Posted September 18, 2023 at 12:01 pm

Woke up to find out I was suspended from Twitter.

You can find me on Bluesky.

You can join our Patreon.

Or sign up to our Newsletter that we've never actually used so it's not going to be something we spam.

There's also the unofficial subreddit.

And, of course, just visit your favorite webcomic (THIS ONE) and keep an eye out for fresh blogs. 

So, why was I suspended? That's the fun part, no one knows!

Pretty damning stuff as you can see!

I appealed on the grounds of, well, c'mon already. The reply was instantaneous! Which is a sure sign that a human definitely exists somewhere in the appeal process lol lmao no sorry, zero percent chance there's a single person in that entire department anymore.

To be clear, I still have no idea what was posted or when. Oh, and I will never know! Extremely good and functional system they've got there. I absolutely do not wish for the whole operation to metaphorically and nonviolently burn to the ground.

Posted August 14, 2023 at 12:44 pm

Hey, you know how things cost money? Well, we decided some of our things are going to cost less money for the rest of August! Which things? These things!

Doctor Dinosaur's Time Travel Through the Back Door is 40% off.

The ULTRA Field Guide is 30% off!

Atomic Robo and the Spectre of Tomorrow is 30% off

Atomic Robo and the Dawn of a New Era is 30% off

Atomic Robo plushie head is marked down to just $25!!!

Print Sets for Spectre of Tomorrow, Dawn of a New Era, The Nicodemus Job, and Real Science Adventures are all 40% off!

And, lastly, the Mystery Shirts are just $12 (and good luck to ya).

Posted July 24, 2023 at 08:51 am

"Are you guys going to make more Atomic Robo comics???"

Short answer: YES

Longer answer: we always have a hiatus between volumes. This lets us build up a buffer so we can work at a pace that we're comfortable with and produce comics that we are proud to put out into the world.

The current hiatus is a little longer than normal because we've been juggling some non-comics real life stuff (boooooo) behind the scenes all year. We felt that adding LOOMING DEADLINES wouldn't help things go any smoother. 

The good news is that the vast majority of that stuff is behind us and we've been playing catch up on prior obligations to clear the schedule for full time Atomic Robo production.

Our current plan is to release a spin-off short story that's a semi-sequel to Agents of C.H.A.N.G.E. before diving into the next full on main volume, Atomic Robo and the Peril of Prometheus.

Thank you all for reading and for your support all these years. We can't wait to show you what's next. Stay tuned for more updates!

Posted June 19, 2023 at 02:34 pm

A couple weeks ago I said there were two major pitfalls with regard to research. The first was researching instead of writing. The second was writing the research instead of your story.

This is less common but I bet we’ve all come across it at some point.

You’re reading a story. Book, comic, whatever. And out of absolutely ​nowhere​ you find yourself in the middle of a scene that exists only to tell you about some research the writer did. Maybe they’re showing off. Maybe they’re just excited to share something they found super engaging or interesting. This isn’t ​always​ a problem but it usually is because the scene exists for the writer​ instead of the ​story. And as we mentioned before, the greatest crime you can commit against your reader is to waste their time.​

Movies and TV shows are less prone to letting scenes like this slip in because more people are involved with making those, so it increases the likelihood of someone​ asking if we really need this scene where everyone talks about the price of wheat in ancient Rome for a couple minutes.

Now, as a writer I totally get the impulse to include this scene. You found something really cool and unexpected and you wanna share it with everyone! It’s the easiest thing in the world to convince yourself that ​this​ tangential conversation is appropriate and character building and interesting and relevant and arises organically from what’s going on. But really it’s just that you’re​ excited to talk about it, and probably have been for what seems like one million years, so the gravity of your interest has warped the text until it enters this unstable orbit around the object of your interest. And everyone on the ship (what) can see you’ve flown into this eccentric orbit that’s gonna crash and kill us all and they’re trying to make you correct the entry angle, but no, you’ve got this god damn death grip on the controls and you’re like, “But see, the fall of Rome and the price of wheat are inextricably linked! The entire Western world as we know it took its shape because of the economic viability of a single crop a thousand years ago ​isn’t that interesting?!?!”

And, I mean, yes it is!

But does it ​belong​ in your story? Probably not!

Also I was just making up that thing about wheat and Rome. I have no idea if there’s a correlation.

Maybe I should research it instead of figuring out how to give advice...

No, I must be strong!


Anyway, this is why I always bring up that thing about how only 5% of my research makes it to the final page. A lot of what I come across is surprising, or exciting, or funny. Sometimes it’s all of the above! But information that doesn’t actively contribute to the story is just trivia. There are ways to put some of this stuff in there. Characters are allowed to have hobbies or niche interests or strange knowledge they picked up from who knows where. But this is seasoning, not the whole meal. A line here. A reference there. Used sparingly this information can brighten up a story. But you shouldn’t let it take up a whole scene in the same way no one’s ever going to serve you a plate of salt for dinner.

Well, that brings us to the end of this blog series. I have no idea if any of that was useful! But it’s some of the stuff I’ve thought about and learned over the course of writing over one thousand five hundred pages of ​ATOMIC ROBO​, so there’s got to be ​something​ in there. Even if my advice was so bad and wrong-headed that all it did was convince you to do the exact ​opposite?

That still technically counts as helping you HA-CHAAA!!!

Posted June 12, 2023 at 02:23 pm

Last time we talked about the dangers or doing too much research as a (possibly subconscious) way to avoid doing the hard work of actually writing your story.

So how do you know when you've gone too far? When the research is causing more harm than good? You’ve got to constantly interrogate your motives. Do you really​ need to do more research? On this topic? Is the research you’re doing ​actually productive? Would it be more beneficial to shift the focus of your energy? Do you feel like you can’t even write out a little test passage without doing more research?

One way I try to navigate these waters is to leave a fair amount of research until I’m writing the text. Writing the story will always expose more questions than you could ever anticipate. For some folks excessive research is about setting the table just right before you begin the meal but this is an effort doomed to failure. The story will ​always​ surprise you, so no matter what you do or how exhaustive your research is, you’ll have to do more as you write it anyway.

This is actually the main reason for that 16th century China story I’m working on. Writing the story necessarily asks for all sorts of information about day-to-day life in that era that wouldn’t necessarily come up while reading ordinary history texts. Writing the story illuminates ignorances I didn’t even ​know about and that forces me to dig deep for specific answers to specific questions which (uh, in theory) narrows the focus of my research so there’s less of a threat of just researching my brains out instead of writing. Plus, since I’m in the middle of writing the text, ​I want to get back to writing the text as soon as possible.

What if I can’t find the answer? Or the answer I’ve got is unsatisfying or useless or contrary to my needs? Depending on which is better for the story, I’ll ignore the correct answer and forge ahead ​or​ change the context of the scene so this malevolent information is no longer a problem.

One example I often give is from writing the first issue of ​ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS: REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES: THE BILLION DOLLAR PLOT.​ In the original outline there was a scene with Tesla and Westinghouse at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Part of the fair was this model city of the future that was erected to show off how new technologies by Tesla, Westinghouse, and others could improve the cities of tomorrow. Anyway, I’m writing this thing, and our heroes are supposed to notice some thieves a using a fire escape to make their getaway from a rooftop heist.

Pretty standard.

Well, it occurred to me: ​hang on, as a Northern Florida Swamp Creature I’ve never been on a fire escape and can’t recall encountering them in person. But you see them all the time on TV and the movies. And one thing that seems pretty obvious is that most (a lot? all?) of these things were bolted on well after the building was built because if you designed those buildings with fire escapes in mind you’d never make them so awkward and cramped up right next to one another. Hmm, come to think of it, I wonder when fire escapes were invented?

Enter: some research! Turns out fire escapes were designed at the end of the 19th​ century and the first ones were the model city of the future at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Well, ​that​ was a freebie!

I often tell this story when I’m talking about research because (A) it's the writer’s version of a hole in one and (B) if I didn’t ​tell​ the story then no one would know it was such a lucky shot because who the ​hell​ is thinking about the history of fucking fire escapes while they’re reading a story?!

What I mean by that is: what if the story took place in 1875, well before fire escapes are being discussed or designed? How does the scene work?

Like I said above, ignore it or change the context.

IGNORE IT:​ I could’ve written a fire escape into the 1875 version of the story. Honestly, would anyone have noticed? Pretty much everyone expects to see fire escapes on 19t​h century looking multi-story buildings anyway, so I could’ve slapped one on there without raising a single eyebrow.

CHANGE THE CONTEXT:​ I could accept that there are no fire escapes for the baddies to use in 1875, so our heroes instead notice them slipping into a top floor window or an access door on the roof or something. It’s the same basic scene, I just rearranged the details so fire escapes aren’t a problem.

This is a bit of a tangent, as it’s not research ​per se,​ but I’ve had folks tell me they can’t write their fantasy epic until they know the history of every family of every major character going back who-knows-how-many generations, and the names of every village in every nation, and the wars that shaped them, and then something about where they get their potatoes.

I would gently suggest that those folks aren’t interested in writing their fantasy epics, they’re interested in writing a sprawling network of Wikipedia articles. There’s nothing wrong with that. Frankly it sounds fun! But spending months or years working out and cross-referencing all that information is not writing the fantasy epic and it never will be.

Research is important. But you cannot mistake it for writing your story.

Posted June 5, 2023 at 01:04 pm

Like I said at the start of this li'l blogging project, I do ​Way Too Much Research​ for ATOMIC ROBO.

This does not affect you, the reader, because I wisely only include about 5% of it on the page. That doesn’t mean the other 95% is wasted — hey, that’s ​Rule Three from the previous section, wow! — because I can’t know ​which​ 5% belongs on the book without the ​other​ 95%.

And, hey, joke’s on all of you, I’m only writing the comics to get paid for reading history books anyway! HAW HAW.

But research can be tricky. The two most common research blunders I see are...

(1)​ ​Researching ​instead​ of writing.

(2)​ ​Writing the ​research​ instead of the story.

These are bad habits that can get in the way of writing and I’ve certainly ​never​ been guilty of either of them, nope, trust me, don’t look into it, ​moving on.

Today we'll focus on that first one: Researching instead of writing.

Look, writing is hard. I mean, it’s not hard like competing at the Olympics is hard. Or how working in retail is hard. It’s hard in a weird and nebulous way because at least with the Olympics or retail there’s an absolute goal to work toward, from having the best time humanly possible to the least worst time humanly possible. And, generally, there are objective markers that let you know when you’re doing it wrong at every step of the way.

Writing is more like competing in the Olympics only you never tried out, and the competition runs 24/7 for some reason, and no one will tell you when it’s your turn, or what you’ll be competing in when you get there, or where the competition is but you’ll be fired if you aren’t there on time, but don't worry because you'll also be fired if the judge is in a bad mood because of something completely unrelated that happened to them at lunch so your actual performance is meaningless either way, except when it isn't, and fuck you for trying.

Sounds kinda stressful right? Like, if you had to live and work under that cloud of confusion you’d be exhausted all the time! ​Well, that's​ the way writing is hard. Because it’s ​baffling. You’re never sure where you’re going with it, you’re never sure when you’ll be done, you’re never sure if you did it right when you are done, you’re never sure ​if​ you’re done, you’re never sure if you should scrap the whole thing to start over, ​and​ you’re never sure if it was worth doing at all.

It’s why you read stuff like this to try to figure out what the hell is going on.

You know what’s ​way​ easier than writing? Doing something that ​feelslike writing without doing all the hard parts! Something like research!

You need to do some research, no one's arguing against that. But it's real easy to find yourself doing Way Too Much Research! This is most often characterized as ​Way Too Much Worldbuilding​.

Read an article? Research! Took some notes? Research! Went to the library? You better believe that’s research!

And researching ​is​ (technically) working on your story, and you ​have​ to do it before you write, so ​technically it’s fine to do research and it’s totally not ever about putting off all that writing that's so god damn baffling and terrifying NO SIREEBOB.

Okay, but research doesn’t add a single page to your current draft. ​Writing​ is writing. Research is research.

Now, I’m not saying don’t do research. I’ve been off-and-on writing a story that takes place in 16th century China and it would be ​the worst idea​ to go into that blind. Research is integral to getting this thing written! Definitely do your research!

But there’s a thin line between doing research that's necessary and doing research to ​feel​ like you’re writing. This usually — not always, but usually — takes the form of worldbuilding.

I’ve railed against excessive worldbuilding before, so let me make this clear: ​WORLDBUILDING GOOD​. It’s just that the right amount of it isn’t far from too much of it. And it’s hard to define where exactly the difference between them is because how much ​is​ too much depends on the type of research being done and the type of project it’s for, who you are, the audience’s expectations, etc. We can’t work out an objective system that considers all the variables, so let’s try this instead.

Remember that you’ll never actually do enough research. It's a trap. You cannot possibly do "enough." Especially with regard to something like historical fiction. Even if you lived through the time and in the place of the story, you’re going to get ​something​ about it wrong.

It’s fine! Honestly.

I mean, don’t get the date of the Moon Landing wrong — unless you’re doing alternative history in which case 1899 is a perfectly legit date for landing on the Moon — but it’s okay to get some stuff wrong! You’re not writing a documentary, you’re not writing a dissertation, you’re writing a ​story.​ You need only to invoke a sense of the era, not a perfect facsimile of it.

You’re never going to get the voice of the era just right, you’re never going to get the slang of that place just right, and you’re going to screw up the price of milk. It’s fine! I promise you.

The alchemy of writing a story for someone else to read is an inherently fuzzy process. Consider that no two people are going to have the same experience of the same text. They will even remember the exact same scene in completely incompatible ways! Every reader carries their own version of the story in their own minds with their own vision of what happened and how. Even in comics where there are literal actual images​ on each and every page! This fuzziness isn’t something you can overcome by researching yourself down to the precise location and velocity of each individual main character and their lineages across a dozen previous generations. Readers understand and expect ​some​ fuzziness in fiction because everything they’ve ever read was built out of that fuzziness. You can use it to your advantage. Here’s one way: hide stuff in it!​ You can frame information to de-emphasize or to hand wave away incidental details that would require hours and hours of digging and researching to ferret out.

Posted May 29, 2023 at 12:21 pm

Last time I talked about a couple strategies to free yourself from the terror of screwing up. Mostly by creating fresh drafts where you're free to go completely bonkers while you've still got that original draft as a safe backup.

Maybe it seems like a waste of time to do all that extra writing only to throw some or all of it away? But consider this rather nuanced counterpoint: no, it’s not.

In fact, that's Rule Three: Anything you do to find the best path for your story is ​not​ a waste of time or effort.

Dumping new drafts? Cutting out scenes entirely? Re-writing a whole chapter? ​Those aren’t wastes of time! ​Those are what you ​needed​ to do to find the best way to tell your story. I’ve talked to a lot of writers who ​hate​ cutting content, even a little of it, because it makes them feel like they wasted hours, or days, even weeks of work. Here’s the thing about that. If the only reason you won’t cut a scene (a page, a line, a chapter, whatever) is that it feels like a waste of ​your​ time, then ​keeping​ it is a waste of your ​readers’​ time.

And wasting the reader’s time is the number one absolute ​most worst​ thing you can do as a writer. So don't.

Corollary: wasting their money is fine. Money comes and goes. Our entire economic system is a pyramid scheme anyway, so it hardly matters. But wasting ​time?​ No one’s getting that back.

I think the resistance to cutting material comes from being overly concerned with daily word counts (or weekly or monthly). You're always hearing from Real Professional Writers who write 400 or 500 or 1,000 words everyday. You want to be a Real Professional Writer too, so it seems logical to emulate this behavior.


Word counts are a goal of writing, they are not the point of writing. If your word count becomes the point of your writing instead of the reader’s experience of the story you're writing, then you're confusing good metrics​ for good ​work​. Surely we've all witnessed and/or been victim of the bizarre outcomes demanded by distant corporate algorithmic tracking by this point to have figured out there's no correlation between good metrics and good work.

Cut the line, cut the conversation, cut the scene, cut the chapter, cut the whole fucking act if you have to. There is nothing so precious or brilliant about ​anything you will ever write that it cannot be cut. And if you ​think​ you’ve written something so amazing it would be a crime to cut it, then it’s probably in there for ​you​ and not for the ​reader.​ Cut it.

And on the off chance it really is ​that​ good? Make that new draft like we talked about so you can cut it with impunity to see where it takes you!

Any time I come across a ​big​ change that might be risky to implement, or that makes me worried about the results, or that forces me to change or eliminate material I really loved, I just create a new draft, bump the letter up by one, and go nuts with it.

Most of my scripts hit Draft C or D by the end but I’ve had a couple go as far as G. And to date I’ve never reverted back to an earlier draft. I've gone back to the original to copy/paste a line or something here or there, but I've never had to back to work from the original. That probably means it’s safe for me to stop this practice of creating new drafts entirely and just move full steam ahead with my big, wild changes right there in the original files.

But just ​knowing​ there’s a fall back position is the safety net, and safety blanket if I'm honest, that lets me loosen up and be more receptive to alternatives in the first place.

Sometimes it tanks the number of pages I write in a week. But every time it's improved the pages that get written.

Posted May 22, 2023 at 11:13 am

As I’ve been saying, you should think of your outline as a map. This map shows you ​one way to get from The Beginning to The End with some interesting stuff along the way. But writing​ the story is the actual journey. Do not confuse the two! While writing you’ll come across detours and unexpected delights or complications that you could never anticipate when you were making the outline. Don’t be afraid of them!

“Oh, it would be so cool to do X, but the outline​ says I have to do Y instead, oh well.”

Hey, you wrote that outline. It’s not the boss of you. Take that detour! Try that different scene! Blow up this conversation with a different line of questions or an actual explosion! Whatever! See what happens!

These alternatives might turn out to be better than what you originally planned but you’ll never know until you ​check them out.​ There’s no way to know if this new path kinda sucks or if it'll become the best thing about the whole damn script until you try it. So, y’know, try it. And if it sucks, who cares, your map will show you how to get back on track and continue the journey.

Here’s one way I give myself permission to be receptive to the new ideas and alternative paths that crop up as I’m writing. Let’s take ATOMIC ROBO AND THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA #1​ for example. The filename for the script goes like this...


Pretty simple. “Volume 13, Issue 1.” Let me know if I’m going too fast!

Okay but let’s say we’re 18 pages into writing this 22 page script. And because of some random line of dialog here on Page 18, I’ve come up with a great ​new​ way to end this issue that's completely different from what was in the outline. AND​ I’ll have to change some stuff as far back as Page 15 so the continuity lines up.​ And, one more problem, I’m not quite convinced we’ll be able to pull off this new idea while ​also​ establishing all the beats our readers need in this issue for the rest of the series to make sense.

What do I do?

Dare I risk abandoning the original outline and ripping up some solid pages just to follow a whim that I'm only half-convinced might work? No, that’d be stupid.

But it’s ​also​ stupid not to give it a try! So here’s what I do.

FILE —> SAVE AS —> v13_01​a​.doc


Now the original draft is isolated off to the side while I'm working from a brand new fresh file. No matter how badly I butcher this thing I will always have the unscathed original to fall back upon if necessary.

Trust me on this: ​stick with letters​. Go from filenameA to filenameB to C and so on. They’re much easier to parse than something like v13_01.3.1.2 vs v13_01.3.2. And let us ​never again allow a file name as cursed as v13_01final_ver2_new_final_alt_FINAL ever see the light of day. You've got 26 letters. It's unlikely you will need more than 26 distinct drafts. And if you do, just go from Z to AA, AB, AC, etc. But also maybe think about a different story at this point.

Anyway, creating a fresh draft is also handy when an idea crops up while writing, say, Issue 4 but it needs like six things changed way back in Issue 2 and four things changed in Issue 3 to make sure all the continuity works out properly.

That’s a lot of tinkering across multiple files! It’s kinda scary! What if I do all that and hate it? New drafts! If it changes (or ruins!) the flow, or the end product of all these changes isn't as elegant as the original, or they create new unsolvable problems I couldn’t anticipate until I got my hands in the dough and only then realized the salt was actually arsenic...who cares! All those crazy changes are on completely different files and I can go back to the original versions at any point. No harm, no foul!

Posted May 15, 2023 at 10:16 am

So, how do we turn a story structure into an actual story? How do you know where to start? How do you know what happens next? We outline.

A lot of folks get tripped up at this stage. They don't want to outline. They feel like it places unnecessary shackles on their story. They want the freedom to see where it goes. I'm sympathetic, but I believe this reaction comes from a complete misunderstanding of what an outline does.

Part of writing, maybe the best part, is being surprised by what you find in your story by writing it. Outlines are not there to keep you from experiencing these discoveries! In fact, they do the opposite. Outlines empower you to make more and better discoveries as you write. How? They help you to explore different paths through your story and to find your way back if (when) these errant paths don't work out. 

Think of your outline as the map of a journey you plan to take and think of your writing as the actual journey. Your outline exists to help you find the best way through unfamiliar terrain. But nothing about that map can stop you from checking out alternatives as you make your way. There are details that the map cannot predict or account for. There are things you will discover or glimpse along your journey that you will want to explore. Do it. If you happen to get lost, or it turns out that super fascinating alternative you thought you saw turns out kinda dull when you actually get there, it's no big deal. Your map will show you how to get back on track.

The structure gives you the shape of your story. It's the big ideas or moments. Your outline is the finer details that tells you how those big ideas and moments flow into one another and create smaller moments connecting everything. Play around with all these ideas. See where else they take you. How else they might flow together. How these different paths help or hinder the impact of the story you're telling. You'll find dead ends. You'll scrap a few outlines that seemed like they were the right one. You'll find the perfect angle through a scene that'll cut a chapter and a half that you really liked.

That's fine.

For ATOMIC ROBO Scott and I brainstorm about the kinds of stories we want to tackle next and we talk about why we’re interested in them or what draws us to them. A plot, a trope, an image, a mood, a historical period or person, a classic sci-fi plot, whatever!

Once we’ve settled on one we’ll hack out some beats that feel like they ​could be​ attached to the central idea that got us excited in the first place. And then we figure out how those might be arranged into our usual structure — introducing a conspiracy, discovering it, chasing it, etc. — and how Robo might navigate through these events.

At this point I’ll put together the ​Broad Strokes Outline​ which is just a sentence or two describing the main idea and/or development for each issue. The main thing we're checking for here is if the idea still makes sense and sounds fun. This is the foundation and we're checking it for cracks before we build the house.

If it checks out to Scott, then I’ll do a Detailed Outline for each issue by writing out a sentence or two roughly describing what should be happen for each page.

Here’s how that looks for the first issue of ATOMIC ROBO AND THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA​...

World buildy exposition via Robo with ALAN in their bunker.

Institute coming along. New Kids incoming.

Bernie heading out on his Volcano Expedition. Robo sending off. Quick library trip.

So, two things pop out.

First, I dunno how that looks to you but I consider this to be the ​Detailed​ ​Outline​. That’s enough information to guide me along but not so much information that I’m restricting my ability to play around with how these events transpire while writing the actual script. Your own page-by-page outlines might have more information than my example. Or less! The only thing that matters is that it has the information ​you​ need so you know where you are in the story.

Second, the pages are grouped like that so I can track “page turns” for our print editions. The way books are physically constructed, a reader looking at PAGE ONE will only ever see PAGE ONE. But when a reader turns to any even numbered page they'll be able to see the page after it at the same time even if they aren't trying to read ahead. This is why you're supposed to reserve especially interesting (or dramatic or exciting) visuals for the ​even numbered​ pages. Some writers will move heaven and Earth to stick by this. Personally, it's something I try to do, but will abandon if it screws up my pacing. Page turns aren’t a big concern for reading comics online but they’re worth keeping in mind because they can enhance the experience of reading the print edition.


Once I’ve done the Detailed Outline for the first issue, the next step is possibly the smartest ​or​ the dumbest thing in my whole process: I do Detailed Outlines for ​every​ issue in the volume before I write a single script.

Possibly Smart:​ Outlining the whole series page-by-page gives me a pretty solid idea of how the story’s going to play out from start to finish. Major problems will reveal themselves before I’ve written the first line of dialog! This is especially handy if I come up with something in the latter half that would require changes to any/all previous issues to make sense. Whatever needs to be cut or re-written at this stage is just some notes to myself. That’s easy! Or at least easier than re-writing complete scripts. Yikes.

Possibly Dumb:​ Something I’ve noticed lately is that my outline for each issue is less accurate than the one before it. Scripts for the first and second issues are pretty close to what’s described by their outlines, but things start getting looser by the third issue and only get worse the further I go. This isn’t a problem as such. The outline is our ​map, the writing is our journey. Having the map is what gave me the confidence to seek out different paths as I made my way through the material. But it creates extra work as I’m forced to re-outline future issues to account for whatever major changes I came up with while writing the middle of the series. And sometimes, okay pretty much every time, this means rewriting scenes from one or more previous issues to make sure the new continuity works. Sometimes this means re-writing whole issues! And since the whole point of having all these outlines done ahead of time is to Not Do A Bunch Of Rewriting that seems like we're screwing something up.

But I’m Gonna Keep Doing It Anyway:​ Because it's a fool’s errand to judge the utility of an outline based on how closely it hews to the finished product. Even when I abandon an outline entirely, it proves to have been integral to the script that was written. I'd have never discovered those alternative paths without my maps, and those stories would've been weaker.

Posted May 8, 2023 at 09:43 am

Last time we talked about the failure of imagination at the core of narrative centered on conflict. I threatened you with looking at another kind of narrative structure. One employed by classic Chinese poetry. It goes like this...

(1) Qiju, 起句​, or "bringing into being": Introduce a scene.

(2) Chengju, 承句​, or "understanding": Add details about the scene.

(3) Zhuanju, 転句​, or "changing": Alter our perspective on the scene to reveal new or unexpected details.

(4) Jueju, 結句​, or "drawing together": Assimilate our preconceived notions of the scene as originally depicted with our newfound knowledge to learn a greater truth.

Each of these would represent one line of your poem, but there's no reason each one can't support a whole act of your story. And, as it turns out, I’d been writing ​ATOMIC ROBO stories roughly in this vein for years without knowing it.

(1) Issues 1 and 2:​ “Bringing into Being” / Introduce the Conspiracy, Discover the Conspiracy.

(2) Issue 3:​ “Understanding” / Chase the Conspiracy.

(3) Issue 4:​ “Changing” / Destroyed by the Conspiracy.

(4) Issue 5:​ “Drawing Together” / Triumph over the Conspiracy .

What I like about this approach is​ that it centers discovery as the indivisible unit of narrative instead of ​conflict.​ These stories can still ​have conflict of course. Hell, over a thousand years of wuxia stories follow this structure and they’re filled to the brim with conflicts. ​ATOMIC ROBO​ is an action comic and boy oh boy there are conflicts!

“But I thought you hated conflict?!?!”

No, I’m suspicious of a system of thought that centers conflict. I have no problem with conflict in stories when conflict ​in and of itself is not the engine of the narrative. Conflicts in this Four Act structure are instead ​among​ the events that happen as a consequence of what is discovered. Whereas the Three Act structure we're all taught as the foundation of Western literature is centered on domination, this Four Act structure is centered on revelation.

Oh, fun fact. This is also how mystery novels work!

(1) Discover a Murder.

(2) Chase the Murderer.

(3) Perplexed by the Murderer.

(4) Triumph over the Murderer.


Now that you're familiar with a couple of structural schemes, we'll talk about how to use structure to filter your Big, Broad Ideas into An Actual Story.
Page 1 2 3 4 ... 18
Privacy Policy