5 tips for Pulp! writers

Today I’m going to run through 5 things to keep in mind when writing your Premier Pulp! story, whether you’re working with an artist or drawing your own work. This is not a general writing guide – there are unspeakable amounts of material for that already – or a technical guide to writing comic scripts. These are a few lessons we’ve picked up specifically from the pitfalls of many of the scripts written for Pulp! so far. Check your work for these things and you’ve probably gone a long way to avoiding having to rewrite your script once you submit it.

1. Write a story. This sound obvious, even inevitable, but it’s easier than you’d think to do plenty of writing without ending up with a story at the end. A story has a structure: a beginning, middle and end. A story has a conflict, climax and resolution.
There are two very common categories of submissions that don’t come complete with a story. One is a lore package: you may well have a fascinating, incredibly well thought out world created. You know its history, you know the flora and fauna, you’ve written out to the finest detail how its unique magic system works. You have not, however, written a story. You’ve written a collection of ideas. Ideas are icing on the cake that is your actual plot. If you were to strip off the aesthetics, the history, the concepts and presentation of your work, what are you left with? You can describe any Shakespeare play without a single reference to castles, noble families or the language its conveyed with and it remains recognisable and coherent. Can you say the same for your work?
The other common error is to write a premise. You’ve got your characters, you’ve got the conflict and the antagonist, and that’s about it. This is the backdrop for your story (or stories, in the case of series, where this most often occurs) but you’ve yet to build a story within it. Even in a television series where the bad guy is introduced in the first episode but won’t be defeated until six seasons and a movie have passed, there’s still a story that begins and ends in each episode.* There’s a specific enemy that has to be defeated or a problem that has to be overcome that’s wrapped up by the time the credits roll. Make sure each and every comic you write for Pulp! is a story unto itself.
*Unless it’s The Wire. The Wire is great, but please don’t write the comic equivalent for your submission to an anthology of short stories.

2. Know your story, and know it more thoroughly than you ever wanted to. For all the beauty and nuance of your tale, it can still be broken down to about six story beats and less than fifty words. Do this. Understand the underlying structure of your story, what makes it work, and what’s holding it back. If it takes you 1,000 words to explain what happens, you’ve probably not fully hammered out the skeleton beneath. This is an unromantic, even distressing process, and amateur writers are often resistant to it: you’re boiling out everything you think makes your story special and left with the functional, intellectual underpinnings. But only once you’ve simplified your script to this level can you build it back into something with a full understanding of how to make it the best story it can be. And sometimes you’ll realise what you’re left with just isn’t that interesting and it’s time to move onto a new project.

3. Draft. Not even in response to feedback and criticism, though you should certainly do that as well, draft as a matter of habit and necessity. Multiple times. Before you submit it, before you try to get an artist for it. Draft and redraft. Typing something out in full for the first time is a long and laborious process, and it’s tempting to click save, upload it and call it a day. Unless you’re a creative prodigy though, your very first attempt is probably not the best possible incarnation of your script.* Give it some time for you to reread with fresh eyes, get some friends to read it, and then write it again. Don’t be lazy, and don’t be hesitant to toss out old work. A first draft is rarely ever going to be adequate for a final submission any more than a first sketch is a substitute for a fully rendered piece of art. On this note, while we’re more than happy to edit your work (it’s what we do), you’re not endearing yourself to us if you submit something that you’ve clearly not even read over once and is full of the most basic typos.
*You are not a creative prodigy.

4. Cut it down. We like ’em short and snappy here at Premier Pulp! – we’re an anthology, and we cram in a diverse array of stories with each issue. More importantly, chances are your story just reads better without the bloat. Get to the good stuff. Pulp! is not the place to spend four pages on your character drinking from a glass. Make it as short as you think you can, then make it a little shorter. If you don’t do it now, we’ll probably tell you to do it later.

5. Shut your potty mouth. Dialogue is hard. There are plenty of guides and tips out there on writing dialogue well out there from people who are better at it than me, but there’s one salient trend amongst Pulp! writers: we’re from the internet, and we sound like it. This is most notable when profanity is littered through every second word of every sentence. We’re not against swearing, but when it’s so recurrent as to break the believability of a voice of a character you should cut it down. “What the fuck is this stupid shit?” is not a good standard expression of surprise. I’ll also note here that if you’ve chosen to use offensive epithets for anything less than a story-serving reason you will be told to remove them. Don’t make your characters sound like a fourteen year old on Xbox Live.

Think these points over as you work on your next project. If you’ve learned any hard lessons from writing for Pulp! yourself, share them in the comments.


2 Comments on “5 tips for Pulp! writers”

  1. Al Sirois says:

    Good information. I’m a word-type writer as well as a comics person, and have had a bunch of stuff published. But you know, it’s never too late to learn some new tricks. One excellent resource is a book by Larry Brooks: STORY ENGINEERING: MASTERING THE SIX CORE COMPETENCIES OF SUCCESSFUL WRITING. http://amzn.to/LAlC0H This one belongs on your shelf with ON WRITING by Stephen King and THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner (two of my faves). A good way to get feedback on your work is to join a writers workshop. Learning to give criticism is as helpful for a writer as learning to get it! There are some good online groups, such as Critters — http://critters.org/ It’s primarily for those working in sf and fantasy — but a story well told in those genres is a story well told anywhere.

  2. Al Sirois says:

    Here’s a resource I forgot — Ronald Tobias’s 20 MASTER PLOTS AND HOW TO BUILD THEM (Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993). They are described here: http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/tobias_plots.htm
    Trust me, you need to know these.

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