Writing Hat!

Well, yesterday evening and today I’ve got an entirely different hat – SF short story writer! First let me apologize for faking it to all my friends reading who are proper short story writers with membership cards and so on. Let me go on to explain:

I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you the full details yet, but the current editor of an annual science fiction anthology got in touch back in February and told me about an idea they wanted to try out. They normally have their usual batch of excellent science fiction stories (from various writers) in the book, ending with a survey of some visual material such as classic SF covers, etc…. but this year they decided to do something different. Instead of the visual survey thing, why not have one of the stories be visual? In other words, a graphic novella (I suppose that’s what you’d call it).

After giving them several opportunities to correct their obvious error, which went a bit like this:

Q: Are you sure you haven’t mixed me up with an actual professional artist?
A: No, we mean you.

Q: Ok, I’ll admit I’ve just drawn 230+ pages of a graphic book, but the science is real there, not fictional. Are you sure you’ve not got me mixed up with a real SF writer?
A: Yeah, we know. We mean you.

Q: Oh. Actually, one of the stories in my forthcoming book has a story within it that is a brief glimpse of an SF story that I was using to illustrate a physics idea… can I use that? (Being creative about the opportunity to recycle work already done… I’d only have to do about 8 extra pages then…) [I explain the topic and story].
A: Nice idea but it’s a bit too far-future and doesn’t fit with the near-future sci/tech topics we’re hoping you’d incorporate.

Q: Er, unlike a real professional, I draw pretty slowly. I don’t know if I can really promise to devote the time needed. I’m supposed to be, you know, physics-professoring.
A: Well, think about it and see if you can make it work. It’s only 16 pages.

Q: Er, I don’t know if I’ll have a good SF idea between now and the deadline. I’ll be working on science research and a ton of other stuff between now and then.
A: Think about it and get back to us.

…and so on and so forth, I ended up agreeing to it. Partly because I love a new challenge, I’ll admit… (That’s part of what gets me up most mornings.) But mostly because some days later I went for a hike to think about an idea, and came up with one I really liked! (And they did too.)

It’s an opportunity to put together all the experience I’ve gathered from working on the big book into a burst of efficient activity. All the wrong turns, mistakes, serendipities, learning on the job, happy accidents, (you’ve seen some of it if you follow the blog) and that final resulting exhilarating workflow I found toward the end in the Winter just past… I want to pour all that into doing this 16 page story at a relatively fast pace. So I’ve got to do two main things:

(A) Planning the story out meticulously in order to see how each part falls on every one of those 16 pages. I’ve only one shot at this so when I start doing final art in a week or so, all the big structural thinking should have been done. It’ll just be me and the pencil.

(B) Most importantly, I’ve got to get my drawing back up to a decent level. I’ve been doing physics mostly for the last several months and BOY am I rusty! But drawing is a learned skill, with a logic to it that I spent some time working out over the years for the needs of the book. Like anything else, and once you understand a process, you can rebuild it, and so I will get back there. I hope.

There will be other things to do, like:

(1) Deciding what style to do this all in. On the scale from “cartoony/impressionistic” to “photorealistic”, where should I land in terms of rendering figures, backgrounds, faces, etc? I need something that fits the story I’m going to tell while at the same time is not so detailed that I end up taking four days per page filling in lots of meticulous details. I *don’t* have the time.

(2) Properly designing the main characters. Coming up with good strong character designs that are easily “playable” in the sense that I can communicate that it’s that person from a good variety of consistently drawn points of view.

(3) Stuff I’m sure I’ve forgotten to worry about…

Anyway, I’ve begun with (A). I’ve fired up Scrivener (such a great program for planning the structure of a writing project), and I’m writing the short story out, based on chunks of stuff I’ve been carrying around in my head for a while, and notes I made in my notebook. It’s a hybrid of a prose version of the story and the planning for the graphic presentation of it… every now and again there are parenthetical callouts where I describe the panel that I think would get across a particular action or setting rather nicely… and then I go back to laying out the story beats. Once I have it all down I’ll re-read many times to see that it really is a good story, told well enough…

Later, I’ll be starting to turn it all into a proper graphic novel script with detailed panel descriptions. That’s where I’ll be having to kill lots of darlings as I choose what I can actually fit into 16 pages that are actually readable…

But I’ll have to remember to stop and turn myself into physicist again as I should write a talk for the SCSS meeting I’m supposed to be speaking at on Friday

Ok. Back to it.


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