2018/07/03

Chuck Dixon's 10 Comic Commandments

Ten Commandments

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

Your book's first paragraph should start with action, character, or dialogue that immediately hooks the reader.

Dialogue should be crunchy, clear, and efficient. In my editing work I see quite a few new authors trying to ape Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino style "real life" conversation. Those authors are throwing away one of the greatest advantages art has over real life.

When someone cuts you off in traffic, you have a split second to fire off a comeback. What if you had a time machine and could go back to that moment after you'd come up with the perfect rejoinder later that night? Your characters have that time machine: your revisions. Dialogue should be the "best of" real-world speech, not an emulation of it.

Dixon's third commandment echoes Lester Dent's Master Pulp Formula. You want action at regular intervals in your story, and you want to mix it up. You don't want all gunfights. Have a gunfight, fisticuffs, and a foot race against a ticking clock through a crowded shopping mall.

Pulp purists who delight in unblemished heroes and villains who are evil for evil's sake might disagree with commandments five and six. I'm with Dixon. Even the saints had quirks, like Saint Jerome's legendary temper and St. Francis taking love of poverty to an extreme. Milton's Paradise Lost is a classic in large part because it casts Satan as the antihero whose evil yet towering ambition the reader is tempted to root for.

The injunction against redundancy can be summed up in SFF writing as "show, don't tell". There's no need to say that your POV character sees something. Just describe what he sees. If you show us a character who's weeping, telling us he feels sad is just gilding the rose.

In these post-literate, fruit fly attention span times, stories need to be simpler and easier to follow than ever. Here Dixon offers a variant of my perennial advice to authors: Be clear, not clever!

The front cover should entice the reader to check out the back cover blurb. The blurb should entice the reader to read the first paragraph. The first paragraph should close the sale. The last paragraph and the preview of the next book should get the reader pumped to buy the sequel.

Prose fiction is polishing a window, not painting a picture. Get in. Deliver the goods. Get out.


And get my breakout adventure-horror novel Nethereal, now just 99 cents!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

10 comments:

  1. "Dixon's third commandment echoes Lester Dent's Master Pulp Formula. You want action at regular intervals in your story, and you want to mix it up. You don't want all gunfights. Have a gunfight, fisticuffs, and a foot race against a ticking clock through a crowded shopping mall"

    How exactly would this work in short horror or creepypasta? I've written a horror story or two that had action (a la Larry Correia) in it, and I felt that detracted from the mood of dread and terror that I was trying to convey.

    Is it more about just moving the plot/mystery forward?

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    1. If you haven't read my previous post on Dent's formula, linked above, I strongly suggest it. He's used the formula to sell every kind of story, and he explains its use better than I can.

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    2. "Action" means movement. It doesn't have to be physical action.

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  2. See Steve Ditko's "22 Panels That Always Work". People don't have to be punching through walls every other panel to have action.

    Will Eisner's book "Comics and Sequential Art"

    "Action" is more than fight scenes.

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    1. Right on. A scene with punches being thrown but no character or stakes isn't action. It's just violence.

      Red Letter Media explained the difference well in one of their Star Trek reviews. Plinkett contrasts the mindless chaos of one movie sequence with a scene from the TV show wherein Picard and a couple senior officers are being marched down a corridor at gunpoint by mutineers. No shots are fired. No one comes to blows. There's not one word of dialogue. But you could cut the tension with a chainsaw.

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    2. Drat. Never edit in the text box!

      Wally Wood's "22 Panels That Always Work", and

      Steve Ditko's "Mr A" Slice of pie: Mr A opener

      Also, Ditko vs Byrne. Hint: Ditko wins.

      Bonus: Marvel Sell-out Year was 1968.

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    3. Wow, Man of the Atom. Those last two are really interesting. I had never guessed Marvel's history from that far back was so tumultuous and contentious, having never been into Western comics.

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  3. I have to admit I do gristle a bit at 5, 6. Probably since we have seen those get taken a bit far in modern fiction.

    We have "flawed heroes" forced down our throats that have nothing but flaws, and no hints of the heroic. And Villains who are given so many sympathetic traits and are treated like the real heroes. The net effect tends to be 'heroes' who are not heroic, and villains without an hint of boo factor. I guess this could just be another example of "all things in moderation". A flawed hero is an engaging one, but don't take it too far, and vice versa.

    And though this isn't a point you Chuck make, I'm on a rant so I'll keep going. I am sick and tired of the post modern "no character sees themselves as evil, or is actually evil," and it's opposite of heroes. I call bullcrap on that. It's my point of view that real good, and real evil are in full display on a daily basis in the real world, and it's asinine to claim that exaggerations of this can't exist in fiction. I have a hard time believing the guy who kicks sand castles into the faces of the toddlers building them does so for righteous reasons. Now people may do bad things, and lie to themselves about it, but it's just that, lying to themselves, and they know it. I guess I'm just rehashing at this point. There is nothing wrong with flawed heroes, and villains with endearing traits, I'm just personally bored with the extremes presented thanks to the post modern lens.

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    1. Dixon is telling the author to add "seasoning" to the meat, not replace the meat with squash.

      A sprinkle of salt is used by a talented author; a salt lick is used by a SJW hack.

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  4. Yeah, I'm a Ditko fanatic. Browse here for some posts and examples of the 5-page Ditko thriller, from Past-Year Marvel and Charlton.

    Crisp, sharp visual story telling, usually with a twist ending. Not all winners, but Ditko bats over .500.

    And still going strong: Kickstarter for Mr A

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