Gary’s talk ‘Putting Words into Balloons: a Guide to Writing and Making Comics’ may have focused on the medium of comics in writing, but there was an often repeated phrase that is important for every writer to know: write what you love and don’t be afraid to write to your style. As he points out, there is a tendency for writers to believe that they should only write what they know, and I’m sure every writer has seen or heard that advice at least once in their writing career. But Gary (the Clydebank born writer of Plagued, a comic suitable for all ages set in a post-apocalyptic Scotland) disagrees with that statement, instead suggesting that writers should right about what they love and then incorporate what they know into their writing as they go along.
Loving what you write is a big part of Gary’s talk, and his career as a whole. He speaks about writers not only having a passion for writing, but also for learning and the importance of doing research on your work, and you can see that passion come through in the science fiction worlds he creates within his comics. Freedom as well is a large part of writing to Gary, from the freedom that the medium of comics gives the writer to the freedom of letting your writing take control. He believes that you need to write what you should and not what you think you have to, illustrating this point by telling us how before he starting writing Plagued he had planned on creating a Star Wars –esque space opera, but that as he wrote the work took him another way.
Structuring comics is similar to the ways in which a writer would write a script for screen or stage, so the writer not only has to focus on putting the words on to the page but also directions for the artist and splitting the work into panels for the story to flow through. Gary talks us through not only his own process, but also those of the comics industry such as full script which is favoured by the industry as a whole, and the so called Marvel method popularised by Stan Lee. The importance of making the story flow structurally is something Gary touches on as well, and his preference for the three act structure used in movies such as Star Wars in his comics.
Gary offers some advice during the talk which is important for all writers to remember. Redrafting is critical; no one gets it right the first time around. Gary himself redrafts several times before he sends it along to his editor to be further modified. Push past your fear of failure and just write, even if you just start small as Gary suggests and focus on writing short stories. He also speaks about finding your own avengers; joining a group to share your writing with so that you can receive feedback from your work. There are plenty of writing groups out there, whether they are based in Glasgow like those with the Scottish Writers’ Centre, or through social media sites such as the Glasgow League of Writers, which can not only help you gain feedback on your work but also make connections with others in the literary world.
Gary’s talk offers a lot of advice for inspiring comic book writers, but also lots of advice for writers of any medium to take to heart. The importance he put on writing what you love and having a passion for learning as well as writing are things that all writers can apply to their own work, whether you want to write comics, prose, or poetry. And as Gary suggests, let your work control you and let it lead you to where it wants to go.
Words by Andrew Smith.