The 10 Commandments of the prophet, Chuck Dixon

7 05 2009

I used to work a bit in comics, and was a big comic book fan. I never considered that I knew very much about the business of writing comics until someone wanting to get into the graphic novel scene asked me for advice at a wedding rehersal dinner recently, and I talked about it for over a half hour to a captivated audience. It’s amazing what you discover you know when you’re pressed to talk about it. That’s one of the reason I’m doing this blog.

The best piece of writing advice for comics, however, doesn’t come from me, it comes from longtime comic book writer, Chuck Dixon, who has written, and gives panels on the Ten Commandments of Comic Book Writing.

1. OPEN STRONG.
Get your story off and running.
2. ONLY ESSENTIAL DIALOGUE.
Just the talking you need to put the point across.
3. AT LEAST THREE PIECES OF ACTION PER STORY.
They can be mixed major or minor action but there has to be something visual and in motion in your story.
4. REMEMBER THAT SOMEONE HAS TO DRAW WHAT YOU WRITE.
Take pity on the penciller. Don’t make him draw something difficult over and over again.
5. FIND SOMETHING TO LIKE ABOUT EACH CHARACTER.
Even Dr. Doom has his good points.
6. FIND SOMETHING TO HATE ABOUT EACH CHARACTER.
Even Batman can be aggravating or Robin self-centered.
7. AVOID REDUNDANCY, DON’T DESCRIBE WHAT THE READER CAN SEE.
If your character’s on a motorcycle crossing a bridge there’s no reason to state this in writing.
8. EVERY COMIC BOOK IS SOMEONE’S FIRST COMIC BOOK.
Keep your storytelling simple, basic, and easy to follow.
9. THE LAST PANEL OF EACH PAGE SHOULD MAKE THE READER TURN TO THE NEXT PAGE.
Something exciting or mysterious in that final panel. “It’s YOU!
10. DON’T BE A SMARTASS.
Folks don’t pay good money for you to show off your college degrees. They want a good, fast paced story. Tell that story and get out of the way!

These are rules that should be tattooed onto the inner eyelids of every wannabe and professional comic book writer out there. In fact, you’d be surprised at the number of reasonably successful comic book writers out there who ignore some of these rules. Those writers, it goes without saying, are overpaid and overrated.

The best part about this is these rules, with only a little modification, are rules that every writer should follow in every genre. Even Commandment 4. Remember, the reader may not have to draw what you write, but they will have to imagine it, and overly complex scenery and machinations dull the effect. I’m a big fan of Age of Sail books, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skipped over over-detailed, over-elaborate action description (or even details on the working of ships rigging) to get back to the story and the characters.

In fact, I really wish more book and movie writers would take a turn writing for the funny books. There’s no better lesson in pacing and visual storytelling available.

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