Category Archives: Writing

About writing

Words by Mike Baron

WORDS

Story is a dynamic narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many elements contribute to successful story including characterization (William Faulkner,) lively dialogue (George V. Higgins,) an exciting concept (Michael Crichton,) mood (Shirley Jackson,) or a wild plot (Randy Wayne White.) You construct them all with words. How many words? However many you need to achieve the effect. Can you use too many words? You sure can, but words are the building blocks of story. Whenever I see that asinine challenge, what’s the scariest story you can tell in six words, I want to shake the challenger by the collar. You can’t build a house with six bricks.

Some authors are drunk on words. Anthony Burgess, Michael Chabon, and Marlon James come to mind. Some authors parcel their words like Ebeneezer Scrooge. Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. However you do it, the goal is the same: to grab the reader by the throat and drag him into the narrative to the exclusion of all else. You want to write a book that makes the reader resent anything that interrupts his reading.

Badger Novel, Mike Baron

The Badger novel is about ninety per cent finished, but other projects have taken my attention. What could possibly be more important that the Badger novel? Bringing home the bacon! And yes, I’ve seen the video with the coyote and the badger! Everybody and my sister sent it to me.

BADGER THREE “Adiosky”

“Quit what?” Ham replied.

“Take this job and shove it!”

Mavis leveled a finger. “He born for better things than shoveling shit!”

“See here, old chap! If you don’t want to shovel shit, why didn’t you just say so? I have plenty of other work for you. We need to repair that old storage shed. And when we’re done with that, I’d like you to plant mint in the garden. I hear it deters rabbits.”

Mavis wagged that finger.

“Badger work for you long enough. Where his IRA? Where his pension plan?”

Ham spread his hands. “I pay him a hundred thousand dollars a year, same as you. I provide room and board. Surely you have the wherewithal to fund your own IRA.”

“Not point! This man great martial artist! We open school.”

“See here, old chap! You’ve been with me since the beginning! Do you want more money? What if I were to give you a fancy title? Director of Security! I’ll give you an office.”

“Boss, I just feel my potential is wasted shoveling shit. I haven’t fought a demon in years. I wouldn’t know how to fight one now. The demons never come around anymore. I’ve always dreamed of opening my own studio.”

Badger raised his hands. “Go. Go with my blessing. But before you go, would you be so kind as to recommend a replacement? Someone who can do what you do.”

Badger thought long and hard. “Wombat.”

“What, that berserker from Australia? Is that a good idea?”

Mavis seized Badger by the arm. “Is best idea.”

“Do you have contact info?”

“Wire Wombat, Canberra,” Mavis said.

“He’s on Facebook,” Badger said.

“I’ll try that. Very well. Will you be in touch?”

“Of course,” Badger said. “I just want to try something new. If any demons show up, give me a holler.”

Ham collapsed in his chair, which squeaked and groaned. “Fine.”

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m a little disappointed. I should have been more attentive. I thought you liked shoveling shit!”

Mavis seized the Vietnamese vase from its plinth.

“Wait a minute,” Ham said.

“This is my vase. I only let you borrow because you wanted to study, remember? You no study.”

Ham turned to Badger exasperated. “She speaks perfect English when she wants, doesn’t she?”

“You want demon, I crack vase over skull! Then you see demon!”

“I was hoping to see the demon without violence.”

Mavis snorted in disgust. “We also taking dogs.”

“Fine! Take them.”

“Dog missing. Did you eat?”

Ham looked up, startled. “What? What dog? No! I don’t eat dogs!”

“Then why you name him Waffles?”

Ham stood and waved his arms. “Go! Go with my blessing, curse you!”

Mavis grabbed Badger’s hand and yanked him out of the office. “I already pack. I get car. You get dogs.”

Badger sat on the flagstone floor of the entryway and sucked his thumb. Mavis knelt before him and took his head in her hands. “Norbert. Norbert. I’m sorry I mentioned Waffles. You have to be a man now, for the sake of the dogs.”

Badger looked at her with fearful eyes, then looked away.

Mavis cupped her hands and howled like a wolf. Badger sprang into a fighting stance, like Travis Bickle.

“Where are the wolves?”

Mavis gestured broadly. “They’re out there. But right now, I need you to get all the dogs together. We’re leaving.”

As a result of severe childhood abuse at the hands of his stepfather, Norbert Sykes had issues. The American Psychiatric Association, which flitted from trend to trend like a butterfly, had recently decided that multiple personality disorder did not exist. They now characterized what used to be known as MPD into four types.

Dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization disorder, derealization disorder, and dissociative amnesia disorder. Badger’s therapist, Daisy Fields, who also served as Ham’s secretary, tried to keep up. But it was impossible to keep up. She had diagnosed Badger with five separate personalities: Gastineau Grover DePaul, a tough inner-city black, Emily, a six year old girl, Max Swell, a gay architect, Leroy, a dog, and Pierre, a mass murderer. Daisy had done her best, but until Badger met Mavis, he was all over the place.

Since Mavis had come into his life, he was calmer and more focused. She possessed an intuitive understanding of psychosis from dealing with animals all her life. She was born in Vietnam. They met at a martial arts tournament.

“Dogs!” she snapped.

“Right!” Badger said, stepping out the main entrance onto the broad front stoop. Inserting two fingers, he whistled. Barks and howls emanated from every corner. Five dogs lined up in a row, wagging their tails. Synchronized. Bob was a black border collie/golden retriever mix. Mack was a female pug/Boston terrier mix. Freddy was a collie/dingo mix. Ermagerd was a female snickerdoodle. Otis was some kind of hound.

“Dogs, you’re wondering why I called you here. We’re moving to a new home. No dog left behind. The food will be the same. Has anyone seen Leroy?”

They all started barking at once.

Mavis pulled up in a 1990 GMC Suburban pulling a trailer. They stuck their suitcases in the trailer. The dogs piled in. Badger got the shotgun seat.

“Is this everything?”

“No. We come back.”

“Where we going?”

“I rent farmhouse from Old MacDonald. I save foal last winter. He like me.”

Badger remembered a cold, windy night, staying up with Mavis in the drafty barn, Mavis’ arms up to her elbows inside the mare, gently easing the foal into its new life. Old MacDonald had called it a miracle. There were two houses on his property, the modest ranch style in which he and his wife of fifty years lived, and the old double decker that had belonged to his parents. The senior MacDonalds had lived there until they passed, several years ago. They were buried on the property, as were their parents.

Before they could leave, Daisy Fields ran out the front door. A shapely blond in her mid-thirties, she wore creased tan Banana Republic slacks, a vintage flapper blouse, and glasses.

“Stop! Stop! Where are you going?”

Mavis stood on the driver’s seat through the sun roof, pointing down the road. “We move to 221 Baker Street, five miles that way. You join us for dinner tonight, Hoity Toity. Pick you up at s.x”

“What? Why?”

Badger stood on the shotgun seat. “I want to open my own kung fu school.”

Mavis put her arm around his shoulders. “He tired of shoveling shit!”

“Oh no! Oh no! You can’t go! You’re the reason I’m here.”

“Nonsense,” Mavis said. “Ham relies on you. You do real work! Accounting. Administrative. He needs you more than Badger.”

Daisy looked like she was about to cry. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Don’t worry about it!” Badger said. “We’ll pick you up at six!”

“Can you at least leave me a dog?”

Badger lowered himself and turned to face the dogs. “Boys, who wants to stay here with Daisy? I need a volunteer.”

Otis leaped out the window, ran up the stairs, and licked Daisy as she crouched to hug him.

“Miss Fields, I need you!” Ham called through the open window.

Mavis started the engine. “Back later, pick you up at six.”

Daisy watched them drive down the perfect black asphalt and exit through the stone gate onto Brotherhood Lane.

Too late, she called out, “Wait! Wait! That can’t be your address! Sherlock Holmes lives there!”

Florida Man, Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN

I don’t choose my stories, my stories choose me. I knew “Trail of the Loathesome Swine” was a great title, but it took me thirty years to find the story. It’s about a feral hog that eats a boy’s sister, and his pursuit of vengeance. It’s a funny story. The writer’s first duty is to entertain.

Day after day my feed was filled with Florida Man stories. There’s a compilation site: floridaman.com. Thousands of stories. After being socked in the face with my thousandth, I realized that the Muse was asking me to put them into a hysterical narrative. Thus was born Florida Man. It instantly became my best selling title under my own name. The Western I wrote, Killer’s Train, is the best selling. Go figure. There’s a huge audience for Westerns, so I’m doing another under the same pen name, A.W. Hart.

My publisher asked me for a Florida Man sequel. At first I thought there was nothing more to say. Then I went to that website. Man, was I wrong. There’s enough Florida Man material to fill a dozen books. So here I am toiling away on Florida Man 2, and the problem isn’t enough material, but too much! The latest stories involve frozen iguanas dropping from trees and bonking people in the head. And then this gem:

Florida Man Fills Car with Frozen Iguanas, They Warm Up, Come Back to Life, Cause Accident .

And under the headline: Sorry, this post has been removed by the moderators of r/news. Moderators remove posts from feeds for a variety of reasons, including keeping communities safe, civil, and true to their purpose.

God bless our moderators, ever vigilant lest we harm ourselves!

My latest Florida Man review was posted yesterday:

Five out of 5 stars. Mike Baron captured the essence of Florida in this book. So many blunders in pursuit of doing the right thing sometimes befall even the best of men. The references to. Small town Florida life are perfectly portrayed without becoming overdone and the antics of the wildlife is also dead on. A great escape.

Please check out my coffee spewing novel at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07X118GT4?pf_rd_p=ab873d20-a0ca-439b-ac45-cd78f07a84d8&pf_rd_r=MCYPFZZHHRECA65S11RK

The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Whenever I’m about to start a story, whether on my own or at the request of others, I work up an outline that covers most of the plot. But it’s not just a road map, it’s an advertisement for the story. I make that outline fun to read. When you outline your story, always do so with the intention of showing it to others, even if you never do. The goal of the outline is to excite interest. Once someone finishes the outline, they should say, “Holy moly! Now I want to read the book!” I am currently writing a Western called The Curse of The Black Rose. It’s about ninja nuns. No kidding. It’s not my idea. Here is the outline:

Rancher Cobb Hansen brings in Chaco, a wounded, dehydrated Indian boy to the mission at Santo Tomas where the nuns nurse him. Chaco escaped from General Alcala Nebres, a rogue Castilian forced to flee Spain due to his participation in a plot to overthrow King Alfonso. Nebres sailed to Mexico where he claimed an ancient land grant in Hidalgo Province, while rebel forces seek to depose President Diaz, who gave him a land grant in exchange for his support. Before rebels forced him north, Nebres plundered an ancient Mayan temple, claiming it belonged to him.

Nebres has moved north into Chihuahua, but even there, the revolution nips at his heels. He travels with is own priest and gives confession daily. Determined to carve out his own kingdom, Nebres looks across the Rio Grande at Texas. Chaco says Nebres enslaves and tortures Indians and Mexicans alike.

Mother Mercy dispatches Catalina, Sister Sofia, and Sister Caroline Harp to check it out, and if what Chaco says is true, to kill Nebres and free the slaves. Cobb Hendricks’ ranch is in flames, Hendricks barely alive to describe the attack. Nebres stole his cattle and drove them across the river.

In Mexico, a rebel patrol “escorts” them to Pancho Villa, who recently escaped prison and is deeply troubled by his actions. He seeks absolution but nuns can’t hear confession. Catalina questions him on Nebres, with whom Villa has been feuding. Nebres claims a mandate from God and from Mayan deity Itzamna to create his own land. Villa is determined to drive him out of Mexico. He chews coca leaves constantly, and plans to cultivate the plant.

The nuns accompany Villa on his raid against Nebres’ men, who have taken over the tiny town of Sagrado Corazon, killing the men, abusing the women, and taking their prized Miura fighting bulls. The nuns join the fight, astonishing both sides who have never seen fighting nuns. A captured lieutenant reveals that Nebres has staked out a vast territory in New Mexico and declared himself an independent nation. Itzama has made Nebres invincible, attracting embittered Spanish/American war veterans. Rough Riders.

Catalina learned strategy and history from Aguiles and his sons. Disguised as Apache, Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline head north, onto Apache land. Surrounded, they reveal themselves and demand unarmed combat. The Apache are astonished. Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline kick butt, astonishing the Apache who adopt the three nuns into the tribe and agree to help the Sisters. Nebres’ men raped and murdered an Apache woman and killed her child. The Apaches catch up with the raiders. Catalina recognizes one from Elan’s description. Surrounded by Apache, the braggart challenges one of them to fight him hand to hand. Wearing warpaint, Catalina mutilates him, puts him on a horse and sends him back to Nebres with a message. Vengeance is coming.

From the Guadalupe Mountains, the sisters view Nebres’ through telescopes. He has taken over the San Cristobal Mission and put his troops to work building corrals and robbing trains. The mortally wounded priest curses Nebres. “God will send an angel disguised as a devil. She will take your soul.”

New Mexico is barely four months a state when a platoon from Fort Diggs arrives to ascertain whether the rumors are true. Nebres’ men slaughter the soldiers and send the captain away beaten and naked, tied backwards on his horse.

Nebres has heard about the mysterious convent and its warrior nuns. His man barely made it back before dying, but not before he delivered Lina’s message. Father Armando assures him that he is a good man and that those who resist him are evil. The mission has its own well and four hundred men. Ring Lardner interviews the general for the New York Herald, sees Nebres fight a bull.

Catalina sees no need to fight an army. All they need do is cut off the head. A night attack at the east gate allows Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline to enter the compound, disguised as Apache from the west. Sofia and Caroline run off with two hundred horses, leading Nebres’ men straight into an Apache ambush. But the Apache are outnumbered and melt into the landscape after killing a dozen of Nebres’ warriors. The troops return to the mission where Nebres celebrates his “great victory,” posing for Lardner’s camera, dictating his legend.

Nebres promises Lardner the most exciting bull fight he has ever seen on the morrow, his men bringing in prostitutes from nearby Bennett. Sofia and Caroline Harp return in the dark.

At noon, Nebres prepares for his “moment of destiny,” prays to the Holy Virgin, puts on his matador gear and walks into the arena before hundreds of his men and grandees from surrounding ranches. But when the chute is opened, it is not the bull that emerges, but Sister Catalina in her fighting gear, her face painted.

Horror by Mike Baron

We all love horror entertainment. But we don’t all love the same type of horror. For me, true horror is an evocation of the unknown, a cold finger on the spine that suggests malignant forces just out of range that can be revealed via ritual or stupidity, devastating all that is good and safe. The Exorcist is among the greatest horror movies because it does this so effectively, using traditions and superstitions that have been around as long as mankind. It has the weight of the church behind it, whether or not we’re Catholic.

Never saw Exorcist II. It doesn’t have a good reputation. But Exorcist III, ah, Exorcist III, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, is on a par with the first. Don’t believe me just watch. The Japanese excel at cinematic horror. Even the American version of The Ring resonates. The Changeling (1980) will raise hackles, not for any danger to the protagonist (George C. Scott,) but in its ability to evoke supernatural fear.

We love such entertainment because it satisfies an atavistic yearning to believe in something greater than ourselves, even if it’s terrible. And when the lights go up or you finish the book, you’re back safe and warm in your familiar world. Lovecraft resonates because he so effectively delineated another world lurking beyond the veil. Lovecraft’s descriptions are necessarily vague. We can’t really understand the worlds he describes, it’s enough that we believe. Stephen King has touched the spine many times, no better than in The Shining. Michael McDowell does it in The Elementals. William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. And of course Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. This yearning to believe is as old as man, as old as ancient cave drawings of Quezacoatl.

The most effective horror is supernatural. Torture porn has its fans, but precious few horror movies that don’t rely on the supernatural truly resonate. Silence of the Lambs comes to mind. Movies like Don’t Breath, Saw, or Hostel are not supernatural horror, they are sadistic psychological thrillers.

I’ve written three horror novels. Publishers Weekly gave Banshees, about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead, a starred review. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61475-394-0

Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Domain is a haunted house story set in Los Angeles.

Florida Man novel, Mike Baron

MORE FLORIDA MEN

I don’t chose my stories. My stories choose me. Every day, a new Florida Man story.

FLORIDA MAN REMOVES NINE FOOT ALLIGATOR FROM POOL

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA FLORIDA MAN SEXUALLY ASSAULTS’ STUFFED OLAF DOLL AT TARGET

Day after day, Florida Man after Florida Man. Florida Women too. It seemed ideal material for a comic so I started writing. By the time I finished the five scripts I had a detailed novel outline. Getting an independent comic off the ground is an iffy proposition. If I were an artist, I would have drawn it myself. But I’m not. And artists don’t work for free. Fortunately, the talented Todd Mulrooney agreed to throw in with me.

I wrote the novel and sent it to Wolfpack publisher Mike Bray. Wolfpack specializes in Westerns, thrillers and crime stories, and Florida Man is comedy. Mike said he’d take a look, he might know someone. After he read it, twice, he said he wanted to publish it himself. So there it is. That’s Todd’s art on the cover.

By now, you are all weary of the blurb:

Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Krystal’s in jail for getting naked at a Waffle House and licking the manager. With his best friend, Floyd, Gary sets out to sell his prized Barry Bonds rookie card to raise the five hundred needed for bail. But things get out of hand.

I had inadvertently joined an informal group of Florida Men whose fascination with that state’s more outre behavior and denizens is something more than a hobby. I hooked up via Florida Men with James Aylott, a former tabloid photographer turned novelist whose novel The Beach House touches on much of the same material. But while Florida Man follows the exploits of one hapless hero, Tales From the Beach House tells the intertwined stories of the denizens of a seedy Delray condominium. It is as packed with intrigue, heartache, and betrayal as a Shakespeare comedy, but is often funny. James uses real headlines to kick off each chapter:

FLORIDA MAN MISTAKES DEAD WOMAN FOR APRIL FOOL’S MANNEQUIN

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA

FLORIDA MAN KILLED TESTING BULLET PROOF VEST

James read my book and posted, “Crammed with hysteric high-octane toxic masculinity, and without a hat tip to any sense of modern political correctness the novel “Florida Man” has to be one the must read books of the year! This amazing novel is pure-concentrate Florida fiction and will certainly be inducted to this genres future Pantheon of greats. Gary Duba, the book’s central character has to be a solid contended the Mick Dundee of our times and should be immediately signed up for a new marketing campaign by the Florida tourism board. This truly was an astonishingly good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t easily offended who is looking for a fun and action packed read. This book has raised the creative bar in the genre of Florida fiction and it will be hard to beat by the many writers who tread that path. I am just glad my next book will be set in Missouri as Florida Man has set a new standard that will be hard to better.”

I thought I’d pretty much covered the territory in that one book, but my publisher feels otherwise. I am planning a sequel. There is no dearth of material. Just go to www.floridaman.com, which sedulously tries to keep track. You can find our books on Amazon.

The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Why should you outline? There are several reasons. The first is to provide a road map for the story you intend to write. A good story is like a good pop song with a theme, a bridge, and a hook. Shifting dynamics. The outcome is always in question. If you were to portray your outline as a sine wave, it would look like a roller coaster ride. The outline doesn’t have to be exhaustive. My outlines range from two to ten pages. Ken Follett’s outlines are over a hundred pages. The reader must surprise himself if he is to surprise others, so the outline must contain wiggle room. The outline must reflect your protagonists’ personality and character, as well as those of other major figures.

Character is destiny. The reader wants someone with whom he can identify, unless you’re writing about a rogue, such as George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. Even Flashman is charming. You enjoy his company even if you don’t want to be anywhere near him. Or the book has to be compelling, such as Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout, a novel about a despicable racist. A skilled novelist can make any protagonist compelling.

Just as a good song ends on a definitive note, such as The Beatles “A Day In the Life,” so should your outline indicate an end. But beware! Your characters will come alive and start dictating plot! When this happens, trust your characters.

The second purpose of the outline is to excite readers. The outline must be entertaining in and of itself. If you have written a dry recitation of events crammed with adjectives and qualifiers, throw it away! When the reader has read your outline, his reaction must be, “Holy shit! Where’s the book?”

Use your craft to bring that outline alive.

On Writing, Mike Baron

ON WRITING

Writers are people who have to write. They write every day. They don’t talk about it, they do it. People who don’t write every day are not serious writers.

You must know your craft, the rules of grammar, how to conjugate a verb. Don’t get nervous. Most of you already know this without the fancy labels. I see, you see, he sees. It is part of your instinctive grasp of English. Everyone needs a little book of rules. For the writer, it is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This slim volume has been in continuous publication since 1935. It takes an hour to read and is quite droll. Buy a used copy. Do not get the illustrated version. It has been bowdlerized in the name of PC.

All good fiction, whether comics or otherwise, is built around character. We humans are mostly interested in our own kind. The more interesting your protagonist, the better your story. Stories start with people. The TV show House on Fox is a perfect example. Hugh Laurie’s character is so thorny and unpredictable people tune in week after week out of fascination with his personality. Same thing with Batman, since Denny O’Neil straightened him out. Prior to O’Neil, Batman wandered from mood to mood, often “humorous,” seldom entertaining. Denny made Batman a self-righteous obsessive/compulsive. Obsession is always interesting.

While it’s possible to grow a great story out of pure plot, sooner or later it will hinge on the characters of your protagonists. “Character is destiny” holds true in fiction as well as life. Know who your characters are before you start writing. Some writers construct elaborate histories for each character before they begin. It is not a bad idea. Start with people then add the plot. Get a bulletin board. Write each character’s name and salient characteristics on a 3 X 5 card and tack it to the bulletin board. You can do the same with plot points. You can move characters and plot points around to alter your chronology.

What is plot? It’s a dynamic narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s like a good pop song. It has to have a hook. Sometimes that hook is simply the narrator’s voice. Huckleberry Finn succeeds mostly on the strength of Huck’s voice, by which I mean the way he presents words. In other words, it’s not the meat, it’s the motion. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. Huck comes alive through his words, which are fresh and immediate. We feel we know Huck. Same thing with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. It’s that world-weary, cynical with a heart-of-gold voice whispering in your ear. “He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” Chandler also said, “A good story cannot be devised, it has to be distilled.” In other words, start with character and let character find the plot.

Comic writers think visually. No matter how bad our chops we can pretty much describe what we see in words. Some of us can even draw a little bit. I used to write comics by drawing every page out by hand—everything—all the tiny details, facial expressions, warped anatomy, half-assed perspective, all word balloons and captions. Editors and artists loved it. Why? Because they had everything they needed on one page instead of spread across three pages of single-spaced type. Some of the most successful writers in the industry write very densely. Each script is a phone book.

While drawing I became so immersed in the story I gave myself a spastic rhomboid muscle. Friends! Do not do what I did Learn to draw properly. That means a drawing board, an ergonomically correct chair, and applying the pencil lightly to the paper. So much for art advice.

There is another advantage for writers who would draw each page. It forces you to confront issues of pacing, camera placement, and editing. It teaches you the natural pace of a story, when to break a scene, when to zoom in for a close-up, and when to pull way back for a two-page spread. Archie Goodwin and Harvey Kurtzman both used this method when writing comics for other artists. I’m not advocating such. Most of the best writers in this industry do not draw. If they do, they still write full script.

Even though you are only providing words, it is up to you to SHOW, DON’T TELL. This is the prime directive. What’s the dif? Tell: “The assassin drew a bead on Mac’s back and pulled the trigger.”

Show: “Mac stared at the wall. He thought he saw a face there, maybe his ex-wife, damn her. He was still staring when a thirty foot giant slammed him in the back with a titanium driver. As he slid to the ground, his face gathering granules from the brick, a creeping numbness radiated from his right shoulder followed by the gush of warm blood and the scent of sheared copper.” We don’t have to mention the assassin because obviously someone pulled the trigger.

When writing for comics, try to show as much as possible. A finicky man entering a public phone booth might pull out a handkerchief to wipe the receiver. Maybe he’s obsessive/compulsive. Maybe he carries a box of Sani-wipes with him everywhere. By showing this man wiping down the receiver, you have established something about his character.

Never describe what the reader can see for himself.

There’s no established format for comic scripts. You can’t go wrong by doing it as a film script. You don’t necessarily need a screenplay writing program, just write it like a play. What does a play look like? Brush up your Shakespeare. There are a lot of books out there on writing comics. I’ve contributed to some of them. It never hurts to read about writing. We’re all curious as to how other writers do it. Many aspiring writers have recommended Robert McKee’s Story as the way to go. While Story contains good advice, it is also egregiously padded and never uses a nickel when a fifty cent piece will do. Joe Esterhaz’ The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood is the anti-Story. If you read one, you must read the other.

There’s also Denny’s DC Comic’ Guide to Writing Comics, a no bullshit primer by one of the best.

There are no writing schools but there are many writing programs. College level courses on comic book writing are a bull market. I’d advise any struggling writer with a Master’s degree to head toward the local college. Run don’t walk. Nobody can teach you how to write. You either got it or you ain’t. But a good teacher can help you improve your writing. Famous novelists in residence offer a career shortcut to those who are determined to become novelists or screenwriters. Same old adage, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

James Hudnall has an essay on writing that comes and goes on James’ homepage like a mirage. Go to www.hameshudnall.com and say James, where’s that great column on writing at? Elmore Leonard has a few choice words on writing:

http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php?/weblog/more/elmore_leonards_ten_rules_of_writing/

It is the narrator’s voice that draws you through the story.

Mike Baron has written many novels. Wordfire Press has published Helmet Head, about Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job is about spontaneous human combustion and alien invasion. Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. Liberty Island Press has published Biker and Sons of Privilege and will publish Not Fade Away, Sons of Bitches, Buffalo Hump, Bloodline, and Disco.

Our Fascination with Comics by Mike Baron

OUR FASCINATION WITH COMICS

Why do comics attract such intense fascination? Much of it has to do with the form. It’s all there in your lap. It takes fifteen minutes to read. This makes everybody an expert. For those of us who grew up with comics, they are among our nearest and dearest entertainments. We all have our favorites and opinions on what constitutes a hero.

The art grabs your eye first, especially when you come across the shock of the new. Kirby, the first time you saw him. Steranko or Neal Adams. You read the words. There aren’t that many, but usually there are too many. Many writers can’t abide a wordless page. They’re the writer, it’s their job to add the words! So add words they must, whether they advance the story or not. A comic is not a novel. Words have greater significance in a comic because there are so few of them. Who reads a comic and skips the long-winded passages? Nobody.

Because they’re so simple, everybody thinks they can do it. And they can. Comics are the most forgiving of all art forms. You will believe a man can fly. Flaming Carrot. The Tick. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These concepts would have a hard time gaining traction in other media without first launching as comics. It took sixty years for movies to present these concepts convincingly. In comics, they gain instant acceptance.

The underground explosion of the sixties, seventies, and eighties brought fresh writing to comics. The autobiographical musings of R. Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Dori Seda and Sharon Rudahl have an immediacy and freshness often lacking in mainstream comics, because they are unique to that individual, untethered to continuity or tradition. Many of these creators have continued to do groundbreaking, often literary work, such as Bill Griffith’s memoir of his mother’s affair, Invisible Ink.

Too often, mainstream comics have fallen back on cliches. How often have we read, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore?” “We have to talk.” “Move it, people.”

You can only read so many novels a week, but you can read twenty-five comics in a day. Now you’re an expert. Because the form is so simple, it’s easy to imagine how you could do it better. Everybody has their favorites. Everybody has strong opinions on what constitutes good story. Some writers understand the medium better than others. Carl Barks. Alan Moore. Chuck Dixon. The explosion in comic-based movies has not resulted in an increase in readers, but it has fired up the comic fans.

Movies require vastly greater resources than comics and because the stakes are so high, the level of professionalism is also much higher. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is better written than ninety per cent of the Captain America comics. When you grow up loving a character or book, you feel a proprietary interest. When the movie deviates from canon or just falls on its face, many readers feel betrayed, that the movie makers don’t understand the character, or pervert its intent.

While comic sales shrink, the obvious solution is to sell comics in movie theaters. But there is no communication between the comic book publishers and the theater chains, and even if there were, they couldn’t agree that the sky is blue. Comics aren’t important enough to occupy space in a modern cineplex, never mind there is plenty of space.

Comics are on life support for a number of reasons. Poor writing. The rise of video games. Most comics can’t compete with a good video game in terms of entertainment. The rise in illiteracy. The collapse of the distribution system. Take your pick. But they will never die because of their simplicity. Anybody can produce a comic. It is a labor of love.

Cliches, Mike Baron

CLICHES

There are certain phrases that permeate the zeitgeist like low-hanging fruit. The moment you read one, your eyes glaze over.

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“We have to talk.”

“Move it, people!”

“I know, right?”

“I can’t even…”

Comic book writers feel pressue urge to add words. There’s all that space! For what are we being paid if not to add words? The habit is especially egregious during fight scenes. A real fight is physically demanding. Even the best fighters, who train for months, run out of gas and simply don’t have the energy to talk to their opponents. There are always exceptions, like Muhammad Ali and Nate Diaz. But most of the time, you’re out there panting trying to outguess your opponent.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I too have added unnecessary dialogue to fight scenes. And I just used a cliché! You see? It’s everywhere!

Show don’t tell is among the most important lessons a writer must learn. This applies to prose as well as comics. Comics are a visual medium, and anytime you can advance the narrative by showing, you should. This doesn’t mean a wordless comic. Dialogue can advance plot too, but it must arise naturally from the narrative. Use dialogue to reveal character or add a touch of humor. Shakespeare understood the importance of humor, which provides brief flashes even in his darkest tragedies. Even Schindler’s List has a few jokes.