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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dealing With Bad Comic & Fantasy Stories- A Writer’s Perspective

Sometimes a writer like myself writes a story that’s not our best. Sometimes the story elements don’t work, sometimes the characterizations are a little off. The climax doesn’t satisfy. And sometimes the ending is just kind of wonky.

What does a writer like myself do when he has a bad story?

Well, I take a page from Stan Lee and own up to the fact that it’s a bad story. Then I just put a period at the end of that story and move on to the next one. If a story just doesn’t work, I just won’t revisit that story. Yeah, I may pick a story point here or there to use in another story for continuity reasons, but for the most part I just move on.

I understand while the structure of something like a comic book universe or a fantasy world are solid, the form is fluid. And that form can be re-shaped in a way without damaging the overall foundation of the universe.

These days in comics I don’t see a lot of writers applying Stan’s approach when it comes to bad stories. Instead of putting a period at the end of a bad story, they try to “fix” most of the events of that previous story that didn’t work.  In fact they spend so much time trying to undo the damage of a bad story or a bad storyline that they don’t have time to write many good ones or even put their own imprint on a character.

And instead of a writer focusing on moving forward towards the finish line of their run, they wind up stuck in neutral. Stalling as they try to bring a character they killed back from the dead or undoing some catastrophe from an event that was supposed to shock readers. Desperately trying to get a series back on track and get alienated fans to start picking the book up again.

Unfortunately, the more they try to “fix” the mistakes in an older story the more they wind up breaking the character and burning out creatively. And instead of admitting their mistakes and putting a period at the end of that story, they put more effort into tearing apart the structure and foundations of the publication’s universe to fix more things that aren’t broken. Then they try to patch it all back together with spit, glue, tape and a new number one issue.

Only to watch things collapse under their own weight three to five years later.
Sometimes a bad story doesn’t need to be fixed with an event. Sometimes a bad story doesn’t need to be fixed with a reboot. Sometimes a publisher just has to admit a story just doesn’t work and move on.

How does that writer move on? The plot device they use is up to them. But with the form of comic storytelling being fluid, all a writer has to do is put a period at the end of a bad story and go on to the next one to get things right.

Many comic editors and some creators don’t understand Stan’s Lee approach today. When it came to continuity in between serialized stories, Stan Lee applied a looser approach where he took each story on as its own individual unit with its own beginning, middle, and end. And because he approached each story as an individual component that loosely connected with others by light references, writers had the fluidity of form to put a period at the end of bad stories and move on to better ones.

Unfortunately, may comic editors these days focus on making almost every story and literally every minute of characters’ lives interweave with each other in the hopes of having a tight continuity. And because the threads every plot thread are so tightly woven and enmeshed around the structure of a comic book Universe it makes it harder for a writer to put that period at the end of that bad story when they write it.

And even harder to move forward after a bad story gets published. This is why writers spend years trying to get an entire universe fixed in the aftermath of the failed events of a bad storyline like Identity Crisis or Graduation Day.

Sticking an entire universe of characters in Neutral instead of moving them forward.

Bad stories are a part of any writers’ career. I’ve written them myself. For every great story I’ve written like The Temptation of JohnHaynes, Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess, Spinsterella, and All About Marilyn, I’ve written not so great stories like The Politics of Hell, Isis: Death of aTheta, E’steem: The Beast From the Bowels and The Saga of MastiKatious. But when a story doesn’t work, I don’t dwell on it. I just put a period at the end of that story, pick the story points that do work from it, and move on to the next story. Every second a writer spends dwelling on a bad story and trying to fix it is time they could use towards writing a great one.

1 comment:

  1. Great advise, for anyone who likes to write or does it for a living. I remember Stan Lee once told a story where he put a blurb on an issue of the Fantastic Four that said something like: "Hey we know this isn't a great issue, but we figure we've delivered so many great issues of the Fantastic Four that you can give us a pass on this one." The punchline of that story was that issue of the Fantastic Four sold more copies than any issue before it. Now whether that story is true or not (or just exaggeration on the part of Stan Lee) it still illustrates a point that owning up to your mistakes, sometimes pays off in unexpected ways.