Imagine a Chair

#01 -- Introduction

Hey! I’m Paul Allor, and this is IMAGINE A CHAIR, my new column on the craft of writing comics.

Let’s be honest: a lot of people -- including a lot of writers -- don't take the craft of writing very seriously. The reason, I believe, is that we think of writing as something intuitive and innate. You can hear this in the way people talk about writing, as opposed to other artistic disciplines. We tell people that they should learn to draw. That they should study animation. That they should practice the trombone. But when it comes to writing, more often than not we simply say, “you should write.”

And to be fair, the basic nature/structure of storytelling is ingrained in us from a very young age. We hear and tell stories every day of our lives, in the form of picturebooks, in the form of jokes, in the form of water-cooler anecdotes.

But it's like this: close your eyes, and imagine a chair (then open your eyes again a few seconds later, unless, y’know… someone is reading this to you). Really work up a good, detailed image of it in your mind’s eye. Make it a basic, wooden chair, but beyond that it can be anything you like.

You know what your chair looks like. You know the parts. You know its style, and how it makes you feel. Now… go into a wood shop and try to make that chair.

Most of us can’t. We don’t have the skills or the craft to do it. We don’t know what tools to use, what kind of lumber to choose. We have no idea how anything connects together. If we plunged ahead anyway, the result would be laughable at best, and dangerous at worst.

Similarly, most of us can picture a story in our head. We understand it. We see the moving parts. We know what emotional impact we want it to have on the reader, how it should “work.” But without an understanding of craft, the final result will be little better than that sad, misshapen chair. Just as carpentry craft takes you from mental image to a functional chair, writing craft takes you from what’s in your head to a story that actually works on the page. Craft also helps you dig deeper than your initial instinct, helping your writing to push past cliché, past worn-out tropes, and into something that is truly, uniquely you. I hope that thought excites you as much as it excites me.

And now that my mission statement is out of the way, let’s talk a bit about format. If all goes well, IMAGINE A CHAIR will run every Tuesday, with each column topping out at no more than 700 words or so. I want something you can easily read and absorb in one quick sitting. As a result, some topics will be covered in one column, while others will take several. And while I’d love to say that the topics will have some semblance of organization and flow – a graceful swoop from macro writing concerns to micro comics craft – it’ll probably be pretty random.

If there are any topics in particular you’d like to see covered, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at paul@govtcomics.com, or hit me up on Twitter @PaulAllor. If this goes well, maybe we’ll do a couple of Q&A installments at some point down the road.

And let’s (again) be honest: it takes a certain amount of arrogance for me to presume I’m qualified to write this column. But please understand that while I will no doubt slip quite often into the Voice of God, nothing on this page should be considered prescriptive. These are just one person’s thoughts. Hopefully you find some utility in them, but if not, I understand.

Oh, and I should probably end my first writing-craft column with some actual, you know… writing advice. So, uhm… always make sure to give your characters funny names. Everyone loves funny names. Just ask Charles Dickens (hee hee hee hee… “Dickens.”)

See you next week.

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And now a quick word from our sponsor (which is me): Paul Allor is a comic book writer, letterer and editor based in North-Central Indiana, currently writing about himself in the third person. Paul has worked on franchises ranging from Guardians of the Galaxy to TMNT to GI Joe (click this bold bit for a comprehensive list. All the bold bits are hyperlinks, ya see. Modern technology). If you'd like to check out his work, I would recommend... er, he would recommend... okay, enough with this third-person malarkey. I would recommend you start with Tet, my critically-acclaimed war-torn romance comic with Paul Tucker. I'm also very proud of TMNT: Mutanimals with artist Andy Kuhn and colorist Nick Filardi, a story about post-traumatic stress disorder and terrorism set in the TMNT universe. With jokes. Mutanimals is also on sale right now for only $3.99, which is an insanely great deal. Then there's Past the Last Mountain, my geopolitical fantasy comic with Louie Joyce and Gannon Beck. It ran digitally this year, and we'll be kickstarting a print edition next month. But you can read the first issue for free right now, on this very site. Finally, you can also sign up for Paul Allor's newsletter for more information on Past the Last Mountain and other projects. He just slipped back into third person, since asking people to sign up for his newsletter makes Paul uncomfortable. End word from our sponsor.