Last week I established that the term "breaking in" is very relative. I'm still not sure what it means to actually break in. I'm very happy simply writing stories. Whether or not they get published is different. It's a lot of fun to see your work in print, but, as I stated last week, that's not what drives me to write.
The one thing that I came to terms with last week is the notion that, regardless of the plethora of information out there to learn from, I simply don't listen. That's the basis for the next fews posts. At least until I run out of stories.
I know I joke about all the mistakes that I've made throughout the years, saying the answers are out there and I ignored them, but that's not entirely true. Today, you can read blogs, books, Google search, or go to company sites to find all kinds of information to help you avoid some of these mistakes. And even with all that reading and advice, you might find out it doesn't work for your specific situation. I decided to start writing before it was super easy to find that information. I honestly think I discovered all my mistakes by accident about a year ago when someone was talking about things not to do and I began a mental checklist of all the things I had already done. Some of them are real doozies too.
I'm probably going to mix up a few stories while I tell you this one. I hope I don't butcher it too much. Let's start with why I actually started writing. I remember, after high school I had to choose what to do with my life. I loved movies and wanted to make them, but it's such an insecure industry. I thought I could become a teacher and write on the side. It's worked really well for me too. Now, before I decided to take a stab at writing, I needed something to spark my ability.
I never thought I had any real ideas. To be honest, I still think my ideas are subpar. Remember, at this time I wanted to make movies, not write. I was okay thinking someone else would write and I would film or something. It was around this time that I started to slowly get back into comics. This is around the time Brian Bendis started writing Ultimate Spider-Man. I've always credited this series for teaching me a ton about building stories over a longer form. I can't credit them for creating that spark inside that made me need to start writing.
At the time of Ultimate Spider-Man, the comics industry had just begun to rebound from the late 90's collapse. I'm not going to go into the boom and collapse of the 90's. Feel free to Google it. Ultimate Spider-Man made me go back to a comic shop and start spending money again on issues. Like many comic enthusiasts, I started scanning the shelves and expanding my weekly books. I didn't quite commit to a pull-list at that point, but it was coming.
At the same time, Smallville was doing phenomenal things on the WB. I loved this show and couldn't figure out why DC didn't start incorporating some of the show's elements into their books. This is an argument I still think about with the success all the movies are having today. I would have loved to read Superman written with some of Smallville's characters and themes bleeding across those pages. Perhaps a maxi-series. I think the one element I wanted to see explored was the relationship between Clark and Lana. That's what made the show for me. I also loved the Lex/Clark dynamic. I couldn't figure out why it wasn't in the comics.
It was around that time that I saw a four part, weekly mini-series that brought Lana back into Clark's life. I don't remember much about the series. Remember, this is before the big boom at DC Comics right around the time Ultimate Spider-Man was taking off. When I saw this comic, I thought it was exactly what I was looking for. The cross between the show and comic-verse was happening.
Man, was I wrong. This series crossed over all the Superman books and it was written by different writers. I remember hating the first and last parts, but the middle two were really strong. It felt like they were trying to bring the Smallville audience over to the comics by bringing Lana back for a short time, while not trying to change anything. Lana appears and Clark says hi. Lana leaves. Nothing happens. This wasn't what I wanted.
It was exactly what I needed.
That was the moment I said I could write something better. I was determined to write a story that incorporated the elements of the show into the comic. I was going to tell a story that used flashbacks to Clark's childhood where the elements of Smallville would play out while wreaking havoc with his modern day self.
My plan was to put Clark in a place where he was going to meet with someone. This caused him to reminisce about his childhood, remembering his first love. It told the story about Lex losing his hair during the meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth. It had Pete Rose and Chloe Sullivan hanging with Clark while he pined over Lana. After rehashing all those feeling (even though he and Lois were together) I would reveal the person meeting Clark was Lana.
Honestly, thinking about this concept right now makes me think about how good the idea was then and it holds up now. My first comic script had been written. I was now a writer.
It's time to go with the mistakes. One more time, it's easy for you to find out what not to do today. I needed to learn what not to do first hand.
I wrote issue one. I mapped out my 12 issue maxi-series and had a pretty solid plan where to go. I was going to wreak havoc with Clark's heart, drive a wedge between him and Lois, and then, when all hope was lost, I planned to kill Lana Lang. That's right folks. This brand new, never published writer, was going to make you adore Lana and then kill her.
What are the mistakes with this? One, I would learn that you need to start small. It doesn't matter how good the concept is, if you're not established, getting a 12 issue commitment is not going to happen. Two, nobody's letting you kill a primary character at a major publisher when you are a new writer.
Don't worry. I made plenty more mistakes right here. This script was awesome. It really wasn't. This was the first script I had ever written. I'm sure if I read it now, I would be able to figure out exactly how horrible it really was and still is. The odds of getting your first ever script published ... that's slim.
To continue with the mistakes. Emails were not easy to come by. They existed, but the majority of my life was through snail mail. I proudly emailed this script, cover letter, entire 12 issue synopsis to many people at DC Comics. Yup. I have no idea if they read it or not.
However, there was a big mistake that was about to hit. I really believed in this script. A lot. Through happenstance, I learned I had a connection at DC Comics. (This is an entirely different story that I will detail every mistake that came with this contact one day soon.) This contact read my script. I was not surprised when he told me how much he liked it. Before he read it, he offered to forward it to one of the editors he knew, but only after I made sure I was happy with everything in the story.
I remember revising the script, tightening it up, and sending it off. It was a 23 page story (they only published 22 at that time). I don't know why I had 23 in my head. Big mistake. It showed right away that I wasn't ready. After a while, the editor read it and replied. He ripped this story to shreds. It was harsh. Remember, this was my first script. Every piece of criticism he said was spot on.
Thankfully, I didn't have his email. I was livid when I read his reply. Like a typical immature newbie, I blasted the editor to my connection. Look who keeps making mistake after mistake. I was fortunate that my connection didn't forward my reply.
The one thing I remember was that the editor understood what I was going for. He did not like the incorporation of the show. He thought it was too derivative and didn't have it's own voice. He was spot on (I say now). It dawned on me that even though he didn't like the story, he got it. I was able to tell the story exactly the way I wanted and it came across perfectly.
That was a win. I had the ability to tell a story. That's my mind at work for you. All these mistakes, someone hating my story, and I find the positive grain in that mess. I was able to take that grain and write another story. My connection was unable to get me published, but I look back now and understand how green I was. I would have messed it up. I had no published work and thought I was one of the best writers. I thought I was good enough to work at the big two. Maybe I was. Maybe I am. The thing is, without any published work, I didn't have the proof that they needed.
I was going to tell another story, but I'll save that one for next week.
On a side note, I remember meeting this editor a few years after the Superman incident and thanked him for reading my script. I let him know that I appreciated his time and critique (which I have since learned how to handle). I honestly don't think he remembered anything beyond me telling him who my connection was. He smiled and shook my hand.
Till next time.