Monday, February 9, 2009

From History to Story: Scripting Cold Iron Badge, Part 1

Aaaaaaaaaand I'm back.

Upon reflection, I think we've moved to a slightly different phase of the story of Cold Iron Badge; less how it came to be, and more how it actually got made.

So: How did we go from some characters and a concept to having an actual comic?

There needed, of course to be a genuine plot of some sort. As I've mentioned in previous posts, by this time, the character dynamics were starting to, if not take on a life of their own, then certainly continue to gestate, and those dynamics implied certain things that needed to happen in the story to introduce, build and service them.

Similarly, as a genre mashup, there were certain tropes that needed to be addressed, whether by serving them up straight or by subverting them.

And there were things that it was simply important for me, or important for Patrick, to have happen in the story.

So I took all those things, and I made a list of them.

I wouldn't call what I came up with an outline. My first list was sufficiently vague and disorganized that calling it an outline would have been an insult to tracery. But it certainly aspired to be an outline, and hammering it into an outline is what I set about doing, with rather a lot of feedback and input from Patrick.

By this point, we were both pretty clear that Cold Iron Badge would be a finite story in three installments. Three substantial but not Cerebus-long graphic novels is what I was thinking (since, as good geeks, we are both of course drawn towards trilogies).

This was helpful, because it took off the pressure to pack everything into the story willy-nilly. Something that didn't fit could be shunted aside, saved for Volume 2 or Volume 3. Whether those things actually get used in subsequent stories remains to be seen. Whether they do or not, the value was in having the psychological release of not having to use all our ideas at once.

Then I got a little more organized. I took all the character notes from the emails we'd been sending back and forth and put dropped them into the same document as the Not-An-Outline-Yet. I added other notes, from our conversations and from my head. Then I took the plot and scene suggestions that had inevitably crept into those notes and moved them down to the list.

Using the organizing principles of three-act structure that I picked up from my years in the screenplay trenches -- which is a long story for another time -- I separated the events of the story into four chapters

Four chapters from three act structure? Yeah. That's because in standard Hollywood screenplay structure, Act 1 is the beginning, Act 2 is the middle, Act 3 is the end, and the middle is about as long as the beginning and the end put together. This has the advantage of lining up well with, for instance, the story structure needs of a four-issue comic book mini-series... or a four-chapter graphic novel.

At some point along the way, with the ideas for the characters, events and cool-stuff-we-wanted-to-happen getting laid out before me in the structure of an actual story, my Not-Outline began to look more like an Outline.

In case you're curious -- because we didn't make a big deal of it, even to the point of noting the chapter breaks in the comic -- as of today's date, we're something like half-way through Chapter 2 from a structural standpoint.

Although not necessarily in number of pages. Scenes, especially action scenes, can take up a lot more pages of comics than they do points in an outline. And, as I've mentioned before, Patrick can take a description like "Christine fights the goblins. At first it looks bad, but then she kicks their butts" and turn it into an epic sequence that would make a wuxia choreographer weep with envy.

In case you're really curious, here's the first draft of what it would be fair to call an Outline. It only covers the story so far, to avoid spoilering.


Cold Iron Badge

Act 1

Introduce CHRISTINE MCCALL, a tough, smart lieutenant with the Borderland Guard – the cops who patrol the border between Earth and Fairyland. With her are her partner (and lover), ART JOHNSON and two rookies, KAY and DE LINT.

The Iron Badges are acting on a anonymous tip, tracking down what may be a network of smugglers between the two worlds.

Arriving at the (??? warehouse ???) they find nothing. "Another wild elf chase," snorts Christine. Suddenly, elf-shots rain down on them – it’s a trap!

Christine sees the rookies go down. But where’s Art? She fights an attack by creepy gobliny kind of things, and just barely takes them down. She’s on her hands and knees, gasping for breath when somebody – actually, Nobody – hits her over the head, very hard.

Christine wakes up on a stretcher. She jumps to her feet, almost falls down, but heads towards the (??? warehouse ???).

The Guard, under the command of CAPTAIN DAVID REDMAN, investigates the scene.

Despite her injuries, Christine insists on joining them – and sees her dead partner, strung up like the Hanged Man in the Tarot.

To everyone’s horror, Christine starts to LAUGH HYSTERICALLY. Through laughter that turns to sobs, she manages to gasp out: "Hanging Art. Freakin’ Sidhe and their jokes."

Christine wakes up, hung over. Bottles are strewn everywhere. Head still aching, she heads into the office.

Christine debates with Redman whether she’s ready to return to duty.

Suddenly, Christine spots DELRIC. "Sword! Sword!" She tackles him – and learns that he’s the new Sidhe liaison to the Guard.

Possibly as a punishment, Redman assigns Christine and Delric together. Their task, he tells them, is to find out why the Unseelie have suddenly become so murderous, and bring the Fae
responsible for killing the three Guard to justice.

Act 2, Part 1 – up to the mid-point

Christine, out for a morning jog, is attacked by a kelpie.

Christine tells Redman that she thinks Delric is behind the wave of attacks. She wants him questioned. Redman explains they can’t – it was a political minefield just getting both sides to agree to a Sidhe liaison. Accusing Delric without a lot more evidence could blow up in their faces. Angry, Christine tells Redman that in that case, she doesn’t CARE how short-staffed they are, he damn well better assign two more people to the case. Seeing his smirk, she realizes that she’s walked right into something. But what?


Bunny Mayhem, the new recruit. Christine asks if she brought a loaf of bread, as advised. "I did better than that! I brought PIE!" Teeth gritting, Christine reminds Bunny that some faeries are repelled by bread. Not by pie. "Whoops."

Ray has been kicked around the Guard for years, never lasting in any one position for very long. Christine wonders if he’s a putz, or maybe even dirty – but his record is no worse than hers. Better. Reading between the lines, she realizes that he must be a Jonah.


So, yes, obviously, there was some improvement -- and more than a few changes -- between what you just read and Cold Iron Badge as you know it. More on that process next time.

1 comment:

Patrick Waldron said...

Hi, this note is for Stephen.

I found 10 laws of bad science fiction at back in '02. Your name was listed with it. Long time. Anyway, I liked them, but lost my copy. I have taken up writing sci-fi recently. Is there any way you can help me out?

I liked the one about being able to reprogram a toaster into a laser pistol. Something like that.


Patrick Waldron