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You can have a great idea for a character, but the character is hollow without a backstory.  A backstory is your character's history up to the point of their introduction in your story.  You need to create one for at least your hero and your villain.  You don't need to do this for a short story, but it's good to do this for any novel and you definitely need to create them if you're writing a series of novels, comics, or stories.  Creating a backstory will provide you with ideas for future stories.  It needs to include everything from their date and place of birth to their favorite food.

Here's a dossier / backstory I wrote up for a character named Osiris Williamson.  He's from a story I have on a far back burner.  I don't know if he'll ever see the light of day, but this will give you a good idea of what you need for your main characters.

Character dossier
Full name and nickname: Osiris Williamson
Date and place of birth: January 31, 2013
Father’s name, age, and occupation: Russell Willamson, 60, former artist, deceased (car crash)
Mother’s name, age, and occupation: Pearl Williamson, 72, former chef, deceased (broken neck from fall)
Siblings’ names/birth dates: Isis Williamson – February 03, 2015
Famous or important relatives: None
Family pets: None
Father’s philosophy of life/work: “The mind is the most powerful part of the body.”
Mother’s philosophy of life/work: “There ain’t much a good meal can’t fix.”
Lessons learned from parents: Stop and think before acting.  Share good fortune with others.
Childhood friends and neighbors: Carlos Encarnacion – shortstop on Osiris’ high school baseball team.
Childhood escapades and hobbies: Spending the night in the local library after it closed so he could finish reading a book.
Grade school, location, years attended: Hyde-Addison Elementary School – 8 years
High school, location, years attended: Dunbar High School
           Type of classes: History
           Scholastic honors: None
           Sports and extracurricular activities: Baseball – 3rd base
College(s), location(s), years attended: None
           Degree, majors and minors:
           Vocational goals:
           Scholarships, grants:
           Sports and extracurricular activities:
           Part-time and/or summer jobs:
Military background: None
           Years of service/branch:
           Highest rank held:
           Medals, decorations, campaigns:
Family background: Single, never married
           Courtship, marriage:
           Children, home life:
Height and weight: 6’ 3” / 220 lbs.
Eyes and hair: Brown / black
General health: Excellent
           Allergies: None known
           Chronic problems: Color blind
Gestures, mannerisms: Points when angry.
Right or left handed: Right
Tone of voice: Fred Williamson
           Catchphrases: “That ain’t cool.”
Facial expressions: Smiles to intimidate people.
Manner of dress: Biker clothes with Egyptian décor – bracelets, necklace, ring.
Size and appearance: Large and easily intimidating
           Tattoos, scars, piercings: Ankh tattoo on left shoulder
Demeanor: A quiet calm, but he takes crap from no one.
Office surroundings: N/A
           Desktop photos:
           Wall hangings:
           Room décor:
Job title and responsibilities: Succubus hunter
           Favorite / least favorite parts of job: Getting laid / Losing friends in battle.
Outstanding achievements: Held home run record for his high school’s baseball team.
Pet peeves: Racism, wasted food.
Career turning points: The succubus / incubus invasion.
Daily routine: Search for food and shelter during daylight, hole up at night to avoid capture.  After learning of his immunity to infection, his routine changes to active hunting of succubi and incubi.
Hobbies and leisure activities: Cooking, reading, visiting art galleries and museums.
Collections: Books
           “Holy grail” item: A Cajun / Creole cookbook used by his mother during his childhood.
           Pride of collection: A wilderness survival manual.
Clubs, civic groups: None
Avocations: Ending the succubus plague.
Reading preferences: Historical non-fiction, philosophy.
           Favorite book: Voltaire’s Candide
Arts enjoyed: Paintings, literature
Future plans: Finding his sister, stopping the succubus plague
Philosophy of life/business: “When life knocks you down, you can lie down and die, or you can get up and hit back.”
World travels: Wandering the United States.
Religious beliefs: Raised Baptist, but not practicing.
Political leanings: Democratic.
Favorite food: Red beans and rice.
Favorite movie: Django Unchained
           Favorite actor / actress: Samuel L. Jackson / Meagan Fox
Favorite band: Public Enemy
Favorite holiday: Easter
Secret obsession: Finding his sister.
Best / worst memory: The last Easter with his mother / Finding his mother dead in a stairwell.
Wants to quit: Eating so much sugar.
Wouldn’t be caught dead: Eating at a KFC.
Just doesn’t understand: “Glamour rap”
Dark secret: Upon finding his sister, who has been infected with the succubus virus, he agonizes over having to killer or let her live (while she infects others) in hopes of finding a cure for her.
What do they want? To end the plague.
What do they really want? A family.
Why can’t they get it? The invasion, his moral conflict with having to kill his sister
How will they overcome that obstacle? Finding and killing the king and queen demons

As you can probably see, there are a lot of story ideas in there.  Some of this stuff might never come up in a story, but it's good to have it if you need it.  You also, like above, won't fill out everything for every character.  Some stuff will cancel each other out.  For example, Osiris doesn't have anything for "Office surroundings" because he doesn't have an office.  He wanders a futuristic wasteland.

I've heard that Ernest Hemingway would make up such a dossier for every character in every story he wrote - even minor characters who might only appear on one page.  I don't know if that's true, but I sure don't have the time for that.  Be my guest if you do, but at least create a backstory for your antagonist, protagonist, and any major secondary characters.

Keep it indie.
I've secured at a spot at my first convention of 2017.

My friends Jay Fife and April Hunter will also be there, and the show is run by my pal Dead Dick Hammer, so this is sure to be a crazy fun time.  It's even being held at a Corvette museum.  You can't miss, really.

As always, let me know of good shows in your area.  I need a lot of winners in 2017, so send me your suggestions on shows with good crowds (who like to buy indie comics) and good management.

Keep it indie.
One thing you need to consider when hiring an artist is what kind of script style they might prefer.  Some prefer full scripts with complete descriptions of everything and panel layouts.  Others prefer a more "bare bones" style that gives them the basics and lets them flesh it out from there.  I write the second style, as I feel the art will be better if the artist doesn't feel enslaved to the script and has to draw everything exactly as I described.  Writing is my strong suit.  Art is the artist's.  Why should I stifle their creativity?  I even let my artists increase or decrease the number of panels per page if they think it helps the visual flow of the story.  I tell them to keep the beats (timing), but that's about it.

Always double-check your script before sending it to make sure nothing is missing that affects the plot.  It's too late if you get a page back and a panel of crucial information is missing because you didn't write it.  Also be sure to learn your artist room to work.  I try not to go over five panels per page.  Not everyone can draw like George Perez.  Another important thing to do is to put the first person speaking in a panel on the left side of the panel.  It will save your letterer's sanity and it's the natural way we read in the West.

People often ask me where to find artists.  The three most obvious places are at comic book conventions (just walk through Artists' Alley and you'll find scores of them), comic book shops, and online (message boards, blogs, etc.).  One thing I encourage you to ask your artists is what they love and hate to draw.  If your artist loves drawing robots, don't give them a story full of talking fuzzy animals.  If your artist hates drawing cars, don't give them a story about a NASCAR driver.

Be aware of people's rates.  Always ask what they'll charge you and look at their samples in advance.  You'll find some people out there who are not worth their rates, and others who are a steal considering the level of their work.  Some are "one-stop shopping" artists who can and will draw, ink, letter, and color for you if you want, but be ready for the rates to be high (although I have worked with some artists who were a one-person art team and saved me a large amount of money by not having to hire multiple people).

If you're looking for an inker or colorist, first ask your artist if they want to do the work.  If not, ask who they recommend or prefer.  If they don't recommend anyone, look for people whose style compliments your artist's work and is the right tone for your story.  Don't hire a manga colorist for your noir detective story.  As for letterers, again ask your art team who they recommend or if they want to do it.  You can also teach yourself.  Digital lettering is easy once you get the hang of it, and it gives you more control over the dialogue in your story.

One last tip: Keep lines of communication open.  Few things in publishing are more frustrating than a lack of communication within the art team.  Ask for and then demand constant updates on progress.  Your book might not get done in time (or ever) if you don't.

Keep it indie.

For the record, I'm not angry with Marvel or DC Disney or Warner Brothers.  I stopped that a long while ago when I realized neither company was making the types of comics I wanted to read (for the most part) and that they had decided to focus most of their efforts on what was making the most money - their movie and TV properties.  Most comics from both companies nowadays are written in hopes of generating new movie franchises, to keep copyrights secured, or to sell in trade paperback form.  That's fine.  That's business.  Disney and Warner Brothers need to make money to appease their shareholders.

A lot of people are complaining about the comic industry, even as Warner Brothers tries a mea culpa with "DC Rebirth," in which Geoff Johns admits through his stories that DC Comics has become as dark and depressing as a Norwegian death metal album.
People are angry with Disney for making Steve Roger / Capt. America a HYDRA agent and not giving him a boyfriend.  People love the characters, but not the comics.  You only need to go to a comic book convention to see this.  The number of us going to them to buy comics dwindles each year.  The number going to buy comic related merchandise grows each year.

The way to get out of this rut is to make your own comics.  I make the types of comics I want to read because few others are making them.  DC isn't making comics about a dystopian future traffic controller pulled into an interdimensional war between a galactic tyrant and a pleasure planet.  Marvel isn't producing a comic about a witch in the wild west fighting mole people in a coal mine.  I am creating both of those things.  James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem once said that part of the reason he started his band was because no one was making the kind of music he liked.  I did the same with my stories.

My friend and fellow comic book author Russell Lissau once said, "There's never been a better time to make your own comics."  He's right.  The technology we have in this day and age makes creating your own comics a breeze.  He also said there's never been a worse time to try breaking into Marvel or DC.  He's also right about that.  The "Big Two" are insular companies, to say the least. 

He mentioned in a recent Facebook post that he'd heard from several fellow comic writers who were rejected for DC's writing talent workshop this year.  He urged them to stop complaining and make their own comics.  I was also rejected, but I viewed the rejection with a bit of relief.  Yes, it would've been a fun time, a nice addition to the resume, and a good learning experience, but I also have a film guide to disaster movies and about six comic book projects to finish.  I'm making my own comics.  I'm creating my own worlds.

Make your own books.  Stick with it long enough and people will want to read what you create.  Selling and distributing your books is another blog post for another time.  In some ways, making the books is the easiest part.  Getting noticed can take many years.  I've been doing this since 2004 and DC still doesn't want me.

That's okay, however.  Plenty of indie fans do.

Keep it indie.


You need to juggle multiple plots when writing a series of books. You'll have to deal with your hero and your villain, of course, but also with the secondary characters who have to deal with their own conflicts.  You also never know which secondary characters are going to be breakout stars, and readers will demand to know what's happening.  You also need to tease stories that will be the main plot of future issues.  You do all this through A-B-C plotting.

You'll have at least three plots happening at once in any good comic or book in a series.  The "A" plot is the main one and involves the main characters in your story.

A: Iron Man must stop the Mandarin from blowing up the United Nations building.

The "B" plot involves your main character or a secondary character.

B: Rhodey learns of an industrial spy in Stark Industries.

The "C" plot is a minor or teased story involving a secondary character.

C: Pepper finds an odd e-mail to Tony from Natasha Romanoff.

The B and C plots move up in importance once the A plot is resolved.  So, B becomes the new A, C becomes the new B, and a new C plot is created.  Using the above example, Tony succeeds in saving the UN building.  Then what?

A: Rhodey discovers the spy is from AIM and they've infiltrated Stark Industries from top to bottom.

B: Pepper finds more e-mails and suspects Tony and Natasha are having an affair.

C: Tony gets sued by the Chinese government due to their ambassador to the UN being killed in the battle with the Mandarin.

Moving and resolving these plots can take one issue or several.  The grander the story, the more subplots you'll have (D, E, F, G, etc.).  It's possible to resolve all the plots and link them together, but you'll be back to an A, B, and C once that's done anyway.  You have to keep the plots moving in order to keep the readers coming back for future installments of your story.

Keep it indie.


Every story, be it a comic, short story, screenplay, stage play, or novel, must have a beginning, middle, and end.  You don't have a complete story if one of these is missing.

This sums up three-act structure pretty well.

What makes three-act structure tricky in comics or any kind of serial fiction is that you must have three-act structure in each part of your story.  Three-act structure seems simple if you're writing a trilogy: The first book is the beginning, the second book is the middle, and the third book is the end.  However, each of those books has its own three-act structure.

Using the original Star Wars trilogy as an example, it goes something like this:

Act One - Episode 4 (A New Hope): First act - Leia sends droids to Tattooine with Death Star plans.  Second act - Luke meets droids, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, and Chewbacca and they rescue Leia.  Third act - The rebels attack the Death Star.

Act Two - Episode 5 (The Empire Strikes Back): First act - Attack on Hoth.  Second act - Luke goes to Dagobah, Han, Leia, and Chewie flee Empire and end up at Bespin.  Third act - Han captured, Luke loses his hand, the Rebel Alliance vows to keep fighting.

Act Three - Episode 6 (Return of the Jedi): First act - Han rescued.  Second act - Luke returns to Dagobah, Rebels meet Ewoks.  Third act - Luke redeems his father, Death Star II destroyed.

That's nine acts worth of material you're writing in just a trilogy.  Now imagine you've been hired to write a comic for the next three years.  Barring any annuals or special issues, you'll be writing 36 issues at minimum.  That's 108 acts you have to write.  It gets harder if your story arc is more than three issues.  Let's say it's five issues.  Do you make issue 1 the first act, or do you include part of it in issue 2?  Are issues 2 - 4 the second act?  If so, how do you keep it from becoming boring or padding it with filler?

I can't answer for you because it's your story.  I can tell you that writing three-act structure becomes natural once you've done it enough.  You'll also notice it, especially the lack of it, in other fiction and media.  I've read plenty of stories people have sent me for my opinion, and a lot of times my reply is "You only have two acts," or "You don't really have an ending."

An easy way to do it is to simply outline your three acts.  Feel free to keep the outline flexible, as you'll probably discover stuff that will be better in Act Two than Act One, for instance.  It could be as basic as this:

Act One: Batman learns about Riddler's escape from prison and a possible hostile takeover at Wayne-Tech Industries.

Act Two: Batman tracks Riddler while juggling duties at Wayne-Tech.

Act Three: Batman faces Riddler's death traps while Wayne-Tech board meeting goes on without him.

There are some authors who even break down each act into three parts, which I probably do subconsciously, but I'm not that detailed.  Do it if it helps you, however.  There is no one "right" way to write, but there are some rules the reader expects you to follow.

Keep it indie.


Lettering is complete on "Code Red" #3!

Here's the cover for the upcoming Code Red #3 starring April Hunter.

That's Craig DeBoard's artwork, colors, and (most of the) letters on there.  Thanks to him for doing a bang-up job on it.  Craig also colored the interiors, which were drawn by Monty Borror and lettered by yours truly.  The issue also has three pin-up photos of April.  I finished the lettering today, so the comic will probably be available first in February 2017.

I've received good feedback on my last blog post about the state of the convention scene.  I think one possible way to change the scene is for indie comics creators to demand lower table prices for writers and people who are pushing their original work.  I don't see it happening unless there's a massive swell of support for the idea, however.  Shows want money, and often need a lot of it to pay for convention center fees and celebrity appearance fees.

Keep it indie.

It's been a rough convention season.

First, thanks to everyone who stopped by the Pickle Press table at Flashback Weekend in Rosemont, Illinois last weekend.  Paul Schultz, Samantha Strong, and I appreciate everyone who picked up a copy of CANDI 2069 #2 and other goodies from us.  We had a good time at the show, caught up with some fans and friends, and made some new fans and friends as well.

That being said, it was a rough show for sales not only for us, but for everyone there.  Every vendor and artist with whom we spoke complained about the low traffic and lack of sales.  Many people showed up for the Scream reunion of Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, and Matthew Lillard, but those people had precious money to spend after dropping at least $150.00 for autographs from all three of them.  Matthew Lillard was even walking around Friday and Sunday afternoons.  He stopped at a table next to ours on Friday.  I shook his hand and asked how he was doing.  His reply was, "I'm okay, but I guess I'm not doing too well if I'm walking around on a Friday afternoon."  The translation of that is, "No one's at my table."  There were no lines for Ms. Campbell or even Malcom McDowell by the second half of Sunday.  I don't know what happened to Flashback Weekend, but the lack of traffic and spending customers was stunning compared to when we set up there two years ago.

This is the fourth straight show that has seen me in the red at the end of the weekend.  I can't do this next year.  My days off for the rest of the year switch to Thursday-Friday next month, so my convention season is finished for 2016 unless my work schedule changes.  However, I'm not sure I want to work any more shows if it does.  I'd rather spend my remaining vacation days on a trip to Iceland or some other nice getaway.

I've seen my sales plummet thanks to the prolifteration of print dealers, professional cosplayers, and crafters at comic book and pop culture shows.  I'm going to expose the elephant in the room when it comes to the current convention scene - The majority of attendees don't want comic books.  They like, and might even buy and collect, mainstream comics, but they're more interested in comic-related merchandise than the comics that inspire that merchandise.  They want prints and Pop Vinyl figures.  They don't want a $3.00 indie comic, and most would rather spend $25.00 on a Deadpool print than a high-quality Bronze Age back issue from a comic dealer.  Granted, attendees want your indie comic if it's the Next Big Thing, but few of us are at that stage yet.  I'm one of those indie comic creators who fall into that category of "too mainstream for indie comic shows" and "too indie for mainstream comics shows."

The oversaturation of the convention market and the glut of autograph hunters have made also made it difficult to make a buck at shows.  A lot of the missing FBW traffic was probably waiting for Wizard Chicago the following weekend.  I'm lucky to live in a part of the country where I could work a show nearly every weekend within 8 hours of driving time, but that's a double-edged sword.  Too many shows means too much competition for customers.

So how do I fix this?  It's a three-part process.  The first is finishing projects still in production.  Books like Salem, AZ #2, Code Red #3, Tantra #2, Galactrix, Mars Needs MILFs, and Ninja Nympho Roommate #3 will be finished.  I've already paid a good deal of art fees on them, so not printing them would be a waste of that money.

The second part is changing the plans for projects on the back burner.  Projects like Squad 66, Side Boob, and Dare: The CONE Project will be turned into e-books, which cost nothing to publish apart from hiring someone to design a cover, or screenplays.

Third is being far more selective with the shows I work.  I will no longer work shows where I don't have either a free place to stay, a free table, or both.  The only exception to this rule will be if enough people are going along who are willing to split all costs and my cut is still low enough to make the show worthwhile.

As always, let me know of good shows in your area.  Please ask the promoters at your favorite shows to bring me in as a guest.  Support your favorite indie creators and shows that treat indie creators well.  Make no mistake, Pickle Press is winding down unless the convention scene turns around for creators like me.

Keep it indie. 
Don't miss me, Paul Schultz, and Samantha Strong as we return to Flashback Weekend this weekend in Rosemont, Illinois.  This show is always well-run and has a fun guest list and activities.  They're hosting a Scream reunion and also bringing in Malcolm McDowell, Don Coscarelli, Meg Foster, and Svengoolie (among many other great guests).  We'll be premiering CANDI 2069 #2 there, so don't pass up your rare chance to get the book signed by all three of us.  

Keep it indie!

A lot of people have been asking me about creating comics this year.  Some are asking out of mild curiosity (i.e., "Do you make money doing this?" Answer: "No, not often."), some out of genuine creative interest (i.e., "How do I find an artist?"), and some out of near creative exhaustion (i.e., "How do you find the time do it?").

These questions have me thinking about the advice I've given people over the years, and I thought I'd start presenting it here.  These lessons are in no particular order, and many of them can apply to all types of writing.

This first one is mostly geared toward comics, but it's also applicable if you're writing a series of books with the same characters.  I first heard this tidbit of wisdom from award-winning comic writer Mark Waid at a Q&A with him at Wizard World Chicago many years ago: Every comic is someone's first.

This means that you have to reintroduce the characters, how they relate to each other, and how they're crucial to the plot, in every single issue.  Waid admitted he had it easy when he was writing The Flash because he was able to start each issue with "My name is Wally West.  I'm the fastest man alive."  The Flash TV show even does this.

You have to do this because your comic could very well be the first comic someone has ever read.  I met a man in his late 20's at the last convention I worked who didn't know how to read a comic ("Is it right to left?  Top to bottom?").  That man would probably have an anuerysm if he had bought the newest X-Men book and tried to figured out what was happening and who all these mutants were if the writer hadn't introduced everyone.

A hard part of this is finding a creative and / or natual way of doing it without dialogue sounding ham-fisted.

Bad example:

[Alfred brings Bruce Wayne a cup of tea as Bruce sits at the massive computer in the Batcave.]

Alfred: I brought you some tea, Master Bruce Wayne.  Are you going to dinner with your lovely friend, Vicky Vale, or will you again be venturing forth tonight as Batman in your never-ending quest to avenge the deaths of your parents?

[Bruce takes the tea.]

Bruce: Yes, Alfred Pennyworth.  Thanks for being such a faithful butler. I will indeed use my deductive skills and martial prowess to stop Oswald Cobblepot, AKA the Penguin, notorious Gotham City crime lord, from pilfering the famed Gold Eagle statue from the city's annual art museum award ceremony.

Better example, same scenario:

Alfred: I brought you some tea, Master Bruce.  Ms. Vale called to ask when you would pick her up for your date.

Bruce: I'll have to cancel, Alfred.  The Penguin's going to hit the art museum tonight. 

Alfred: You look better in a suit than the Batman's cowl, sir.

Bruce: Cobblepot can't wait.

Alfred: Neither will she much longer.

Now imagine writing that kind of scenario, in which you introduce the characters and their relationships to one another, in every isssue.  That's something you need to do in every comic you write in a series.  You readers will be lost if you don't, and you can't afford to lose them.

Keep it indie.


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