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#3: The Great Idea

Welcome back to Creating Comics! The Art & Craft. The last two Mondays, I discussed the importance of setting goals and the value of making resolutions. If you haven't made any resolutions yet, how's about resolving to stop by here each week? (Just a suggestion.) Today kicks off a multi-part series on writing process. Over the next few months, I'm going to share the steps I take when bringing an idea for a comic book to life. Sound good?

First, a disclaimer. My writing "process" is constantly evolving. The way I'm approaching telling a story today is not the same approach I employed a year ago. And I expect my process will be somewhat different a year from now, as I hope to continue to evolve and develop as a story teller. Still, I've found it helps to have a method to the madness that is creative story telling. So please allow me to share with you my current methods (and madness.) Today's topic: The Great Idea.

All creative writing has to start with a great idea. It is a germ of a thought that starts something like, "You know someone really ought to write a story about...." All my projects started with a great idea. (And at this point, it's okay if your great idea isn't even all that great. It just has to be great to you. As long as it is an idea that interests you enough to pursue, that's a good start, and fits my definition of great for the purposes of this article.)

ICE: Interrogation Control Element
, a political thriller I'm working on with artist Damian Couceiro and colorist Paul Little, was inspired by this New York Times article, which gave me the "great idea" to do a story about a soft-spoken but incredibly effective interrogator who didn't have to violate the Geneva Conventions to break terrorists.

For Over, my rom-com online graphic novel, it was the "great idea" to do a story about the ridiculous lengths creative people go to get over a bad break up.

With Super Seed, the "great idea" came in the form of a question, "If infertile couples are willing to pay thousands of dollars for sperm from Ivy League grads or Olympic athletes, how much would they pay for sperm from super powered donors?" A lot, I'm guessing.

And all of the rest of my projects started from a small, raw, undeveloped, yet intriguing thought. Here's the thing about great ideas...Everyone has them. Tons of them. Every day. Here's the other thing about great ideas...Most of the time, people dismiss these great ideas before they ever have a chance to truly become great. And even when the ideas are not dismissed as trivial, very few people ever actually act on them. As a result, a great idea, in and of itself, to most people, is worthless. But, to those with the drive to see one through to its fruition, a great idea could be worth billions. Let me illustrate with a story.

There I was, a freshman in college. I'd met my new roommate and a ton of people on my dorm floor. I was flooded with new names and faces, and those first days were all pretty much a blur. But, then I got it. The facebook! There, for my perusal (and later intense scrutiny and hours of study) was a neatly alphabetized album containing the pictures (mostly high school yearbook shots, but the occasional one of a guy posing with his tuba or a chick riding a horse) of all my new classmates. Along with the pictures, it listed their names, hometowns, and two interests. Pretty basic stuff. Still, from that point on, it was the ultimate reference guide to whom I know and whom I wanted to get to know. I recognized the value of this book immediately, as shortly after receiving it, a senior asked to borrow my copy to check out the new freshmen crop of ladies. To this day, I'm surprised he gave it back.

With this facebook in hand, I remember sitting in my dorm room with a bunch of people and saying aloud, "They really should put this thing online, let you search people, and contact them through email. And you should be able to change your interests if you want." (I believe my interests were listed as football and personal training. Personal training? Yeah, very douchy. No offense to you personal trainers, of course.) I had that great idea, and I recognized it then as a great idea. This was 1997. And what did I do with this idea? Not a damn thing. And guess how many other people had this same idea? Not a clue, but probably a whole bunch.

But seven years later, a Harvard guy with a little more drive took that same basic germ of an idea and turned it into a company now valued at over a billion dollars, Facebook. Maybe you've heard of it.

Now, back to writing comics. You have your great idea. Sure, it's of no real value, but it is a big first step. You won't be writing a thing until you have a basic idea of what your story is about. So, now what?

Well, you need to get that idea out of your head and onto paper (or a computer screen, if that's how you roll.) As I explained in my article on goal setting, there is power in writing things down. Think about how much more likely you are to get something done if you write it down (pick up the dry-cleaning, buy more toilet paper, etc.) The same goes with story ideas. When a great idea comes along, I suggest that you treat your brain like a sponge, block out a short period of time, and squeeze it all out of your head and into written form. If you've already started thinking of characters, or scenes, or plot points, or a line of dialogue, or whatever, yeah, write all of that stuff down, too. Just get it all out, until you've got nothing left swirling around that brain of yours.

At this point, maybe you'll have filled up a notebook. Most likely you'll have a single page with a few words and a lot of white space. Either is okay. Take a deep breath, you've completed the first step to telling your story.

Is taking this first step the hardest part? Hell, no. Like I said before, ideas are cheap. We've been blessed with amazingly creative minds. It's not unreasonable to think that every person on this planet might have at least one great idea every day of their lives. For you to write one down on paper shouldn't be that hard.

Nope, this first part is easy. But it's very important. You need to walk before you can run as the cliche goes, and the fact that you've gotten to this point is worth a small pat on the back. Because you've already done what most people in the world don't do. And that's honor your great idea enough to put it into words. Out of your head, into the world. And the ball is rolling...

So this week, please ask yourself, "Are there any story ideas floating around in my head that I haven't bothered to write down? If so, why not? And why do I keep coming back to that idea?" Sure, it could be nothing...but also it could be something great, if you're willing to put in the work. Hell, it could even be the next Facebook. Write it down. It's easy. Just do it.

And guess what? The next step in the process is also very easy. At this point, your brain is now a dry sponge, ready to absorb some juice for your story. I'll talk about finding the juice and what to do with it next time.

Next Week: Research Part I

Tyler James is the writer and artist of Over, a romantic comedy online graphic novel updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. His comic Super Seed, the story of the world's first super powered fertility clinic, was featured at Zuda Comics. Tyler is currently working on a number of other projects that will debut soon, and teaches a series of workshops on creating comics for adults and children. He works as a game designer and content producer for a game company, and currently resides in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Contact Tyler directly at, keep up with him at his blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Previous Columns
#1: Big Goals

#2: Resolutions

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