This site was updated May 2006
Writing is an art. Art is about breaking rules, pushing the envelope, and discovering new ways of seeing things. Writers as artists should push themselves to break rules to find new and exciting ways to tell their stories. However, before you break the rules, it is important to know what they are and why they exist. Breaking rules for the sake of breaking rules doesn't create art, it creates anarchy.
For me, art is communication and writing is an art. We, as artists, are trying to impart something to our audience. Whether it's something complex like a moral or something subtle like a mood, we are sharing a way of seeing something with our audience.
Art is a co-operative process. It requires a creator (or creators) and an audience. Art created by the artist in a way that can be translated or understood only by the artist is defined by psychologists as "neurotic" art. Artists can not afford to lose sight of the audience and its needs and/or expectations. We may want to challenge the audience--the best art succeeds on that level--but in the end there still has to be a way in, something that the audience can hold on to that is a basic part of human nature or part of the collective culture.
My feeling in terms of comics as art is that both must work in harmony. While the visual elements may take precedence in some cases, those visual have to be built on a solid foundation--the story itself. Pretty pictures are all well and good--I have lots of them hanging in my home--but in comics, the pretty pictures must serve the higher purpose of communicating the story. Comics should combine words and images to create an impact in ways that just the words or just the images alone can not accomplish.
When the writer is doing something really experimental with the storytelling, then it becomes important for the art to be accessible. If the art is experimental, then the script needs to be accessible. If both are experimental to the point of being incomprehensible, we do a disservice to the audience.
THE "RIGHT" WAY
As with any artistic pursuit, there is no ultimate right or wrong way to approach writing. Certainly, if you want to write professionally, you must understand the rules of grammar and spelling. You have to use a typewriter or computer/word processor to create your manuscripts. No editor is going to take you seriously if you send him or her a handwritten manuscript riddled with poor spelling and grammar. Proofread your work, or better yet, have someone else proofread it for you. Type your manuscripts with 1 inch margins, and preferably double-space the text. Unfortunately, there is no single industry standard for script format, but there are common denominators that I will cover in the chapter on scriptwriting. A readable, professionally presented script is a must if you are trying to get work. (But a word of caution--don't send scripts to editors blindly. They don't have time to read unsolicited manuscripts. This is another element that I will be covering in the chapter on selling your work.)
Presentation is important, but what about content? Is there an absolute right or wrong when constructing a story? No. There are as many different ways to approach writing as there are writers. There are some basic ground rules, but they should be treated as guide posts. Ultimately, you are going to have to find your own way and your own voice. The material presented in this book will give you a foundation upon which you can build.
Another important thing to keep in mind about film, television, theater, and comic books is that they are collaborative media. When I write for any of these media, I approach the script as a blueprint--the foundation on which my collaborators will build the story. In any collaborative medium, you must allow your collaborators room to do their jobs. It serves no one if the writer or any other individual becomes a dictator. The more everyone feels they are allowed to contribute to the final product, the greater a stake the feel they will have in the finished product, and the more effort they will put into it. No one's ego should get in the way of providing the audience with the best possible story.
When I write scripts, I give my collaborators everything they will need to tell the story--the plot, characters, motivations, settings, and anything else that is key to conveying the story (including any appropriate reference such as photographs or web links). I don't tell filmmakers or comic book pencilers every single camera angle, only the ones that are key to telling the story. Otherwise, I prefer to give my collaborators as much freedom as possible. I also make myself available to collaborators if they have questions or suggestions. I may not always agree with what they want to do, but this is where you have to learn to choose your battles. Sometimes you have to concede one thing to gain another. A good collaboration is built on this give and take.