful book discussing this phenomenon that I recommend called The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.

    I do that role for DarkBrain. I create the concepts, the summaries and the plotlines for all our work. I then manage the entire production cycle so we end up with exactly what I envisioned. It is what makes DarkBrain a brand, not just a collection of random stories.

It is my belief that if you don’t have all five of those components for your story, then it will not succeed as being good art. Note that I am discussing art, not commercial success, which has less to do with true art than it should. For me, I don’t care as much about properties designed exclusively for commercial success – and I really don’t excuse any published work from not being art first.

Next step - Boneeaters

Ok, so next up? Let’s get started on Boneeaters! Stay tuned. Update: ended up writing the next part just after this blog in an hour, so here you go.

Andrew Zar
July 7, 2017

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