A, B, C & D – part 2

Let’s get into this without recapping what was said last week. If you missed it, check out the archives section immediately to the left of this page.

As I was saying, the story for The Man Called A•X #1 wasn’t moving the way I wanted it to. I wanted to set up the character of A•X, but at the same point I wanted to pull a trick on the readers – which actually worked. Nobody spotted what Shawn and I did. So, let’s go back and start again with a new outline number 1.

1: Mercy Island. A shadowed figure that is NOT A•X - but nobody should realize that yet - wades on shore and heads for the Mercy Island Electric Generators.

Okay, now things are moving the way I wanted. I’ve done a few things here: Since this is the first issue I know nobody knows who A•X is, or what he really looks like, so using A•IX (A-9), who looks nothing like A•X (A-10), wouldn’t set up flares at this point. Besides, this is a good distraction for what will be revealed in a few issues. We learn these A-characters (Assassins) have some manner of power since they can obviously swim underwater for more than a mile or so, and I’m setting up – unbeknownst to the readers – that there are many different assassin models: A•IX, A•X and even earlier models. This is done without saying a word. All anyone would need to do is compare the character who is wading on shore with the A-ten character who pops up in a few pages to realize what’s going on. Of course, I’m counting on nobody doing that, or if they do, assuming that Shawn McManus, the artist-co-creator, was mis-drawing A-Ten in those first pages as he was developing his style. They didn’t know we had designs for all the different A-characters long before we began issue #1. In short, I was counting on readers being used to other writer/artist teams being sloppy in their work to get away with a bit of plot subterfuge. Needless to say, it worked.

So, we have the outline:

1: Mercy Island (an island off the coast of Bedlam, the city the story takes place in). A shadowed figure that is NOT A•X, but nobody should realize that yet, wades on shore and heads for the Mercy Island Electric Generators.

2. INT. helicopter. Over Iraq during the Gulf War. Liz is one of the soldiers. So is A•X before he became what he is, but we pay NO attention to him. The copter is HIT.

3. INT. Liz Watkin’s apartment. She suddenly wakes from a nightmare.
Now I want to get A•X into action, so…

4: INT. Warehouse. A•X takes on Bradbury’s Silicon Peninsula Enforcers. They ride flying platforms and use lasers. They’re trying to kill A•X who they think blew up the transmitter and plunged Bedlam into a days long blackout. A•X moves too fast, takes them out, but, by the end, one blows off his fingers. He takes off and watches them grow back. Until now, A•X has said nothing. His first words, at the very end of issue #1, when he watches his fingers grow back are: “What am I?”

Got that? In four short scenes I’ve established a ton of back story and the readers aren’t even aware that I’ve done it. What have we established:

If readers are paying attention they’d notice that A•IX and A•X are very different. So, if there are at least two of these people, there may before. We’ve learned, without dialogue, that Liz was in the Gulf War, that she was shot down and that she’s still having nightmares about it. Lastly, we learn that someone – and we believe it’s the police – are trying to kill A•X – for what happened on Mercy Island. We learn that A•X has incredible abilities, and by the end of the scene we learn through his words, “What am I?” that not only can he regenerate body parts, he has no idea who or what he is. Therefore, we’ve learned, again pretty much without words, the entire concept of the series: Who am I? Or at least we’ve learned what I want you to THINK is the concept of the series. But that’s something for another day. Right now “Who am I?” is good enough.

I’ve quickly set up the characters, their situations and back story. But it’s still not enough. So I go back to the outline and begin sketching out the individual scenes.

1: Mercy Island. A shadowed figure that is NOT A•X, but nobody should realize that yet, wades on shore and heads for the Mercy Island Electric Generators.

A: Keep A•IX in shadow as he moves through the water toward the Island.

B: He wades on Shore.

C: All captions will be from Liz’s nightmare, setting up that sequence now.

If you notice I went back and fleshed out the scene. Since this is NOT A•X but A•IX, I don’t want any captions or dialogue talking about or discussing him. I know these A-models don’t talk unless they have to, so he’s going to be silent. Second, I want to do the comic book equivalent of a movie ‘voice over’ to establish where we’re going next and to set up a second mystery even as we’re setting up the first.

2. INT. helicopter. Over Iraq during the Gulf War. Liz is one of the soldiers. So is A•X before he became what he is, but we pay NO attention to him. The copter is HIT.

A: The man who will become A•X is behind Liz somewhere but doesn’t talk. He’s just one of many soldiers.

B: Set up Liz’s attitude: Soldier hits on her, she puts him down fast.

C: A Patriot missile takes them down.

This is an easy one. It’s only one page, but I’ve gone back and set up that A•X is definitely on the copter…something that won’t come into play for many issues. And I’ve also set up Liz’s personality. She has only two lines, but they define her manner. The first line comes when one soldier says he’d give his left hand to be on some other mission. To which she says, “Then what would you play with when you got lonely?” And when that soldier says there’s always her, she merely says, “In your dreams.” This is a girl who gives as good as she takes. It’s also important to know she has a soldier’s sexual sense of humor. Last, we see the copter was taken down by an American missile. This sets up a third mystery – were they taken down with friendly fire, or what? All in one page. Readers won’t be able to spot any of this, but it’s all there, in the background, so to speak.

3. INT. Liz Watkin’s apartment. She suddenly wakes from a nightmare.

A: She’s sleeping with some guy.

B: The Blackout occurs.

In this we quickly learn that Liz is suffering from nightmares. We see the blackout. I realize here that’s not enough. I want her more fleshed out, again with as few words as possible. Remember, this book was designed to do the strongest character development I could with the fewest words. So, I go back.

3. INT. Liz Watkin’s apartment. She suddenly wakes from a nightmare.

A: She’s sleeping with some guy.

i. He obviously is a one-night stand.

a. End with a caption: Will I remember your name by next week.

ii. Liz fixates on her nightmare and doesn’t care about him.

iii. Set up that Liz is a reporter and she dumps guy for the story.

B: The Blackout occurs.

Once again, everything is set up with few words. The first thing Liz does when she awakes is tell the guy, “Maybe you should go home. I’m gonna be like hell for the rest of the day.” Without saying anything else this establishes that they’re just sleeping together, that they are not close and that Liz is incredibly moody and knows it, maybe even revels in it. Later that page, after the blackout, she tells him to go because she’s got a story to cover. This sets up again that she really has no interest in him; a real boyfriend might have a key and would let himself out if she had to leave suddenly. And the final cap punctuates that as well as indicate that she’s probably had endless one-night stands just like this before and that she knows how meaningless they are. Liz’s attitudes are now firmly set. Later, we’ll learn that she’s divorced and has a kid who lives with his Dad because Liz is a basketcase. Much later in the series we’ll learn what happened to her. The series will be as much about her finding her identity again as it is about A•X discovering who he is. Liz may know her name, her history and who she is, but she’s just as screwed up as A•X. Some of it is because of who she is and some because of what happened to her in the War which ties together her story and A•X’s.

So, let’s go back to the outline.

4: INT. Warehouse. A•X takes on Bradbury’s Silicon Peninsula Enforcers. They use lasers. They’re trying to kill A•X who they think blew up the transmitter and plunged Bedlam into a days long blackout. A•X moves too fast, takes them out, but, by the end, one blows off his fingers. He takes off and watches them grow back. Until now, A•X says nothing. His first words when he watches his fingers grow back are: “What am I?”

What I would do here is the same as 3 above. I would begin to break down the action so it sets up story and character. You’d learn about the Silicon Peninsula Enforcers’ advanced technology. You hear the name Bradbury, but you don’t meet him this issue. Other mobsters later cal him a monster, but we have no idea they are talking literally and not figuratively. We’ll meet Bradbury by issue #3, but the set up is here. In the beginning you’re led to believe the Enforcers are the Bedlam cops, only to discover later on they work for Bradbury and that he’s another gang boss, but with a difference. You’re made to think A•X is a killer, until you realize who he is going after, and then you’d learn that even A•X doesn’t know who he is or how he can regenerate body parts. Again, all with minimum dialogue.

In terms of the outline, you can see I first try to figure out the direction that best tells my story. They I go back and develop the scenes. Then I go back and flesh them out even more. Then again. All before I start writing the final plot.

I want my pacing down pat before I do a real plot or script. I want to understand my characters and I want to do that with an economy of words and action that I had never attempted before. I knew the story of A•X was going to be very complex but it had to be told so simply nobody would realize it. To do that I had to take what deceptively looked like an all-out action comic and make it completely character driven. And to do that I needed a fully worked out outline.

Each scene was outlined in this manner. Sometimes I’d drop complete outline beats. Other times I’d move them to a different section of the story in order to keep the flow of action moving. Because this story was to be told with as few words as possible, it was vital that each scene lead you directly to the next, both emotionally and visually. I never wanted the reader to wonder why we went to the next place. By making it as seamless as possible, the readers move along with the story without even thinking about it. And since A•X is about leading readers in one direction while really taking them elsewhere, it was even more important that the storytelling was as seamless as I could make it.
Story needs to be paced so each scene unfolds logically from the previous scene. When done, you shouldn’t be able to take a scene and move it elsewhere, because the flow won’t work that way. That is why an outline works; you keep playing with it while it’s in its developmental stages, before you need to commit to something that would take more time to correct.

Try it. Not everyone enjoys working from an outline. Not everyone does their best work this way. I don’t do it al the time, and sometimes, when I do, my outlines may be no more than a sentence per beat which I ignore when I really start my final plotting. Still, anything that gets you to think before you do a final pass is good. Get the junk out early.

Take care and see you in seven.
-Marv Wolfman

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