Monday, 5 September 2011


Writing has attributes more akin to a psychological condition than a profession. An overpowering compulsion to get up in the middle of the night to commit an idea to paper is often how a script starts. The subconscious throws up some emotionally resonant story ideas, untroubled by analysis. Intriguing concepts come in that magical half-state between sleeping and waking, where dialogue and scenes flow effortlessly - or when the mind’s on something else like driving or washing-up.

If I don't sit down straight sway and write it all down I worry I'll forget what made it so beautiful.

I’m a plotter. Once the idea’s been transcribed I can't write a script until I nail down key events, how it ends, and what the point of it all is. Plotting’s a blast - a kinetic brainstorm of stimulating ‘What Ifs’ that get whittled and shuffled into form: A cerebral process, like solving a puzzle. When a plot and its subtext truly work I'm in turns thrilled, upset, and amused by the fate of my protagonists; When it doesn't the characters lie stillborn in the notebook, awaiting revivification.

A page long synopsis of the whole story follows. The synopsis gets broken down into individual scenes, a sentence or two on each. The scenes are laid out on cards so I can see at a glance how the plot points fall. Each column is a different character's arc, and I shuffle the cards about, coalesce, remove, and rewrite until everything motors to a satisfying conclusion.

Plot breakdown for 'Death Sentence'
By this time dialogue and imagery has started to flow. I'll get gripped by a scene or a sequence and start acting it out, jotting down the lines and reactions. No descriptions - just dialogue. I write fast and with a natural cadence. I'll sometimes try a scene three or four ways, and restructure the scenes underlying dynamics, but I’ve learned not to rewrite much of the dialogue itself. It helps the scenes zip along, and seems to lend the characters some elusive truth.

When I have enough scenes I start reading back. Much of what I write doesn't impress me, but the scenes that do get typed up in final format with panel descriptions and other sequential notes for the artist. I edit by the cunning technique of removing as many words as possible without losing meaning. I show the script around, and filter feedback carefully into apposite tweaks. When the scripts as good as it's ever going to get I send it on.

On Death Sentence I'm working with Mike Dowling, who swiftly sends back his wonderful artwork - that's the magic of Mike. I'll read through the art with the script and marvel at his talent. I’ll check it all works as it should, occasionally suggest the odd change which it's up to him to embrace or not, and delete dialogue wherever possible to let his imagery breathe.

It's intoxicating to watch a scene that only months before rattled though your brain play out on the page. You learn an enormous amount from analysing a fully realised page - sequential subtleties which enhance subsequent work. Hopefully that means each issue is better than the last, but that's beside the point. Writing's a compulsion: You either do it or you don't.

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