Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Table Talk - Counting Words and Runaway Tales

The wonderful thing about creating stories is the often limitless nature of creating things. There are no boundaries, nothing a creator cannot do in the name of making up a great tale. However, this can often lead to pitfalls and unforeseen circumstances. This week, we check in on Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock as they discuss applying some structure and what to do when the story bleeds over the lines.

Question (Bobby): Stories come in many different sizes, short, novella, novel, stand alone issue, mini series, graphic novel, etc. How do you, as a writer, determine length of your story? Do you know going in that you want to do a novel or does a story sometimes grow from a short to a novel? Or do you work the other way and let length of story you're writing dictate content?

Mike: That's a tough one to answer as it seems to be a rapidly moving target for me. Normally, when I'm giving a writing job, it comes with a word count, or in the case of comics a page count. At that point, I automatically know how large or small the story has to be. I will say I struggle a bit with really short stories, often feeling like all I can do is look through a window into a much larger tale. Unfortunately, having done many stories that way, I often see criticism of the work that says something along the lines of "I felt like I got dropped into the middle of a story."

Barry: Yeah, like Mike said, most of my jobs come with a word count but generally I can "feel" whether or not an idea could sustain itself over the course of a novel or if a short story is all that's required. I try to never force it, instead letting the idea dictate the form.

Bobby: Same here. Most assignments come with a word count, which dictates what story I can tell. Shorter pieces were a struggle for me in the beginning, but with practice I think I’ve gotten better at that. Even novels have a kind of word limit range so I know what to shoot for. Same with comics, although sometimes I wish I could have just one extra page.

Mike: I get that "one extra page" thing. It never seems like twenty-two pages is enough to tell a really over-the-top story, once I start adding in splash pages and double splash pages. The new Air Vixens comic from Moonstone is longer for that very reason. For everyone who gets a copy, stop reading at page twenty-two and you'll see what I mean. [wink]

Mike: Okay, on to the next question. I'm sure we've all had those times when you start writing and then all the sudden you're way outside what you originally intended to do. So that begs the question: What do you do when a story 'gets away from you' so to speak?

Bobby: Ain’t that the truth? Usually, this happens as a result of the character informing the way the story goes. If I’ve done my job right then the character will be real enough to me that he or she will deal with any given situation by their personality. Most of the time this opens up great ideas and interesting directions, which is why (SPOILERS) in my Ravenwood - Stepson of Mystery story, the singer is not killed by the entity in the mirror as originally intended and instead possessed by her. It was not the way I intended the story to go, but it worked out so much better because I listened to the characters and didn’t kill her off. Sometimes it makes the story ramble and you have to find a way to steer the story back to where it needs to be or you have to go back and start making cuts and do rewrites.

This works better with novels and longer pieces as opposed to shorter stories that have a dedicated word count you have to hit. It’s hard to stray from your story too much and keep it on target.

Barry: It really depends on what I’m working on and how much it “gets away from me.” If it’s a big diversion but I can still keep the overall framework of the story (like, say, killing someone early in the book who wasn’t intended to die until later), then I will usually go with it and just tweak as much as I can. But sometimes I’m forced to just stop and re-evaluate the entire affair. There have been times when I’ve been forced to scrap an entire plot to suit what feels “right” – I will usually save the other draft, though. There are times when I can re-use that elsewhere. For instance, my first draft of “The Devil’s Workmen” (from the second Moonstone Avenger collection) was very different than the one I actually submitted. I was able to take that first draft and rewrite it into being two chapters of my novel THE DAMNED THING!

Bobby: I’m a big fan of recycling. If a plot idea doesn’t work, don’t toss it out. Save it for later. Several times I’ve put two small plot ideas together to create a full-length plot.

Mike: That happens to me a lot as well. I'll start out one direction, then find the story taking me elsewhere. So, at that point, I'll shelve the original idea and find a use for it later on. I have a ton of older material like this that I cannibalize later on; everything from just simple ideas of characters all the way to entire scenes that I re-work for other stories. Thankfully, this doesn't happen too terribly often, but it does happen. It's happening right now, as a matter of fact, with my Tales of the Rook story… but, I won't spoil any of that until after the book is out.

Over the past decade, Barry Reese has written for publishers as diverse as Marvel Comics, Moonstone Books and West End Games. Primarily known for his pulp fiction creations The Rook and Lazarus Gray, Barry has also penned stories featuring The Green Hornet, The Avenger and Ki-Gor. He won the Best Author Award at the 2011 Pulp Ark Conference.

From his secret lair in the wilds of Bethlehem, Georgia, Bobby Nash writes novels, short stories, novellas, comic books, and graphic novels. Visit him at

Born with an excessively overactive imagination, Mike Bullock has parlayed that into a successful career writing comics and prose fiction. Bullock has written more Phantom comic book stories than any other US author and won the Angouleme Discovery Prize in 2007 for his creator owned series "Lions, Tigers and Bears".

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