Thursday, January 29, 2009

Comedy and Drama

What is the difference between comedy and drama? It's so obvious to tell which one is which, but how do you objectively classify them? It's something I've been trying to work out for a while now.

To figure it out, I started with what I knew (or at least what I was pretty sure of), and that was comedy. I've studied quite a bit of comedy, but the best explanation came from an episode of Futurama: "It was just a matter of knowing the secret of all TV shows; At the end of the episode, everything's always right back to normal." The more I hear or think about it, the more I find it to be true. Comedy is absurd, but fearless. There are no risks so characters can do absolutely anything. But, with nothing ventured, nothing will be gained. That's why comedy is great, but an overdose is boring.

So if comedy is fearless, then drama should be fearful. At the end of every installment, things are different from how they started. Drama needs a mental and emotional investment, so an overdose of it is exhausting.

I am painting in broad strokes here, but I find that broad strokes tend to get to the heart of the matter. If comedy is things not changing and drama is the opposite, then are they mutually exclusive? My gut reaction is to say, of course. Things cannot change and not change at the same time. However, I then find myself drawn to the classic saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." And I think of comic books as a perfect example of mixing comedy and drama.

Spider-Man is incredibly dramatic. From high school to college and into middle age, Peter Parker has done nothing but change and grow. However, Spider-Man has been the same wise ass punster since day 1. That is why we can still chuckle when Spidey throws an air conditioning unit at a bad guy and tell him to "cool off", even if when the battle is over, he won't have the money to pay for dinner.

It seems to me that blending these styles is incredibly important in writing to avoid the overdose on either end. Two of my favorite comics do it in different ways. Least I Could Do tends to alternate between serious story arcs and silly gag strips. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal does this by having inherently dramatic situations that never have any backstory or follow through, so things never really change because we never see the characters again. Both of those comics are incredibly successful and popular, which supports my belief that a blending is necessary. I certainly can't think of any works that are 100% one style and don't cause me to suffer from long-term exposure.


Where do your ideas come from? It is the question asked of every writer and one very few can come up with an answer to. The most common answer is "real life." This is especially true of stand-up comedians.

I think that saying "real life" is mostly true, but very misleading. I'm pretty sure Ms. Rowling never met a little boy talking about his adventures at wizard school. Still, Harry Potter was well-received, very creative, and never criticized for being unrealistic. That's because the characters are human, regardless of what a narrator might tell us. He thinks, talks, and acts like a real person does. When we read his actions in the story, we think that we would have made the same choice (or the courage to make that choice).

But how do we get that skill? How do you know what a fictional character is going to do? You can't study people who don't exist. So learn from the ones that do exist. Find out what things people do and why they do them. Everybody has their own stories, so there is plenty to learn, but you start finding patterns and similarities between the what and why of people's actions.

My results from these studies is that people are a conglomeration of the forces that drive them. If a person's number one priority in life is to not be emotionally harmed by a person, it means they will act shy and distant around people. But if this person's second goal in life is to find true love, then they will eventually open up if a person is continuously and genuinely kind over enough time.

The short version is this: ideas for situations can come from anywhere; ideas for how people act come from knowing how real people act.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Every writer gets into slumps. I know I certainly have. All of the writing teachers I have had and all of the books on writing I have ever read all seem to have the same advice on the mater: keep on writing. The act of writing gets the mind working, which pushes us out of whatever funk is holding us back.

I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with that advice. I'm sure I have experienced the lifting of my spirits as I force myself to write and get into whatever piece I'm working on. However, I have also felt the struggle of creating large bodies of work that I never felt good writing (because it never got me out of my slump) and it is obvious that those writings are lackluster and subpar.

It seems to me that the core idea of writing to overcome writer's block is that good writing comes from an interested and happy mind and that writing makes a writer interested and happy. If that is the case, then there nearly limitless options to overcome a slump. I find that a lot of things make me happy and give me energy: good conversations, mindless video games, pleasant walks, just to name a few. I have also found that these activities really have helped me get over my frustrations with writing or help me generate a new idea to write about.

The main issue I have with writing to cure writing slumps is that it can be overexposure. It seems as ludicrous as telling somebody to eat something to cure indigestion (Do you feel sick because you ate a 72 ounce steak? Feel better by eating a half-pound hamburger! Now with lettuce!).

Of course, when it comes to writing strategies, everybody has one that works for them and that's the one they should use. If one of my methods stops working, I'll stop doing it.

Wearing Different Hats

For as much as I call myself a writer and present myself as such, there is so much more that I have to be. For my webcomic alone, I wear the hats of a writer, an advertiser, a layout designer, an accountant, and an event planner (and that's just off the top of my head).

It seems that the last thing a self-publishing comic writer does is write comics, which is a common lament. But as easy as it is to complain about, I have to ask if it is worth it to do so. First of all, it certainly doesn't help fix those problems. Second of all, I have to ask if wearing all those hats is really such a detriment.

Where do ideas from writing come from? For me, they come from living life. They are the random thoughts that happen when you're doing a menial task like waiting in line. Sometimes they come from sitting down and writing, but if that was all I did, I can't imagine I would be able to sustain it indefinitely.

Taking on the various tasks of running a comic provides me with so many things to do that I will never get bored doing any one of them. It also allows me to gain a far deeper understanding of the business and world of webcomics. It means I am not merely a cog, but a whole machine. And I have never been unhappy to have more knowledge.

So for me, I am going to write when I can, do my other jobs when I need to, and make sure I have a big hat rack.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Starting this blog, I have hundreds of ideas all fighting to come out of my mind and onto the web. As much as I would love to sit down and write them all out in a marathon of blogging, I have some reservations. For one thing, it is incredibly time-consuming and there are only so many hours in the day. For another thing, I have limitless space to post and there are only so many thoughts floating around my head at a given time. If I write down everything I'm thinking of at once, I will eventually run out of thoughts and go days or longer without anything new to see.

Now, while this may balance out in the long term, it is a poor business model. I need people to come at regular intervals for a bit of content that leaves them wanting more. If you disagree, then I must ask, why am I posting my thoughts online for all the world to access? It is because I want people to read them. Otherwise I would keep them to myself.

So I pace myself. I post one new blog a day and I will, in theory, never run out of ideas at that rate. People will know that there will always be new content and they will always be returning to get their latest fix.

I am working on a webcomic which will launch on May 22. I write it not just for my edification, but to share it with others. I want people to read my comics, but I also want them to come to my site and read them regularly and always want to comeback for the next one, which they know will be there on the day I promised them.

In "How to Make Webcomics", the authors talk about pacing in the form of the update schedule. The short version is to update at a pace that you can support indefinitely. Promise your readers that much and deliver it, even if it is only once a week. If you ever find that you can support more updates regularly, then you can make that change. People will embrace you when you tell them you will give them more comics per week, but if you promise 5 updates a week and realize you have to scale it back to 2, they will be disappointed.

Having read comics that break these rules and other comics that regularly maintain them, I find that they do hold up. I stop reading the comics that disappoint me and I read the good comics every day it updates.

People are happy getting what they are promised. They also enjoy getting more than they are promised, but are infuriated at getting less. I want to say it's sad that we can treat people with the same level of intelligence and complexity as we treat a dog, but since the evidence supports that observation, I'll just have to let it lie.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Blog As Random As Its Name

I suspect that any person who comes across this blog will have certain questions on their mind. The first one is why I misspelled the name of my blog. The answer is that I didn't. The second question is why I chose the name. The title of this post would suggest that it was completely random.

Of course, not every suggestion is a good one. Quite frankly, I don't believe in randomness. I think that every action a person takes has a real and substantial reason behind it. Of course, that doesn't mean I can explain it. But just because I can't explain it doesn't mean I can't try to figure it out.

And that is the ultimate purpose of this blog: figuring stuff out. I will post my thoughts and observations here, ultimately hoping to learn, both about myself and others. There is quite a lot I have to say, so there should be much to be learned when these thoughts get laid out.