How I learned to write (an ongoing series)

I used to read the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes. That inspired my love of mysteries. But I'm realizing more and more that after elementary school, I didn't read many books until college. The occasional Michael Crichton, sure, but otherwise, not too much.

What I did read, however, was comic books. Spider-man, Batman, X-men, whatever. I devoured them. I could remember reading the same story arcs several times a month. And while I didn't realize it at the time, I probably absorbed how the stories were told.

How to write the short story? Comics could tell a self-contained story in 22 pages. And some of them were pretty poignant. "This Man, This Monster" is the first one that comes to mind, a Fantastic Four story from the sixties. I learned the short story that way.

Plot twists? Comic books. Every issue ended with a cliffhanger that made you want to buy the next issue. As a kid, that killed you to read one issue and then have to wait a month, nevermind a minute to get to the next chapter. I want my books to read like that, where you are compelled to read on. And the twists are shocking. In an interview I was watching with Ron Frenze and Tom DeFalco (two former Amazing Spider-man writers) they talked about how in one issue Mary Jane figured out that Peter Parker was Spider-man. When Frenz asked DeFalco how she knew, DeFalco said, "It doesn't matter, we can figure that out later." I think some of the twists at the end of the 2nd book do that. I'll get 'em in revision, but the twists are fun.

And finally, planning a series. Peter David wrote in the introduction to the graphic collection "The Death of Jean DeWolff" that he liked to put little tidbits of upcoming stories in issues. He liked to keep the reader guessing what was next in a series and I'm inferring that it helped him plan ahead. I like to do that as well. There are a few short paragraphs in WHEN ONE MAN DIES that point toward what will happen in the next book. And if I'm so lucky, the fourth Donne novel as well. I like to have ideas in the bank. And if someone's life in a series is to look natural you have to plan ahead a bit. I hate when a series character is all of a sudden avenging the death of a character you've never heard of before. Yeah, it raises the stakes, but it doesn't feel real.

(Characters mentioned throughout series, to me, is also one of the things that makes THE SOPRANOS so impressive to me, but that's another post for another time.)

Anyway, I wrote a comic book script once. It was a Batman spec I sent to DC. I liked the plot, and might one day find a way to turn it into a short story. I think comics are a great medium to tell stories, even though I've outgrown them, for the most part. Comic books keep the pace rapid, keep a story moving. And it'd be a great way to analyze how to tell a story in novel form anyway, comparing comics with a novel.

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