Prose Vs. Comics

Anyone following me on Twitter this month, or listening to the Murmur podcast is doubtless aware of my participation in the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for short.  The idea is to prove that you too can write a novel, given only the gumption.  So you get the thirty days of November to write 50,000 words, or 1760 words a day, every day, for a whole month.

you may also know, I’ve been pecking away in the background at doing some comic book writing as well, and I’ve mentioned that it’s damned challenging.  But eventually, I got more used to it, and I’m fairly comfortable writing comic book scripts, as long as I know where I’m going.  I’ve worked at those muscles fairly consistently over the past year, as well as working with artists, and figuring out how to write for them, and how to communicate what you had in mind.  Comics are, certainly in my case, a collaborative effort.  When you send a script to an artist and collaborator, you’ve got that other person to say, “Hey, this is fun,” or “I don’t think this part works.”  It’s a real safety net that you can easily take for granted. 

Such is not the case with long form prose writing.  You’re all by your lonesome.  Hours and hours, thousands and thousands of words, and you’ve got only yourself to judge.  It is an enormous amount of energy to expend doing something in a complete vacuum.  But that’s the point of the exercise of NaNoWriMo, to just keep going, and then at the end, you’ll have at least done that.  Certainly it’s more productive and beneficial than spending 2 hours a night for 30 days beating a video game,
but at least so far, it is a hell of a lot less fun.  Your hands can be about the same soreness though.

For the first week or so, before I settled into some kind of plodding, sporadic groove, I was having a lot of trouble with the things I don’t have to worry about in comic scripts.  In a comic script (or movie script for that matter), the only part the final consumer reads is the dialog and the narration, if there is any.  Other than that, all the descriptive text is for an audience of only a few people, and doesn’t really have to follow any rules other than communicating to that small audience.  Grammar doesn’t matter, only clarity.  One huge difference is the use of adverbs. 

One of my favorite books on writing is, coincidentally, On Writing, by Stephen King.  In this book, he advises many things which I use in my comic book scripting.  But one thing I’ve rarely had to worry about is using adverbs.  King vociferously argues against using adverbs liberally or even sparingly in your prose, something I’m patently ignoring at the moment.  His point was that it’s lazy, and when you w
rite something along the lines of “You’ve done it.” Kelly said cautiously, you’re taking a shortcut and if you’d set things up properly in terms of character and plot, it’s not needed.  I wasn’t sure about the rule at first, but every time I type an adverb, it stands out to me in glowing red letters in my mind.  Most of the time, I end up deleting it immediately.  It makes sense.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I can see it when I do it.  I never had to worry about that once with comic scripts.

Another trick I rely on in making comics is time shifting.  It can be a bit of a crutch, but when it’s not overdone, and done well, it can be a very useful tool for making comics.  You’ve all seen a hundred comics that start out with a splash page of an extraordinary event in the story, only to turn the page, and see a caption that says “Six hours earlier…” followed by a story that leads up to what you saw on the first page.  This serves a couple of purposes.  On the one hand, it’s a great way to grab someone’s attention, either the reader, or perhaps even the editor to whom you’ve pitched the story, because a lot of people aren’t going to give you that much time to hook them, so you have to cheat.  After your characters or your story or even your career is established, it’s probably not as necessary, but it does work.  It also gives you a clear end point for your story.  In comics, it’s an easy thing today, because people are used to narration captions explaining where they are in time and space. 

This is also possible to do in prose, but it’s not nearly as easy and seamless.  You could start off each chapter or section with a heading explaining where and when this part of the story is taking place, but so far I’ve found that very clunky.  Or at least it’s beyond my skills as a prose writer, which is admittedly not striking.  No, in prose, I’ve got to charge straight through, figuring out what to mention and what to leave out.  Then again, it’s easier to delete a chunk of text (while heartbreaking), than deciding several pages that have been drawn, inked, colored, and lettered, just didn’t work (soul rending).

There are certainly similarities as well, and things I’ve learned from scripting comics that work just as well in prose.  Character is one thing that is immutable no matter the medium.  You must have real three dimensional characters that people care about, at least care about finding out what happens to them.  This is not the same thing as liking them.  Dialog must be, while not necessarily realistic, must crackle and pop, and possibly even snap.  Maybe as a result of my scripting experience, I’ve been filling my NaNoWriMo novel with a lot of dialog.  The freedom from worry that an artist is going to have to draw a bunch of people talking has let my dialog beast free.  In prose, it’s a really easy way to fill pages while constructing character.  But at the same time, the rule, “show, don’t tell” still applies, and of course, I’m trying to keep that in mind.

At the time of this writing, I’m almost 60% through the exercise, and while I really don’t want to keep writing this thing, I really don’t want to have quit more.  Will anyone ever see it?  I don’t know.  Is it any good?  I’m not going to say it’s terrible, but I will say that I have no idea, and I’m afraid to know the answer.  Has it made me a stronger writer, and would I recommend it to anyone who thinks they might want to do more writing?  Absolutely.  But come December, I’m looking forward to some good old fashioned comic book scripting, and starting some new projects in in the new year, while actively pitching the projects I’ve been working on all year.  Plus, I’ll know that I’m capable of writing a novel, and actually doing the work, which is the writer’s equivalent of running a marathon.

If the saying that there are a million bad words in every writer, and you’ve got to get them out before you’re any good has any truth to it, at least I’m a little closer.

Josh just wrote 1250 words that A) don’t count towards his goal and B) were chock full of adverbs.  He can’t wait for December.


  1. You’ll be 5% closer.

  2. Time jumps in comics can come out really really bad.  See "Wolverine: Get Mystique" by Jason Aaron or "Punisher Goin’ Out West" by Matt Fraction.

  3. As someone whose parents owned an Astro Van (in sexy brown with beige trim), I am remarkably eager to read your adverb laced "novel".  Is it available via Amazon? Christmas is right around the corner.

    P.S. I think you meant to say that time shifting is a "crutch", not "crunch".

  4. I did!

  5. I don’t suppose you need someone to edit your 50,000 word novel? I only charge $1 a word.

  6. Ever read "Bird By Bird" or "Writing Down the Bones"? 

  7. I second the Bird By Bird and Writing Down the Bones reccomends–Bird By Bird was the book that finally got me to stop worrying and actually get words on the page.

  8. Is there going to be a book tour to go along with the novel release?

    I’m continually amazed the you and the rest of the iFanboy tweeters that are participating in NaNoWriMo.  No way in hell I could do it.  Mad props sir.

    And I love that you used the word gumption.  We need to bring that word back.

  9. As the saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words, plenty of them in comics, novels not so much

  10. Yep, Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones are both good books. I’ll third that recommendation. I’ve absorbed them over the years and forgotten them. And as Josh points out here, the NaNoWriMo exercise really requires you to let go of anything you’ve studied and just write as you write (see also: "shitty first draft."). I can second Josh that I’ve used too many adverbs. I’m not worrying about it right now, though. I but I suspect that once I revise it and go back to edit out adverbs, my 50K will suddenly drop to 48K. 😉

    Anyway, great piece about the difference between the two mediums, and really the different in the creative process. I’ve done some comics scripts, some films scripts, audio scripts, and prose, and each one has its pros and cons, creatively speaking. 

    Underlying all of that though, are still the same basic principles of story — so it’s just a matter of adjusting to the toolset that works for the medium.

  11. I keep making the same analogy to Nanowrimo and running a marathon. Its been an amazing yet insane project. Coupled with a full time job its done nothing but give me more respect for published prose and comic writers. The fact that there are people out there that can crank out an incredible story on regular basis amazes me. It has also made me slightly more forgiving in my analysis, rather than just saying "that sucks"

  12. Next year. *sigh*

  13. @Paul — you had a lot going on, man. We understand. Although, it would’ve been great to have you along for the ride. Josh mentions the isolation of the writer. Well, I’m also finding the structure of NaNoWriMo to be very helpful in terms of feeling… collaborationa and competition without actually collaborating. Josh and Paul (piscespaul) are both keep a nice pace and it keeps me going. It goes toward that marathon metaphor. I see them in stride with me and it keeps me from slacking off.

  14. How many ifanboy staff and readers are taking part in the NaNoWriMo?  Does anyone know who is committed and if any of the staff have quite?

  15. Me and Jimski are both in the middle of it.  Paul didn’t start this year, and Kelly from Murmur had to drop out early, because the first trimester is no time for marathon novel writing.

    And Dave’s not kidding.  He’s always a day ahead of me, and it’s driving me crazy.  But it’s also incredibly good.  There’s nothing sadder than the flat chart on the stats page.

  16. That stats page… oh that stats page. Can i tell you how many times I stop, decide I can’t write anymore, then look at the little yellow bar on the stats page, and think, "c’mon, you can make it go a little higher." And sometimes THAT is just what it takes to push me into the next scene and then I catch a little current and it carries me for a bit.

  17. When it’s going badly, I update my word count every 200 words.

  18. @josh HA! I do the exact same thing

  19. Interesting read 😀

  20. Cool challenge with the novel thing and fits right in with Stephen King’s hardcore writing work ethic, but it also sets writers up for the trap that I encounter with a lot of writers.

    They never finish anything.

    I’d advise writing short stories before attempting a novel. If not that, vignettes. If not that, a poem.

    One finished and relatively good creative work is the best step towards becoming a "real" writer.

  21. @ScorpionMasada — the point of NaNoWriMo, as I understand it, is to complete a draft of a novel during the month. So, that is the complete work you’re looking for.

  22. Anne Lamott has a great writing book Bird by Bird

  23. @ScorpionMasada – If someone wants to write a novel, they should write a novel.  If someone wants to write a short story, they should write a short story.  Would you ever say, "You know, I really want chicken, but that’s hard, so I think I’ll eat this Ding-Dong first."

     That’s a terrible analogy, but I’m strangely proud of it. 

  24. Hey, I had no idea this whole NaNooNaNoo thing was going on.  I’m just writing a novel on my own.  Truth is, Josh (and everyone else), I’ve found writing prose as opposed to my usual dramatic work to be somewhat liberating in that I CAN write as much as I want and be in complete control of it.  However, I also get giddy whenever I find a huge chunk of writing that I’ve spent a long time on that can be eliminated because it will better serve the story.  Hacking the fat off of your writing is PART of the writing process.  Embrace it.

    There’s that old Dorothy Parker quote about writing: "I hate writing; I love having written."  Well, I love having written as well.  But I also love the writing part of it.  Rarely does it seem to be a chore.  Sometimes, yes, it’s a struggle, but rarely is it a chore.  And (again, to me) it’s a whole lot more fun and satisfying than playing video games.  I play video games for half an hour and I feel lazy and unproductive.  I think I’m getting old.

    Anyway, come see the second production of "The Unlikely Adventure of Race McCloud, Private Eye", sometime in Spring ’10 from Black Henna Productions!  (Shameless plug.) (More shameless plug.)

    Keep writing, everyone! 

  25. @Josh – Also, think of it this way: after the drudgery of marathon novel-writing, comic script writing should seem like a snap.

  26. I started out four days late on NaNoWriMo, but was able to catch up and actually get ahead. Then I had some problems of the "real world" variety and wasn’t able to write for a few days. now I’m WAY behind. but I still think if I really work at it, I can finish. I won’t be anywhere NEAR the end of my novel, as it would be way longer than 50,000 words, but I would have reached the word count goal for the month. I’m actually a few minutes awy from getting to work on that.

    @Josh based on the excerpts you’ve posted on your NaNoWriMo page, I would actually shell out the cash in a book store to give your novel a try.  

  27. Very interesting article. I’ve often thought about the difference between comic writing, film writing and prose writing. I’ve never written a comic but have penned several screenplays and a few novels (and have found some success).

    But your article also underscores how alien I am from the mental place where a lot of you guys live. No offense, but I would never force myself to write an imaginative work on a schedule. I’ve read that Stephen King book; I think it gives very poor advice. I actually like the early Stephen King, but when the guy became a printing press I think his work suffered immensely: it became much less imaginative, unique and heartfelt, from my perspective. Many others disagree, but I don’t find any literary merit in it. If you want to write near-soulless assembly line novels, however–and those CAN obviously be exciting and worthwhile–then I guess he would be someone worth following. But in that book on writing King compares himself to James Joyce, specifically because of the way that Joyce was always constantly writing/working. What King doesn’t consider is how Joyce (and most other literary writers) THOUGHT and DRAFTED exponentially more than they WROTE and PUBLISHED. King writes everyday and produces relatively simple novels that sell. He has trained himself to write in ways that are easy to understand. That’s fine, but I don’t like or want to produce assembly line novels.

    And from my perspective, as a writer there are few WORSE things you can do than force yourself to continue with something when a significant portion of your brain is telling you "No more of this!" Also, jeesh, I thought most of the charm of being a writer WAS the isolation and the solitude? Sure that can be scary, I guess, but c’mon: it’s in that solitude and isolation that unique creativity happens. Twitter will always be there for you to waste time on some other time; the unique value of writing is very much different from "social networking". That doesn’t mean that communities of artists or writers can’t flourish, but it wasn’t like the Shelleys were comparing notes every hour on the hour, and it’s not like members of the Bloomsbury group always kept up with what everyone was doing while all their works were still in the draft stages. Maybe my references are lost on you guys.

    Josh, in all honesty, I don’t know how you could be the writer you want to become and still maintain this much internet interaction on a regular basis–especially because it’s internet interaction where you have to produce articles and such. That would sap my writing aptitude. I also find that when I’m in writing mode (which for me can last months), I can’t afford to read much of other people’s stuff during that time. It breaks the long train of thought that I’m following. Apparently the situation is way different for other people–probably because they’re trying to produce different sorts of material than I am–but I couldn’t imagine writing my own work (comic or not) during the same week when I was expected to read 25 other comics and review them, and interact with a bunch of schmucks like us who challenge your opinions on everything. Best of luck, though, sincerely. I hope you find a balance and find success.

  28. @Race — you’re absolutely right about revision. "Murder your darlings," and all that. That’s a huge part of the process. But: The point of NaNoWriMo is to get the complete draft out first, and then revise later. In my head, I’m actually thinking that next month is NaNoRevMo — I go over the whole thing again revise, edit and polish. But not this month. This month is about walking away with a completed novel draft, from start to finish.

  29. There’s that other chestnut: There is no writing, only rewriting. Not true obviously, but the point is that the real art of the thing is in the rewriting and editing. 

  30. @flapjaxx — I think ultimately there is no one way to do anything. No one suggests that NaNoWriMo gets you a complete, finished product. It gets you a draft, and ideally a beginning, middle, and an end. For me, i am using it to knock through a draft of a novel that I have THOUGHT about for a year. This is a DRAFT. So it doesn’t go against any principles of any of the writers mentioned, it simply introduces the discipline of writing on a strict schedule, which many writers will tell you is a good thing. Sometimes you have to force creativity, and write some mediocre stuff to get your brain to churn up the good stuff. That’s where revision comes into play. Sometimes you have to barrel ahead, despite your self-criticism, because that MAY not be true, objective criticism. That’s what this exercise is about

    As far as social media: I thrive on collaboration. It drives me to be a better writer. I surround myself with writers I respect and envy, and I find that they make me write better. They push me forward. I love writing with other writers. Now, this novel is not necessarily a social experience, but I’m using Twitter and websites and email to keep it interactive for me so that I have the sounding board, the sense of competition, and the push to write better and harder than I might otherwise.

    Everyone’s different. I guess the trick is to figure out who you are and utlize whatever tips and tricks work for you to make you the best writer you can be. I haven’t read more than a couple of excerpts of Josh’s, but I can tell that he’s working hard at this, and I think the WORK itself, even the bits on the cutting room floor next year, makes one a better writer.

  31. @stuclach: I must’ve got a deal then. You edited my article for free! 🙂

  32. @daccampo – Oh, I get it now.  I read through the site and signed up.  I’m working on a novel anyway; sounds like fun!  My point, though, was that the expression is "murder your darlings"… but I think I have to reword it somewhat, because my biggest problem as a writer has always been writing too much, and I take great joy as a writer in finding darlings that I can murder to better serve the story as a whole.

  33. @TNC – The first one’s free.

  34. @stuclach: What!? Well luckly I got your fax number now so we’ll just have to talk about this. 😉

  35. @Race — yeah, I totally get that. It’s as Paul said, there’s a certain art to rewriting.

    Something else we haven’t really touched on — sometimes you need to write to discover what you’re saying. Something like NaNoWriMo is useful to figure out what your story is, what you’re really writing about. Sometimes people try to shortcut it — they try to figure out the whole package first, based on the concept. We see a lot of this in Hollywood, where writers are seen more as architects, designing a structure for the filmmakers. A novel can be written that way, but I also think some people tend to write as a journey, they get behind the wheel with their character(s), and they drive off with no idea where the road will take them. I think NaNo is especially useful for this exercise. As you plod along, a destination become apparent, and then slowly inevitable, as you discover exactly what it is you were writing about.

  36. @daccampo – Agreed.  Too many beginning writers, both fiction and non-fiction, think they need to know everything about what they’re going to write before they write it.  That’s not necessarily the case.  Think about it; how can you know what you’ve written before you write it?

    Still, I should say: I’ve worked both ways, blind and structured, and both ways can work.  So the truth, of course, is that there isn’t one "right" way to do it. 

  37. I figure its like skiing and snowboarding. Yeah, they’re both similar in that they’re sports in which you propel yourself down a snowy mountainside at high speeds, but not only are they completely different, but if you learn one, you’ll have difficuties with the other type. I started skiing pretty early on, and now I’m extremely comfortable with it and can do it as easily as walking. Though this winter, I tried snowboarding for the first time and had the most difficult time with it and made an ass of my self, even though I knew all the fundamentals.


    Just a little metaphor 🙂

  38. In my personal opinion, Writing Down The Bones, while good, is better suited to poetry than prose.


  39. I don’t have anything against Nano, because a lot of my friends do it. Hell, a couple of published novelists that i know of are doing it, so its clearley something that works for a lot of people.

    It’s not for me, though. It doesnt really work with my writing process and generally i dont need a community event like this to write because i do it most of the year anyway. Who knows, maybe one year i’ll give it a go to see if it changes the way i write.

    My only worry about nano is that it actually teaches very little about writing a novel, and cuts out the most important parts; the first draft is the easy bit. The hard work starts when you’ve got 50-100,000 words and you need to wade into them and wrestle with it until it looks like a novel. I almost feel as if there should be a follow up event in december or january thats about turning your first draft into a novel.

    But that probably sounds more snippy than i mean i to. I’m enjoying following everyone’s progress this month, and like i said, i may to a full 180 some day and try it myself. 

  40. D’oh, and then i read back to see that Race, Paul and Daccampo have already been discussing the points i mentioned. Damn my haste. I’ll get my coat….

  41. I’ve gotten so used to editing as I go along that I tried to do just a few pages ‘NaNo style’ for the experience, and just couldn’t get anywhere.  I kept rewriting the first paragraph to fix a logical flaw and. . .well, that’s about as far as I got.  I think to do the  NaNo thing, you really have to commit to it, and I haven’t gotten to that point yet.

    That said, I *do* think that the adverb advice (while good) is revision advice.  If the adverbs come to you while drafting, leave them there as a signal to yourself for how you want the words to sound.  You can figure out a more subtle way to get that across, later, but if you don’t put the placeholders in, it’s entirely possible you’ll go back and have no  idea what you meant to convey with a line of dialogue.  Not that I’m talking from experience or anything. . .

    Anyway, it’s really awesome that you and Jim (and Dave and others) are doing this, however frustrating it might be.  You’ll end up learning something from it, even if it’s just ‘this is not the way for me to write a novel.

  42. Writers need to write. Writers also need to tell stories.

    Just having ideas and shards of stories doesn’t mean you are a writer.

    This is not a critique of anyone partaking in the novel exercise, but I’ve met countless people who are writing the next "great American novel."

    I have yet to meet someone who has finished one and I used to run in writing circles and I’m currently in a profession that has a bunch of aspiring writers.

    If you do not have any complete stories, you are not a storyteller.

    Sorry to the cats on here that are writing that (incomplete) novel and have no complete pieces, but I’m sorry, you may like to write, but you are not a writer.

    In the end, you can consider yourself whatever you want, but it is kind of laughable to call yourself a writer without having anything you can give to someone that they can have a complete reading experience with.

    So we are back to my advice. Tell stories in any medium that lets you convey your intended meaning.

    Don’t just chase the white whale to chase the white whale.

  43. @Scorpion  You ‘run in writing circles’ but you don’t know anyone who has finished a novel?  And you’re criticizing people for trying to write them?  I can’t say that I get your point.

  44. I don’t see the point in coming down on people who are in the middle of a project, be it an exercise or an experiment.  There is no one way, and using the term "laughable" is quite dismissive, really.

    As far as doing different types of writing, that’s what I do.  Comic work is different from prose work, is different from the stuff I write for iFanboy.  Different muscles entirely.  If anything, iFanboy has been most helpful in just doing something, and putting it out there without fear.  That’s been incredibly liberating, and also scary.

  45. @Scorpion — really not sure who you’re talking about here. Those of us doing NaNo are doing it to complete a draft. It’s not the end of the process, as I think we’ve all stated.

    For the record, I’ve completed a number of scripts, short stories, and I’m rounding down to the final run of episodes of my 3 season audio drama. I’ve not completed a novel, but I’ve completed plenty of short stories. NaNo is my chance to work through a discover a complete story that I’ve never told yet. 

    But if NaNo is anyone’s first chance to write a complete a story, then length does not matter. Finishing it matters. I don’t have stats, but I suspect that a number of people have "completed" novels because of NaNo. And isn’t that your point?


  46. To Josh’s point: I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I am a firm believer in the idea that creativity begets creativity. So much so that I find that switching back and forth from writing articles to graphic design projects to scripts, it all keeps my mind lubed and running, and it makes the prose output flow better. And I’ll also echo Josh’s sentiment that putting something out there, be it iFanboy podcasts or comics or a novel is actually a functioning part of living the Creative Life. It teaches you discipline and follow-through and confidence, all of which play into ANY creative project.

  47. No, I ran in writing circles. A lot of poets for the most part. People who put together "underground" anthologies, which are not the place for publishing novels obviously. A lot of short story writers as well.

    You also meet a lot of people in writing workshops. Some pretentious–some talented.

    Exactly. I’ve only met people with novel ideas and unfinished novels. It takes a certain type to actually finish a novel.

    My point is pretty simple: if you want to be a writer, you need to write complete stories. The novel is the most difficult way to accomplish that goal.

    Don’t let the publishing world fool you. Just because poetry and short stories don’t sell as well and are published less often, that doesn’t mean most writers are novelists.

    I’m not flapjaxx, Josh. I think writing excerises are some of the most productive ways to actually get stories finished.

    Not to be a dick, but I’ve heard you be quite dismissive of professional writers on the podcast. You are going to criticize me cuz I give amateurs with no finished work a hard time?

    I don’t think you need to have a degree in Creative Writing to be a writer. All I’m saying is you actually have to write and have some stories to be a writer. Is that too absurd/offensive of an idea for the users here?


  48. My tastes in comic writers, and my criticism of them have absolutely zlich to do with this conversation. That’s my job.

  49.  @Scorpion   I just mean to say that you’re either being willfully selective with your examples, or your ‘writing circles’ can’t consist of people  who take their work very seriously.   I’d certainly agree that there are plenty of people continuously working on novels and not finishing them, but there are also plenty of people who do finish them and either pursue publication, move on to another project, or decide that the satisfaction of being done is enough.

  50. @Caroline — exactly. To blame the exercise seems backwards to me. First of all, there’s an assumption here that NaNo is one’s first attempt at completed fiction. Most people I know who are working on this project have already completed works of fiction. But even so, I don’t see any reason to beleve that working out your craft on one long project is any better or worse that working it out on a series of short stories. In fact, from a commercial perspective, publishing a couple of short stories isn’t really going to give you an professional advantage. You’ll still have to bang out the novel. Short story collections are hard to sell, and lit journals are full of writers who you never end up seeing on bookstore shelves.

    (which is NOT to say short stories are bad. I love short stories! I write them all the time! I just don’t buy premise of @Scorp’s argument.)

  51. All of you who are currently writing, just keep writing. Many of those on here that are critical, are projecting their own failures and cynical thoughts on everyone else.  This might be a presumptous post, but you that are writing have a hell of a lot more courage than I do on any given day.

  52. @Scorp – Hey, look at all the responses you’ve gotten!

    There are many, many, many successful writers who have never completed a novel, you know.  To be a writer, you need never complete a novel or a story of any type.  Go to a Borders or a Barnes and Noble.  Stand in the middle of the store.  Try to eliminate the various fiction sections from your mind’s eye.

    Cookbooks, self-help books, travelogues, magazines, art criticism, computer instructional guides, religious and spiritual themed books, books on film, on television, on music, biographies, autobiographies, newspapers, historical books, short plays, screenplays… the list goes on.

    The people behind almost all of these things are that which we would call writers… and many of them have never even attempted (let alone finished) a novel or short story.

    You say, "Writers need to tell stories".  That’s simply not true.  Writers need to write whatever it is they need to write.  Writing stories is only a very small part of the craft. 

    You probably know all this, and you fluctuate between saying "writers need to tell complete stories" and "writers need to have something they can give to someone with which they can have a complete reading experience", so I guess I’m not entirely sure what you’re arguing.

    But relax.  This whole Project: NaNoo thing might not be your cup of tea, and you may not agree with it, but there’s nothing wrong with it.  (I’m not even sure if you think there’s anything wrong with it, now that I think about it.)  And there’s nothing wrong with it precisely because there’s no one right way to write, and there’s no wrong way to write, either.

    I do agree with you, somewhat, on one point.  Writers need to finish what they start… unless they don’t want to.  But then they have to definitively move on to something else.  Writers don’t "need to write", as much as writers need to KEEP writing. 

  53. @Scorp – Also, I wonder if you appreciate the unintentional irony behind your criticism of all the would be writers you knew back when you "ran in writing circles" who never finished their own work, when running in circles is a completely self-defeating act and would indicate to me, metaphorically, one who never manages to complete anything.

     Am I the only one who got that?  Maybe I’m reading too much into it… 

  54. @Jay – I’m on board with most of your points, and I agree with the part about the follow-up project, definitely.  But I disagree somewhat that writing the 1st draft is the easy part.  A lot of beginning writers I work with (I’m a writing professor in one of my many jobs) are most intimidated by the blank page, but find once they have put something on that page they have something to work with.  

    I’d also say that rewriting got a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable with the dawn of the age of the word processing programs.

  55. After listening to the murumur podcast and checking out the Nano site I decided to give it a go a couple of days after it started. So far so good and I’m halfway there. I knew it was going to be hard given that I haven’t written anything longer than 5000 words in my life and the last bit of creative writing I did was two pages in high school (which is obviously the basis of my novel).

    I have no ambitions as a creative writer but most jobs with any substance require you to be able to produce written pieces against a deadline. This is, in my view, good training for that. It has also helped me unclutter my mind by putting to paper story ideas I have swimming in my head. All I need to do know is slit that creative vein and pour the blood sweat and tears on paper and see what happens.

    In my humble opinion, good writers are those that can communicate clearly in whatever medium, whether it’s ideas, emotions, facts or even a recipe. Having a novel published or other is irrelevant.


  56. Guys, we are talking about fiction. We are not talking about technical documents for DVD players.

    I’ve known serious writers and I’ve known great serious writers but a lot of the writers I come across like the idea of writing more than they actually like writing.

    Josh, I’m a writing teacher. So I ask you again, you are going to criticize me cuz I give amateurs with no finished work a hard time?

    Yeah, some of you are projecting quite a bit. You are projecting about my supposed projecting.

    A big part of this article is the struggle with prose writing.

    I gave some pretty sound and simple advice. Start small and build up from there.

    As for irony, chasing or racing after clouds seems as futile as running in circles.

  57. @Scorp – What, my name?  It’s all about the context, sir.  All about the context.  And I was just pointing out the humor in your phrasing, given the context it was in.

    I suppose it depends on what, exactly, you think it means to give amateur writers a hard time.  Like you, I’m a writing teacher, and I don’t know if you agree with me, but I’ve found positive reinforcement to yield far better results than negative.  Again, that all comes down to teaching style, I suppose.

    I’ll say this, though… I do agree that anyone can start writing on a project, but writers who want to meet with any degree of success or respect need to see some of the things they start (but not all) through to completion.  I’m surely not the only writer on this board who has five or six things in various stages of incompletion for every piece of writing I’ve completed. 

    But you’re the one who brought up poetry, for example, so it had seemed the conversation had moved out of speaking exclusively of fiction writing.  My apologies if that assumption was misguided.  All I was pointing out is that there are many writers who are very successful and accomplished who have never in their life written what we would call a "story".  That’s all.

    And sometimes, don’t you wish the guys who wrote the technical specs for your electronics WERE better writers? 

  58. @Scorp – So you’re not a writer if you don’t have a finished novel, but don’t try because you’re not already a writer? That’s what I’m getting from your posts.

     I really can’t believe this thread devolved into a bitchfest. 

    @Race – You’re my hero. Least you have a gawdamn sense of humor.

  59. @Anson – Well, that’s life.  Either you laugh or you cry.  Bottom line, with writing… nothing is right and nothing is wrong.  Everyone has their own method, and whatever works for you, works for you.

    But I have to say a big point I agree with Scorp on is that, if you are going to call yourself a writer, whether it be of novels, comic scripts, plays, screenplays, cookbooks, DVD tech specs, whatever… if you are going to call yourself a writer of any sort, then yes, you have to finish writing… something.  Not everything, but something.

    And like this initial post was about (this is how we bring it back to where we began), the NaNoWriMo Project is entirely about FINISHING something, that something being a novel, because November is National Write a Novel Month (or something like that).  So you’re right, Anson… if someone’s making the contention that writers have to finish what they start to call themselves writers, then I don’t see how they could find fault with a Project that is all about finishing a novel’s first draft.  Certainly they can say they aren’t particularly fond of the way the Project goes about guiding amateur writers to the completion of that goal, but they can’t find fault with the goal itself if completion of work is a big part of the way they personally weigh the worth of what makes one a "writer".

  60. Improve your reading comprehension Anson17. I’ve never said a complete novel is the benchmark of a writer. I actually said most writers are not novelists.

    RaceMcCloud, I meant no offense, just turning it back at you.

    Me throwing out a belief on the internet does not mean my students get that same belief directed at them. My job is to make my students productive and improve their writing.

    Are you really saying that poetry does not fall under the category of fiction?

  61. A lot of people talk about writing and never finish a project. I understand that this is frustrating to those who are serious about the thing. NaNoWriMo is not the best prose project for a beginner, but not everyone involved with it is a beginner. They have written before and are up to the task. Even if they don’t finish within the month, they’ve produced something they can finish later or they’ve developed concepts or even full scenes they can draw upon for other projects. Yes, even short stories. That’s progress and time well spent. Again, many participants do actually finish their novels. So I don’t see the worth in throwing out the baby with the bathwater simply because some participants lose their way. 

    I think this discussion has devolved into a discussion of labels and semantics. If you consider a month long novel writing project to be foolhardy, that’s fine. But I’m really proud of so many of my friends who are trying. If they don’t accomplish a novel, that’s a shame. But I know they’re really putting a lot into it and learning a great deal about writing in the process. Maybe, given some definitions, they’re not all Writers. But they’re writing. And that’s more important.  

  62. @Scorp – Not only am I SAYING poetry doesn’t fall under the category of fiction… poetry DOES NOT fall under the category of fiction.  Narrative poetry has elements of fiction, certainly, but poetry is entirely its own genre of literature.

    Try this.  Find a poet.  Particularly a Def Poet, perhaps.  Suggest to them that what they write is fiction.  Come back and tell us their response.

    And clearly what you say on an online message board isn’t necessarily what you say in a classroom… but again, you did validate your arguments here by saying that you’re a teacher and that’s why you’re hard on amateur writers.  Maybe what you say in the classroom does not equate to what you’re saying here, but we have no way of knowing that.  Some of the stances you’ve taken in this discussion (stances that are perfectly valid and are your right entirely, of course) are not stances that I would take with me into a classroom as a teacher.  But again, you’re right: what you say online is not necessarily how you teach a class, and of course, every teacher has their own style that works for them, just like every writer.

    But poetry isn’t fiction. 

  63. I agree with your argument on time shifting, as when used properly, it can be a great hook. Everyone has seen Sunset Boulevard, right? Well the lead actor, William Holden, dies in the movie. I’m not spoiling it, though, that’s how the movie starts! William Holden is face down in a pool dead, and from there, the movie goes on from the beginning showing how he got to this sad state. It’s very effective in getting you interested, and it doesnt matter that you know how everything is going to eventually end up.


  64. All I can say about this is that NaNoWriMo is a good thing because it inspires people to get something done, which can lead to something better in the future. There’s nothing bad about that.

    Signing off.

  65. @comicBOOKchris – Yeah, the time shifting that Josh talks about is interesting, but I think you can do it in prose as easily as you can do in film or in comics.  I just think it’s more of a case that Josh maybe just isn’t as used to prose as he is to dramatic writing (assuming he writes comics in full-script format).

    I would assume he’s shifting time in his novel-in-progress constantly without even realizing it maybe, otherwise he’d be describing every moment of every day of his protagonist’s life.  It would be the prose equivalent of the online Big Brother real-time streaming camera.  I don’t need to see every second of a novel protagonist’s life any more than I need to see every second of the life of a bunch of irritating reality show competitors. 

  66. I know it’s been very motivational to me to see "You’re an amateur with no finished work!" over and over. But I don’t know if it’s necessarily the most educator-approved way to motivate someone to finish a novel just so they can shove it in your face. I am glad none of the teachers tasked with shaping my mind and honing my work habits had such naked disdain for trying.

  67. it is not my experience that short story writing is a gateway to novel writing.  as josh pointed out in his article, every writing medium has its own challenges and overcoming them teaches a writer things that are applicable across genres.   i’m sure my novel writing would greatly improve if i "mastered" the short story medium, as it would if i could pull off poetry, or comic scripting, or ad copy or…

    the stories that i want to tell just don’t fit the short story form.  there’s too much i need to get out of my brain and i find it too limiting. i keep going back to it, though, because i know it has things to teach me. that being said, "completing" my first nanonovel taught me more about what kind of writer i am than anything else i’ve ever done.

    adding to the praise of Bird By Bird, it taught me a very important lesson: i am writer.  writing had been something i dabbled in since i was a child, but i never considered that it made me special, or that i had a talent that others didn’t. perhaps it was because it wasn’t all that valued by my peers or my family.  after BxB, i looked at it completely differently.  there are those of us who have to write like we have to breathe, or others need to draw, or sing, or play sports.  what we do with that innate talent, whether we nourish it, make it our life’s work, or turn a profit from it, or however one wants to define a "successful writer" is a separate issue.

  68. Let it also be noted that not every writer is cut out for short stories. They come with their own set of unique challenges. I know many novelists feel that they aren’t suited for short format work. 

  69. Oops, Kelly beat me to it. 

  70. And by signing off, I meant back to the actual conversation.

    @Race. I think he was referring more to non-linear shifts. Those can be awkward as all hell to write if you’ve never tried it before. As with anything, practice makes better if not perfect. In the stuff I’ve been working on, it seems a lot easier to do in comic scripts than in prose. I feel like more practice would benefit me in both instances, but won’t it always?

  71. @Josh. PREACH IT BROTHA!

  72. @RaceMcCloud – Well naturally theres going to be time shifts in that regard, thats common. I should add, though, that there are some instances of stories being told in "real time", in the sort of Big Brother method you described. If you can get it to work , then more power to you. And while I’m more familiar with films using this technique (The Set-Up, Running Time), Im sure there is prose with also uses this technique substancially.


    A writer who uses the time shifting method that Josh described is Chuck Palahniuk, who uses it in a good majority of his novels. In Survivor, the lead character is in a plane about to die, but before he does, he describes the events and story that led up to this (ala Sunset Boulevard). Choke and Pygmy all take place in current time, but occasionally the story shifts back to the past so the reader can see a quick look at the main character’s early life. You can even use Fight Club uses time shifting to a much lesser extent, but im not too sure, as it could just be described as the narrator reflecting on past events.

  73. I’m only going to speak for myself here, but ScorpionMasada’s "advice" isn’t really an issue for me. Starting with short stories is A way to go, to learn how to write something with a beginning, middle, and an end. As with all things, it is ONE way to go. It may not work for everyone, as Kelly notes above. But we can all agree there’s nothing wrong with trying to write short stories.

    My problem comes with the statement: "[NaNoWriMo] also sets writers up for the trap that I encounter with a lot of writers. They never finish anything."

    Of course, the whole point is that you succeed with NaNo by finishing something. And nothing in anything I’ve read suggests that you’re "done" with the process after November ends. And many writers who have completed many things, use NaNo as an exercise. Thus, I’m having a difficult time understanding the validity of this statement. 

    That’s all.

  74. I deleted my own comment, because it’s not really helping anything, and I should set an example, etc. etc.

    Still, there are plenty of ways to have this discussion without being inflammatory, so please keep that in mind.  There is no one right way to do things, if nothing else is true.

    Carry on, and play nice.

  75. @Josh. As per usual, you’re a bigger man than most of us.

  76. I would have liked to see that comment. I know the community likes to maintain a more cool vibe and not get too heated, so I understand the choice.

    daccampo, short stories can follow the same patterns as novels while providing practice in a much easier to manage form; however, I never said WRITE SHORT STORIES FIRST, THEN WRITE A NOVEL. I advised that writing stories in less daunting forms is a good way to go to help avoid the overwhelming struggle writing can become with the longer forms.

    You got your terms mixed up. Non-fiction and Fiction are umbrella terms for the genres of writing. They are mutually exclusive and oxymoronic when put together.

    Poetry and fiction are not mutually exclusive.  

    You can have poetry that is completely fictional. You can have poetry that is completely nonfictional or autobiographical.  

    When someone mentions fiction, it is more than reasonable to place poetry under that term.

    Make sense?

    Jimski, do not make suppositions. They make you seem foolish, especially when we already discussed the exact point you are making implications on.

  77. Um…good luck finishing your novel, Josh!

  78. @Anson17 Well, not literally.

  79. I can’t let this go unaddressed and I didn’t catch it until later: "And clearly what you say on an online message board isn’t necessarily what you say in a classroom… but again, you did validate your arguments here by saying that you’re a teacher and that’s why you’re hard on amateur writers."

    That is not why I mentioned I am writing teacher.

    Josh attempted to disregard my criticism that I’ve seen him dismiss professional writers by pointing out that he is a paid professional reviewer of comics; therefore, I pointed out that I am a paid professional reviewer of writing and deserve at least the same "right" to dismiss people who claim they are writers and don’t have anything completely written.

    To make it real concrete: I was calling him a hypocrite.

    He dismisses people who are professional artists/writers who produce art that people want to buy and sometimes who are well-respected as writers/artists.

    I dismiss people who I meet in life (not my students people!) and over the internet who claim to be writers but don’t have any art to show for it.

    It is not his fault that he does this. It is the unseemly part of being a reviewer. You can’t like everything and the things you don’t like, you can’t always give a lot of time to. Basically, you have to dismiss it.

    I know we all love the iFanboy staff, but I feel that some of you are being unreasonable.

  80. What… what happened here?  And how do I avoid it in the future?

  81. I’m not here to fuck with you or piss you off.

    If you don’t think I have any valid points, then I won’t continue this.

    I appreciate the site and the podcast and your reviews.

  82. @Josh. Keep your opinions to yourself you ill informed man! (sarcasm of the highest degree)

  83. "however, I never said WRITE SHORT STORIES FIRST, THEN WRITE A NOVEL. I advised that writing stories in less daunting forms is a good way to go to help avoid the overwhelming struggle writing can become with the longer forms."

    Um, isn’t that *kinda* like saying one should write short stories first, then write a novel? You’re advising someone that perhaps short stories are a better place to start. Seems to be bit of a semantic thing there.

    As I said, I never had a problem with this advice. I had a problem with the statement you originally made regarding NaNoWriMo, as i quoted it several posts back.

  84. I just don’t think that kind of negative attitude helps at all when the atmosphere is attempting to be inspirational.  Hell, up top, I was being technical.  I think that’s what I wrote about.  There’s a place for realism and cynicism, believe me, but what good does it do, other than shitty on people’s corn flakes, just for the hell of it?

  85. If you substitute write anything, then write a novel, I think that would more accurately represent my thoughts on this issue.

    I can see where you could see it as me bashing the excerise and NaNoWriMo. I really didn’t intend that. Obviously the exercise has a ton of people who love writing and produce all sorts of written work partaking in it.

    I was just warning against it as a first step for a beginning writer.

  86. I hear you Josh.

    I’m cool with stepping out of the discussion and letting it go down a different course.

  87. Well, again… the assumption here is "beginning writer." Which really doesn’t seem to fit in context with what Josh or any commenters had written prior to your original comment.

  88. @Josh What the hell did you stir up, man?

     God damn.  I’m glad I made language arts as my secondary to history on my teaching license.  At least history is a lot more concrete.  Nobody can argue that the Holocaust actually happened;)

  89. @cadamowens DO NOT OPEN THAT CAN OF WORMS!

  90. obviously, I was kidding.  At least I hope it was obvious.  I actually have an assignment for my World History class analyzing the arguments for and against the occurence of the Holocaust.  Terrifying moment for humankind during that period.

  91. @vadamowens I assumed that was your intent so I was trying to play along a little bit. It’s hard not to worry about things like that when subjects as simple as encouragement can set off a shitstorm of internet banter and bickering.

  92. I’m an engineer.  You can’t argue with math!

  93. @drake – you can if the square root of 4 is rainbows! #Glee

  94. I started writing nanowrimo and it reminded me that I had a thousand other writing projects that I would much rather be working on. Also I feel stronger at short stories then novels and what I was working on really was just a short story in the long run.

  95. I posted my comment before reading all the others. It looks like I entered a room yelling "I LOVE CAKE!" ubenknownst that tons of yelling and super serious talk was going on.  I can’t stop laughing about this.

  96. @deccampo-Touche, good sir.  Touche

  97. @Race,

     Seems like a million comments ago that you replied t to me. Just wanted to comment. 

    Fair point about the blank page, and i can see that point of view. It’s not one that fits with my writing style all that much -i have (so far, touch wood) had no issues with block and see the blank page as something to fill- so for me the first draft really is the easy part. For example; just today finished the first draft of my latest manuscript. It’s taken three months at a steady pace and only a few periods when i needed to stop and let my brain figure things out.

    The REAL work for me will begin this weekend when i sit and start on it again at page one and start stripping the meat from the bone, moving things around and deciding which characters are surplus to requirements.

    But thats just me and my process, it’s a fair point that many other people see things differently. 

  98. @TimmyWood – Cake is awesome.

  99. @drakedangerz – You can argue math, can’t you?  Isn’t that what proofs are all about?  I was just talking about this with the head of the math department at my college, and he was discussing how senior thesis for math majors involved establishing and defending a new proof.  It’s argued with logic, but it’s still argued.

    @Scorpion – Again, no problems here with your opinions.  But… look, poetry and fiction are separate genres of literature.  Literature can be divided into four major categories: Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.  In each of those four major genres, there are a figuratively infinite number of sub-genres.  And since these are man-made, imperfect divisions, genres do bleed over into each other from time to time, surely.

    But poetry, in the established rules of literature, is not a genre that exists under the umbrella of fiction.  It is a genre next to fiction, in and of itself.

    There’s not really a debate to be had here.  That is how western literature is classified.  You can argue that the classification system is wrong, if you want… but that’s how it is. 

  100. Speaking of logic… This is one of the least logical "arguments" I have ever seen.  I love writing and you love writing, but I don’t like the way you are writing. 

    @Josh – I think the only way to avoid this in the future is to immediately respond with "I agree completely." every time someone posts something.  Don’t you dare try to have an intelligent discussion. 

  101. @Race-You get high enough in the food chain, you can argue anything.  But the fundamentals remain the same. 2 + 2 = 4.  Always.

  102. @drake – Unless some uppity high-falutin’ thinker decides to argue that 2+2=5.  Seems like that would be pretty easy to dispute, though. 

  103. I just sank my teeth into a slice of red velvet cake.  Where was this type of cake when I was a kid?  I would’ve had the best birthday parties.

  104. @wayne2001 – Red Velvet is excellent, moist with the cream cheese frosting.  But around these parts (Brooklyn) it’s hard for the Red Velvet to overcome the hype.  When I was a kid, every birthday I had a Mocha Cake.  Haven’t had one in years.  It wasn’t chocolate, but it was.  Fantastic.

  105. @Race-Haha.  Eventually one of them will try it.  And when they do, I’ll be ready for them.

  106. You know what this thread needs?  TNC.

  107. You rang?

  108. Okay, that was freaky.

  109. I LOVE CAKE!

  110. RaceMcCloud, no offense boss, but you got your terminology all mixed up and you use your conviction to try and push your faulty logic into a thread where not a single reader but me has a problem with your operational definitions, which is very odd.

    I guess you disregarded my very simple and logical break down of the terms above. 

    I don’t want to even address the term literature. A very problematic and loaded word, especially in the world of comics and pulp and the elitism that the term brings with it.

    Let’s look at your categories.

    You have two categories that relate to content: fiction and nonfiction

    You have two categories that relate to structure and conventions: drama and poetry

    Yet you put them all on equal footing as a means of categorization. That just does not make any sense.

    That is just how western literature is classified? Where is your source for this untouchable classification system? Are you sure that there isn’t any other standard ways to classify literature that is accepted among academics?

    You mentioned Slam poets as nonfiction poets. What about the Romantic poets or the poets of the Victorian age or the postmodern poets or even a Beat poet like Bukowski who definitely fictionalized and created an alterego? That falls under the category of nonfiction?

    I hope you can see the problems with your categorizations now . . .

    And I’m shocked that the very opinionated users on here don’t have any thoughts on this topic.  

  111. Amazing.

  112. I know MFA programs tend to list their programs as Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry. I see what you’re saying, Scorpion, but if someone were to tell me, "I want to see six pages of fiction," I would assume they meant prose fiction and not poetry.

  113. Thanks Paul for trying to see my side whereas other cats on here seem to want to write me off because I tangled with the boss a bit.

    I’ve seen the categorization before, but it is faulty.

    I think RaceMcCloud would have a stronger argument if he used the duality of prose vs. verse not nonfiction vs. fiction.

  114. And stulach, you seem like a smart dude.

    If I’m invincibly ignorant, prove it and stop with the snide responses.

  115. @scorpio For me personally, I just really don’t care enough about the topic to debate it.  As I said before, I chose history because it can be interpretated from perspectives of those that conquer and the conquered.  The various perspectives are easier to narrow down and dissect.  With literature, there is a whole lot more room for multiple interpretations.

    What we’re currently arguing about is genres/subgenres of literature, which can be debated until hell’s freezes over.  Obviously no one will win this argument with you because you won’t find common ground or relinquish your titles as a)canon of literary genres b)who should write and who shouldn’t, and c)I want to piss down the throats of all those that oppose me.  So what’s the point?

  116. @Scorp – You could have stopped here:

    "I don’t want to even address the term literature. A very problematic and loaded word, especially in the world of comics and pulp and the elitism that the term brings with it."

    Well, if you don’t recognize the validity of the word "literature", then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.  Literature is writing in prose and verse.  There.  Done.  Simple enough.  All the other things you mentioned are just the (near) infinite off-shoots of… fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.  All of which CAN contain elements of each other.

    We’re running around in circles which, if we look at your earlier posts here, is something you’re very familiar with.  But poetry is not classified UNDERNEATH fiction, nor vice-versa.  That is the convention of Western Literature.  If you want to keep pissing into the wind to demonstrate your intellectual superiority, be my guest.  But, again: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama.  Which, again, have a near-infinite number of off-shoots that are all tangled up among each other like the root system of a thousand year old tree, to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to determine what genre a particular piece of writing (I’ll avoid using the dangerous term "literature") falls into.  But it all starts with: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama.

  117. Another thing I’ve noticed between prose and comics is that in comics, you have no choice but to spell everything out.  You’re telling the reader exactly what everyone looks like, and where they are, and what it looks like there.  In prose, you can leave out those details, and you often should, and readers fill in the blanks mentally, like the missing moves between film frames.  I find that incredibly freeing, but wonder if I’m leaving out too much at times. 

  118. I just read "Green Eggs and Ham" to my three year old daughter at bedtime.  It got me to thinking.

    1.) Is it fiction?  It tells a fictional story of Sam-I-Am and his Dog-like anthropomorphic acquaintance, complete with a story arc that includes a catalyst (or inciting incident), rising action, a climax, and a resolution.

    2.) Is it poetry?  It is written entirely in verse.

    3.) Is it drama?  It is written as an ongoing dialogue between two characters with no other narration.

    4.) Should it be classified as something else entirely, such as "Children’s Literature"?  Or should the definition of what "Green Eggs and Ham" is reflect the visual nature of the storytelling?  Is there an entirely new classification of literature that we need to put it and its Seussian ilk into?

    The only think it is clearly not is non-fiction.  (I hope we can all agree on that.)  So you see here, what both Scorpion and I have both been professing is true: many works of literature (or simply "writing" if you prefer) are not so easily and neatly classified into a particular genre.  I fully agree with that sentiment.

    What I AM saying is this: no matter what genre "Green Eggs and Ham" falls into, that does nothing to change the fact that the four academically and intellectually accepted master genres of literature are… fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.

    How do I know this?  Where is my proof?  Well, I hold a BA in English Literature and Composition.  I have taught English Literature and Composition on the primary, secondary, and collegiate level for many years.  I hold a MA from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.  You ask, Scorpion, what is my source of information and knowledge?  Years and years of education and experience, that’s what.  Citing a reference for the fact that the four master genres of literature are fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama would be like writing a history paper on World War II and citing a reference to prove that Germany played a key role.  It’s redundant because something so basic falls under the category of "assumed knowledge".

    Now, you can argue sub-genres and the proper classifications of individual works all day long.  In fact, if you didn’t, English Lit majors wouldn’t have jobs.  In fact, the ONLY point, the thing that started this whole contention, that I disagreed with was the idea that POETRY is classified on the Literary genre tree as PART of or UNDERNEATH the genre of FICTION.  That is simply not true.  Poetry is not SUBSERVIENT to fiction.  Poetry STANDS with fiction as an equal in the eyes of the centuries of academics who determine such things.  It is an intellectual and cultural truth.  You want to talk about the duality of prose and verse and use fancy words like "duality"?  Fine.  Here it is, real simple, along with the actual, honest-to-God-I’m-not-making-this-up definitions for the four primary genres of literature: Fiction is writing in prose from that describes imaginary events and people.  Non-fiction is writing in prose form that describes actual events and people.  Poetry is writing in verse form.  Drama is writing that is written in dialogue form with the intent that it will be performed by actors in front of an audience.  Now, do these four forms of literature all intermingle and coexist?  Hell, yes they do.  But they are still the four primary genres of literature.

    I’m going to have to acknowledge and take back my line from before about you wanting to prove your intellectual superiority, because here I am going and doing the same thing.  But you wanted to know the source of what it is I was saying.  Well, that’s all there is to it: common sense, experience, and education.  Hopefully that still counts for something.

    Now can we please get the hell back to whatever it was this thread was SUPPOSED to be about?  How did this even happen? 

  119. @Josh – First, I’m sorry your thread turned into this.  I truly am.

    Second… in comics, you have to spell everything out; or, you have to spell out more than you do in prose.  Okay.  But how much of that is writing?  Is the artwork considered writing?  Does the writer decide what everyone looks like if there’s a different person acting as artist?

    Also, you could argue this… in prose, you have to spell everything out because you accomplish everything in words.  In comics and other visual mediums, you don’t need to spell everything out because the visuals accomplish a lot of what the words would do in prose.  They are, after all, worth a thousand words, as the old cliche goes. 

  120. In comics, it is writing.  It’s just a different kind.  You’re either spelling it out for the artist, or he or she is making that decision, but they are all decisions that contribute to the overall experience of the reader, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s included in the catch-all of writing, or even storytelling if you like that phrase better. 

  121. This might sound a bit ignorant so let me know. #baiting

    But is comic writing kinda like writing a film or tv screenplay? I mean for both you are essentially writing a script. So I would think it’s similar.

  122. It’s very similar, but comics writing actually requires you to fill in more detail than TV or Film scripts, because the rule of thumb in those is not to direct, or advise on line reads.  In comics, the writer can control everything, because they aren’t just the writer, but the director.

  123. @Josh. I assume when you said "spell out" you meant that panel descriptions need to be more concrete and detailed visually than your average prose entry. Am I correct in assuming that? Or are we more looking at the difference in how you describe things for an artist (comics) as opposed to a reader (prose)? When you write your scripts do you tend to talk angles and settings for every panel or only when it is absolutely necesary that something be seen a certain way? I’ve been reading some pro scripts and some of them use very little panel description and that strikes me as a bit odd.

  124. McCloud, your tone is one of taking the high road, but your posts fall into the same trap you accuse me of.

    The reason I don’t want to discuss the term literature is because it often carries the connotation of quality and people will make distinctions between the fiction of Stephen King and the literature of Shakespeare. It is a separate argument.

    Call me naive, but I believe human reason and logic will win the day against arguments of "that is how it is."

    Your argument contains numerous appeals to authority (not all of them bad by the way), but your whole argument hinges on the logical fallacy of arguing from is to ought.

    Western Literature is defined this way so Western literature should remain defined this way.

    Dude, you want to play the paper game (degrees) of why I should back down? I can play that game as well, and not to be a dick, but my paper game beats your paper game.

    I can also play the experience game.

    If you are a writing teacher, you should easily be able to refute my attack of your fallacious argument with something other than the fallacy you have been using.

    Fiction and nonfiction are mutually exclusive and oxymoronic when put together.

    Poetry and fiction are not mutually exclusive.  

    You can have poetry that is completely fictional. You can have poetry that is completely nonfictional or autobiographical.  

    When someone mentions fiction, it is more than reasonable to place poetry under that term.


    You have two categories that relate to content: fiction and nonfiction

    You have two categories that relate to structure and conventions: drama and poetry

    Yet you put them all on equal footing as a means of categorization. That just does not make any sense.

    Vandomowens, in my opinion history can be just as messy as English. I used the same analytical skills I used in English as I used in history.

    And the reason I continue is I believe in logic . . . even on the internet.

  125. Sometimes I like pie too. But cake really is awesome. Whenever I blow out any type of candle is makes me want cake.

  126. Wait…so one guy makes a point that no one seems to disagree with and the way he phrased it spawned several semi-arguments.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; wars have started this way. 🙂


  127. My eyes just glazed over upon trying to read all of this text.

    Maybe that’s why I like comics more than prose.

  128. I started this NaNoWriMo lark this November after a couple of years dithering, and so far, so good. I’ve done it because I’ve always fancied myself as a writer, but since college I haven’t written much more than a postcard and a couple of longish e-mails. This year I’ve befriended people who are actually trying to make a career out of it, so – dammit – I thought I owed it to myself to give it a try and see if I can actually create anything coherent, innovative or worthwhile. Turns out that – amongst all the dross – there might actually be the odd decent idea, the occasional nice turn of phrase in there somewhere. I’m not daft enough to think that I have a career in writing (I already have a career I quite like… most days), but I’m enjoying the writing process enough to think that I might do a sequel next year. 

    As a newbie I outlined the hell out of my plot, and already had characters in my head who I knew inside out. My overly-complex plot needs seven point-of-view characters to tell it, but – you know what – I’ve read enough DC team books in the last 20 years to be able to carry it off!

     I know there are loads of iFanbasers who have writing aspirations. NaNoWriMo has some flaws – not least the artificial emphasis on word count – but it’s greatest success is that it removes all excuses and barriers to writing. Just sitting down and bashing out the words to get across the story is good practice, but when you get in the zone and create something that reads even halfway decently, it’s a fantastic feeling. 

    Shall we have an iFanbase writing group next November?

    Good luck Josh, Paul, Daccampo and all other November Novelists – only 10 days to go!


  129. It should be noted that ckl is way ahead.



  130. Less than 3000 words ahead! 

  131. I really do love cake. Pretty much any cake. Also meringues, and pie too. Oh, and cobbler. I’m crazy about cobbler.

  132. I’m just gonna repost this in case it got lost in the fray – @josh

      I assume when you said "spell out" you meant that panel descriptions need to be more concrete and detailed visually than your average prose entry. Am I correct in assuming that? Or are we more looking at the difference in how you describe things for an artist (comics) as opposed to a reader (prose)? When you write your scripts do you tend to talk angles and settings for every panel or only when it is absolutely necesary that something be seen a certain way? I’ve been reading some pro scripts and some of them use very little panel description and that strikes me as a bit odd.

  133. I’m always surprised how little description is in a comic script.  It depends on what kind of writer you are, I suppose, and also what kind of artist you’re working with.  With me, it depends on several factors.  If I’m trying to do something subtle, I definitely spell it out more.  If there’s more action, I tend to describe the actions, broken into panels, but I tend to leave composition and panel breakdown to the artists.  But it’s definitely a different kind of description than you’d put in prose.  Basically, it works like this: if you don’t write something in your script, you can’t expect your artist to know what it is.  The lighting, the setting, the clothing, the everything is up for grabs, and an artist need to interpret that.  The more you give them, the more control you have over your story.  The more you trust your artist, and even vice versa, the more you can leave up to them. 

    At some point, I’ll post some scripts on my blog.  I’ve been all over the board, but I try to be as minimal as possible.  But it’s still more than I’d ever write in prose or even a screenplay.  Esecially if it’s the beginning of a story, and everything is new and has to be defined.  You don’t have to do that for Amazing Spider-Man #612, you know.  The look of most things is established by that point.  For something new, you’re gonna have to put more effort into it.

  134. @josh: Responding to your earlier…..response….That is actually a very good answer. You’re right, when your the writer of a comic, you have control of (almost) anything that happens. You tell what the artist has to do and maybe a little bit with the letterer as well. For a TV/Film, a writer just basically gives the dialogue while the director makes the picture out of it. So yeah, I guess they are very different from each other.

    Josh has actually blown my mind tonight.

  135. @Josh. At the start of a story do you do basic character breakdowns and profiles for an artist or do you put it mostly into the script and let them find their own interpretation?

  136. I’ll back Josh on the difference between TV/Film, comics, and prose. I actually find comics the most difficult, possibly because I have spent the least time working on the scripts, but also because I find them a little more intensive to construct.

    I find prose to be the easiest to WRITE in some ways, because you’re controlling the entire world from the start, and if you find your groove and stop worryng about clever writing, you find that you know how to write sentence and convey details and describe the image in your mind’s eye.

    However, I find that screenplays are the easiest for me to CONSTRUCT a STORY. I don’t know if that makes sense, but because you’re not focusing on the description in the same way, you’re really just focusing on what characters are saying and doing, and i find that tends to strip away from of the worries of prose and just allow you to find and lay down your story. 

    With comics — full script comics — you are constructing the shot. So I spend time not just thinking about the story, but about how it breaks down on the page AND how you’re going to communicate that to the artist. Where the film script strips away a layer, comics seems to add a layer of abstraction, which makes it harder to get into the groove.

    That’s been my experience anyway.

  137. @daccampo, have you ever tried throwing down layouts while you’re writing a page. I mean more like panel breakdowns, I guess. I have some program that came on my mac called Comic Life that at least can layout a basic page (and can be tweaked.) That usually helps me visualize a page a little better. I’m sure there’s a windows equivalent if that’s what you’re running.

  138. I usually come up with character breakdowns in addition to the script, and develop those with the artist.  Sometimes, less important characters show up int he script, so I give a suggestion.  I try not to do breakdowns for pages, because that’s mostly the artist’s job, and i frankly don’t want to take it away from them, when they should be able to do it better than me.  But that’s not a hard and fast rule.

    And yes, so far, comics are the hardest as well, I think.

  139. @Anson — yes, I actually will sketch a little thumbnail of the page layout sometimes Or even first storyboard little drawings of the sequence of actions and THEN figure out how the page should break down. And I can’t do that while I’m discovering what the story is, so sometimes I’ll just do a summary of the story, and then try to break that down by page numbers and then take the story per page and try to break down the way each page would lay out. See what I mean about abstraction? It’s so much construction!

    Funny, but remember back when Paul hosted the short comic book story contest on iFanboy? I actually thought that I would try to write and crudely draw one — rather than just submit a script. I had a lot of fun setting it up, but I couldn’t draw more than a page. So as an exercise to myself, i scanned and laid my entire process into a PDF and sent it to Paul. It was fun. I actually storyboarded the pages in a Moleskine notebook and then used a scripting program to do the full script. I also included samples of sketches and how I taught myself to draw the cartoon figures (while ultimately failing to draw more than the first page). Hmm, maybe I should post that document to my blog or something…

  140. @Sonia-I go ape shit for peach cobbler

  141. Cobbler is awesome (especially peach), but pie beats all. Pumpkin pie uber alles!

    And everytime I hear someone talk about writing (esp. NanoWriMo), I *almost* get convinced to start trying to write agai. Then I remember I’m horrible at it and come back to reality. 🙂


  142. @Josh. Oh, I didn’t mean to infer that I did that instead of the artist. I’m still early on in my writing (especially developing my scripting skills.) I just feel it’s a good idea to be able to visualize pages on some level so that I know I’m writing realistic scripts once I start handing them to artists.  Looks like our process is somewhat similar in regards to characters. Can’t wait to see some of your scripts on your blog. I really enjoy Low Level. It’s got a cool vibe to it. The narration is great.


    @daccampo. Can I ask what scripting program you use? I’m running a mac and use a mx of Celtx and Pages (since one’s free and I already had the other one lying around.) I’d like to upgrade to a "real" scripting program so I’m looking for suggestions and warning. Thanks in advance!

  143. @Anson17 – Both Final Draft and Movie Magic work great for scriptwriting. Dave uses the former. I use the latter. If you can take advantage of a student discount, there’s no better time to pick one up. Just try the free or cheaper programs live Scrivener first. If that doesn’t do the trick, try a free trial of the premium programs. 

  144. @Paul. Thank ye kindly.

  145. I forgot to answer this because Paul did, but then I remembered something I wanted to add. A while back, Andy Diggle tweeted some comic script "templates" he had made for Final Draft. I actually applied those the last time I scripted, and it worked out pretty well.

  146. I wrote this article on that very thing a while back.  I’ve used the all, and I use Scrivener for the most part now, even though I have the choice.


  147. @Josh. I knew that was on here somewhere. Thanks for the link.

  148. @Paul – Definitely gonna take a good hard look at picking up Scrivener. Luckily, I’m in college so I can take a look at one of the more hardcore programs too. Just need to make sure it’s worth the investment first.

  149. @Anson17 Scrivener has been really excellent for the NaNoWriMo thing. It’s been easy to pick up, loads of useful features (especially the outliner) and I’m not sure I would have got this far without it. Highly recommended, I’d say.